SEATTLE — The bats weren’t really doing a whole lot for two teams that split a dozen hits between them. But the Mariners made the most of their one big inning of offense Monday by letting their legs do what their bats couldn’t.
Some heads-up running by John Jaso and Miguel Olivo turned out to be a difference-maker in a 4-1 win over a Boston Red Sox squad now in full-fledged crisis mode.
That running led to a pair of Boston fielding mistakes and provided Mariners pitcher Jason Vargas all the cushion he’d need to send the visitors reeling to their seventh straight defeat.
“There were some good at-bats in there, we were able to go first-to-third on some hits and I think some of that aggressiveness paid off,” said Jaso, the Mariners’ designated hitter, of Seattle’s four-run fourth inning off Boston starter Clay Buchholz.
The crowd of 21,621 at Safeco Field was treated to back-to-back first-to-third stuff by Kyle Seager and Jaso on singles in the fourth. Justin Smoak had the second of those singles to bring Seager home to snap a 1-1 tie and send Jaso to third.
Then things really unraveled for Boston as Eric Thames hit a fairly shallow fly ball to center. Jaso bluffed like he was going to tag up and took a few aggressive steps toward the plate, prompting a throw home by center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.
The throw was weak and offline and skipped away from catcher Ryan Lavarnway for an error on Ellsbury and a go-ahead run that put the Mariners up 3-1.
“I usually don’t bluff like that unless I see it’s a close play,” Jaso said. “That was close enough where I might have thought about running, so I decided to take a few steps and make him throw to the plate and hope something happened. I guess it worked out.”
Smoak moved up to second on the play and Olivo notched his first of two hits to put runners at the corners with one out. Carlos Peguero then hit a slow chopper to shortstop Jose Iglesias, whose initial reaction was to throw to second base.
But Olivo was running hard and practically at second base by the time Iglesias looked up. The shortstop momentarily bobbled the ball, then threw to first base instead and was too late to get Peguero as another run scored to make it 4-1.
“I saw the chop to shortstop and kept going hard,” Olivo said. “I’m not surprised at anything. I just run hard and try to do what I can.”
And that inning was the ballgame.
This series is now a focal point of the baseball universe, not because of the Mariners, but because the Red Sox keep losing. Principal owner John Henry and general manager Ben Cherington flew to Seattle to assess the state of the team and how manager Bobby Valentine is running it.
Henry and Cherington keep downplaying speculation Valentine is about to be fired, but such a move would seem inevitable if the Red Sox continue to offer up the type of lifeless performances they displayed in this one.
Boston went up 1-0 in the first inning — its first lead in six days — when Dustin Pedroia notched a ground-rule double for his 1,000th career hit and scored on a single to right by Cody Ross. But Buchholz, who struck out eight over his seven innings, couldn’t contain the Mariners in the fourth and any chance at a win went out the window.
Vargas allowed only four singles — two of them infield hits — in the rest of his seven innings of work, striking out five and not walking anybody. He also kept the Red Sox from going deep after yielding five homers his two previous starts.
“I obviously didn’t have to stay out there as long every inning,” Vargas said. “When you’re able to control what you’re doing and not get frustrated it makes everything a little easier.”
Mariners manager Eric Wedge agreed the difference was being able to push the teetering Red Sox into mistakes.
“You’ve got to string some good at-bats together,” Wedge said. “They gave us a few extra opportunities, too, and I thought we took advantage of that.
“That’s what you have to do. Whenever you get an opportunity, you have to take advantage of it and our guys did a good job of that.”