The Mariners ended a five-game losing streak Sunday, but the 5-1 margin over the Texas Rangers was deceiving. In multiple ways, they came close to being swept at home for a second consecutive series. But Kyle Seager’s two doubles and three RBIs, along with Hisashi Iwakuma’s dedication to duty, spared them ignominy.
Iwakuma, the Mariners’ second-best pitcher, developed a sore neck in warmups and came close to not making the start. Trainers worked on him in the bullpen and loosened up the muscles sufficiently that he pulled off a six-hit, one-run mastery of the Rangers.
“I needed to pitch today,” he said through translator Anthony Suzuki. “I felt responsible, especially after losing five in a row.”
Halfway through the game, 1B Logan Morrison, angry after a miserable at-bat, smashed his bat against a clubhouse wall, causing a shard to break off and slash his eyebrow. The wound gushed blood and took five stitches to close, forcing him out of the game.
With regular first baseman Justin Smoak on the disabled list and potential backups Dustin Ackley and Willie Bloomquist already in the field — and too scared to put in reserve Jesus Montero — manager Lloyd McClendon called on backup catcher John Buck to make the first appearance of his 11-year major league career at first base to start the sixth inning.
Fortunately for the Mariners, the 6-3, 245-pounder, who takes ground balls regularly during pre-game warmups, was flawless.
“I don’t know if I’m going to take over Smoak’s spot,” said Buck, grinning. “He should be nervous.
“I think that the fact I put in the work . . . he felt comfortable enough to go ahead and do it.”
Morrison, sporting an ugly welt — a small price, given how close he was to losing his left eye — was contrite and mortified.
“I got in a fight with my bat — it wasn’t getting hits,” he said, attempting humor. “Actually, I acted like a three-year-old. I apologized to my teammates, and will to (McClendon). No matter how bad I’m playing, I can’t do that.
“I’m embarrassed. I usually don’t snap. I have to take lessons from Kyle Seager, or somebody.”
Actually, all the Mariners hitters should take lessons from Seager, whether in decorum or strike-zone management. In the fifth, Seager interrupted the Mariners’ offensive torpor against rookie Nick Martinez, another minor-league callup to patch the Rangers’ injury-decimated staff, with a two-out double that plated Endy Chavez (single) and Robinson Cano (walk) for a 2-1 lead.
The double came right after the fateful Morrison at-bat. After a clueless swing against Martinez, Morrison hit a nearly a roof-high infield pop-up, easily caught, that sent his batting average to .135 (2 for 17 on the homestand) and his adrenal gland to boil.
The Mariners might even have benefited from the adolescent drama, because Buck led off the eighth with a single, the first of four consecutive hits that produced three runs. Included was another Seager double, completing a 4-for-4 afternoon with 3 RBIs. He’s had six multi-hit games in the past eight against the Rangers (16 for 32).
That virtually assured a win for Iwakuma, who was allowed to go to 106 pitches through eight innings despite the pre-game peril. The only run came on an absolute fluke — in the second, the first career home run for Rangers 1B Brad Snyder, who came into the game hitting .091.
Said McClendon of Iwakuma’s endurance: “That shows you how tough he is.”
Iwakuma’s participation was assured only in the final hour before game time.
“To be honest, as I was playing catch, I felt (that I might not make the start,” he said. “When my neck started loosening, I felt some confidence.
“I felt it during warmups. I called the trainers to stretch me out. I felt some pain in the game, but it was more discomfort. It got better as the game went on.”
Fortunately for the health of all concerned, so did the Mariners offense. Who knows who else might have been infected by the Morrison tantrum? They started three players hitting .190 or worse, and only three above .265. Seattle entered the game with an American League-worst team batting average of .236.
The Sunday “explosion” was the most in seven games, giving the Mariners a whopping 32 runs in the past 11. The outcome bumped them a game over .500 (35-34), one ahead of the Rangers, who took two of three.
But if this amount blood and pain is required on a daily basis for a win, the AAA Tacoma Rainiers better hire a helicopter to beat the traffic to Seattle.