HOUSTON – While the rest of his teammates chowed down, showered up and otherwise milled happily about, Franklin Gutierrez was still working, well after his big night was done.
Gutierrez and a trainer carried out a postgame stretching regimen in a back room, designed to help keep the oft-injured outfielder on the field as long as possible. The Mariners have long needed performances like the three-hit effort Thursday night by Gutierrez in a 3-2 win over the Houston Astros, but his extended health absences have made those few and far between.
Still, on this night, at least, a two-run homer, double and single by Gutierrez were enough to get his team over its six-game slide.
“It’s hard not to imagine just how much better we’d be as a ballclub if we had him all year,’’ Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “Or, for the last three years, for that matter.’’
Tough indeed, especially for Wedge, general manager Jack Zduriencik and others who have watched this season go up in smoke.
Wedge finally got his first win in seven tries since returning from a monthlong absence caused by a stroke.
It wasn’t a storybook victory by any stretch, played in front of a Minute Maid Park crowd that appeared about a third the size of its announced 22,203 figure. But the Mariners did jump out to a 3-0 lead on home runs by Nick Franklin in the first inning and Gutierrez in the fourth, both off Astros starter Jordan Lyles.
Houston got a run back in the bottom of the inning, then a Brett Wallace solo homer in the fifth cut Seattle’s lead to 3-2. But starter Erasmo Ramirez and relief pitcher Charlie Furbush combined to strand a runner on third with one out in the sixth, then Yoervis Medina and Danny Farquhar carried it the rest of the way through the ninth.
Farquhar walked the leadoff batter in the ninth, but rallied with a strikeout and a double-play grounder to notch his 10th save. It was also his 10th save in the last 10 victories by the Mariners, equaling a club record set by Tom Wilhelmsen.
This 60th win of the season by the Mariners was a microcosm of what to expect the final month. A clash between teams with the two worst run differentials in the American League wasn’t exactly riveting from a team standpoint.
But the individual struggles of players continue to add drama. In Gutierrez’s case, he’s trying to salvage his reputation as something more than a part-time player who can’t stay healthy, likely more for the open market than with this organization beyond 2013.
Then there’s Franklin, struggling not to crack under the pressure of a monthlong hitting slump. He’d been 0 for 16 with eight strikeouts on the team’s winless homestand and was initially down 0-2 in the game’s second at-bat before battling back and eventually going deep off Lyles.
“It definitely gets the best of you,’’ he said of his slump. “But at the end of the day, you’ve got to come to the field every day and prepare yourself for the game and not let yesterday or the day before bother you.”
“And that’s the biggest thing,’’ he added. “Part of this game is mental. It’s 90 percent mental and it’s a tough toll on your body. But at the same time, you’ve got to grind and just keep working through it.’’
Ramirez is also trying to establish some consistency and keep himself a viable rotation option for next year. Much of this season was lost to injury, then some early inconsistency upon his midsummer return.
He needed 104 pitches to get through 52 / 3 innings of this one, but did strike out seven batters along the way despite not having his usual velocity. Instead, he resisted the urge to overthrow and worried more about locating his pitches accurately.
“If you throw it to a good spot, it’s going to be tough to hit it,” he said. “And that’s what you’ve got to work on when you don’t have your speed. Even if you do have it, be sure to put it on the spot where you want it. Tonight was like that. I wasn’t thinking too much about speed.’’
Ramirez was struck on the foot by a hard comebacker in the fifth but remained in the game. He was sore after, but said he’ll make his next start.
And the Mariners hope that he, Franklin and even Gutierrez will keep on finding consistency. There are still games being played within the games now, some of which might matter beyond another lost season.
“It goes a long way as a ballclub to finish strong,” Wedge said, “and it goes a long way in regard to these guys individually, from a confidence standpoint, to finish strong.’’