The game was supposed to feature a showdown between two great Japanese pitchers, Hisashi Iwakuma and Masahiro Tanaka. But a rainout in Kansas City pushed Tanaka back a day in the Yankees rotation. So the Yankees trotted out another rookie, someone named Vidal Nuno. Who was Vidal Nada to the Mariners.
Unable to solve yet another rookie in his first appearance against them, the Mariners (34-30) momentarily sidetracked the momentum from a 6-1 road trip by losing 3-2 Tuesday night to the Yankees (32-31). But at least they made a couple of baseball oldsters, Derek Jeter and Ichiro, feel young again.
Jeter, 39, had two hits and scored two runs, including the game-winner in the eighth. Ichiro, 40, made a full-sprint catch at the right-center wall that denied Kyle Seager extra bases in a second inning that otherwise might have shaken Nuno a bit.
Jeter’s first game in the final series in the city where he made his major league debut in 1995 was full of pre-game pageantry and presents. Not only did he enjoy the hospitality, he sneaked off with the silverware and the whiskey.
“He played a nice game,” said Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon. “I wished to hell he didn’t.”
After a first-inning single, he came around to score on a double by Carlos Beltran. The fourth hit of the inning, a single by Brian McCann, scored a second run, which was a bit of a stunner for Iwakuma. In his previous seven starts, he allowed just a single run in first innings.
“They had me early,” Iwakuma said via translator. “I had to change my game plan and used more of the inside of the plate.”
The change worked because Iwakuma shut out the Yankees until he came out for the eighth in a 2-2 game. Although he denied any fatigue, the first hitter, Brett Gardner, hit a towering ball that barely went foul, then hit another that was caught on the warning track.
Iwakuma wasn’t so lucky with the next hitter, the irrepressible Jeter. He launched a ball that bounced over the left center fence that chased Iwakuma after a season-high 108 pitches. His successor, Charlie Furbush, gave up a single to Jacoby Ellsbury that proved the game-winner.
Asked whether Iwakuma should have been pulled after seven, McClendon said, “He’s my No. 2 pitcher at 102 pitches and said he felt great. That’s baseball.”
Even though the Mariners managed just seven hits — and tied it in the seventh only because Mike Zunino was hit by a pitch and went to second on a wild pitch, from where he scored on a soft single by Dustin Ackley — they were not dismayed.
“We swung the bats pretty well,” said Ackley. “We were this close to scoring five, six runs. They made a lot of good plays.”
That was true, especially the catch by Ichiro that left some rare smudges of dirt on his uniform after the second-inning lunge into the wall, something rarely seen in his years as a Mariner.
It was also true that Iwakuma has had two runs or less of support in each of his last four starts.
Since it was only the Mariners’ second loss in the past 10 games, there was little anxiety. But as it always seems to be in Seattle, they had to listen to the large legion of Yankees fans enjoying Jeter, from the pre-game to the final out, in their faces.
Jeter back where he began
Jeter recalled that after playing in his first big-league game, at the late Kingdome, he and his parents celebrated the moment by going to the only joint he could find open in downtown Seattle — McDonalds.
“(My parents) are here today,” Jeter said before the game. “Maybe we’ll go to McDonalds.”
Nineteen years later, Jeter probably can swing a swankier table in Seattle. He can even bring his own Kingdome seat. That was among the gifts he received in a pre-game Safeco ceremony saluting his career at the beginning of his final series in Seattle.
Joined by four Mariners opponents — two current, Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez, and two retirees, Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner — he received a rousing ovation for his certain Hall of Fame career that ends this season.
He also received a framed base from Safeco Field, a watch with an inscription from Cano, his former teammate, and a donation to his foundation.
“This is where I played my first game so every time I come here that’s the memory that comes to mind first,” he said before the game. “This is where it all began. It’s been quite some time, but I’ve always enjoyed coming to Seattle.”
A career .299 hitter in 80 games in Seattle, he added a first-inning single Tuesday and came around to score the game’s first run. He’ll be 40 June 26, but he remains an opponent pain.
In the home clubhouse, kudos flowed.
“For me, for the last 20 years Derek Jeter’s been everything that is right about the game of baseball,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I think he’s a class act.”
McClendon recalled watching what he thought was Jeter’s career moment, a home run for his 3,000th career hit.
“I was in Detroit, watching on TV,” he said. “I jumped off the couch.”
Rookie shortstop Brad Miller has been an admirer for most of his lifetime.
“He’s a World Series champion, and he’s a great teammate,” he said. “It’d be cool if I could draw it up like that.”
Mid-game, trainer Rick Griffin was saluted on the video board on the occasion of his 5,000th game with the Mariners . . . Willie Bloomquist started at first base and led off again. McClendon said regular 1B Justin Smoak still has a sore quad muscle that is “70-75 percent . . . progressing slowly, not at the pace we like.” He indicated the disabled list might be a consideration . . . Yankees manager Joe Girardi reminisced about baseball legend Don Zimmer, who died last week. Calling him “a father, grandfather and friend,” he shared an episode from his rookie year when Zimmer, a Yankees coach, was making pitch calls to catcher Girardi. “Throw him a change-up!” he bellowed. Girardi obliged. “Throw him another change-up,” Zim yelled. Another change-up. “Throw him another one!” After the inning, Girardi entered the dugout and Zimmer told him, “I was messing with the batter. You don’t have to do EVERYTHING I say.” . . . Gillespie, batting cleanup, singled in the Mariners run in the first, the eighth time in his nine starts he’s had a hit . . . Iwakuma’s two walks were only his fourth and fifth unintentional walks of the season . . . University of Washington football coach Chris Petersen threw out the first pitch.