HOUSTON – Drained but delighted, bordering on delirious, the Mariners were in full agreement on one thing after they had – somehow – pulled out a 4-2 victory over the Astros on Saturday night.
This one was special. Special, as in a win to savor. And special, as in, you might not see another quite like this for awhile.
“It’s the oddest win I’ve ever been a part of,’’ said Michael Saunders, whose fingerprints were all over the Mariners’ fifth straight triumph.
“What a crazy game,’’ said Tom Wilhelmsen, who finished it off – with a major assist from Saunders – for his 21st save.
“A very unique set of circumstances,’’ marveled manager Eric Wedge.
Houston starter Erik Bedard, the former Mariner, worked 61 / 3 innings, not allowing a hit. And yet he was the losing pitcher as Seattle, on the strength of their lone hit in the game – a booming two-run double by Saunders off reliever Jose Cisnero in the seventh – rallied past the Astros at Minute Maid Park.
Oh, yeah: The Mariners struck out 15 times. And they became just the second team since 1916 to score four or more runs with one or fewer hits. The White Sox did it in 1990 while being no-hit by the Yankees; but unlike the White Sox, the M’s did it without benefit of any errors, though two runs were indeed unearned as the result of two passed balls.
“I would say it was the strangest game I’ve been involved from Little League to the big leagues when you give one hit and punch out 15 guys and end up on the losing side of it,” Houston manager Bo Porter said. “But it’s crystal clear how we ended up on the losing side of it. When you walk seven guys (actually just six) and all four of their runs that score are via the walk, there’s no defense for it.”
Bedard walked five, and Porter lifted him, with the no-no still intact, with one out in the seventh after the lefty walked Justin Smoak. Bedard had thrown 109 pitches, matching his season high; the score, improbably, was tied at 2-all.
“The plan was to see if he could have a quick inning,’’ Porter said. “He was kind of at the end of the rope. Even when I went out there, I went out there with kind of a chuckle….He goes, ‘I’m done.’ ‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes, I’m sure.’ At that point, I took the ball.”
Said Bedard: “I’ve had three shoulder surgeries, and I’m not going over 110 (pitches). I’d rather pitch a couple more years than face another batter.”
Cisnero struck out pinch-hitter Dustin Ackley, but he walked Mike Zunino. Saunders then came through with the Mariners’ first (and only) hit, and made it count: A blast over the head of center fielder Brandon Barnes and up the incongruous hill that resides out there.
Both runs scored, and Saunders wound up on second with a double, missing a triple only because he slipped rounding second.
“I knew that he liked his fastball and throws hard,’’ Saunders said. “I took a couple breaking balls for balls and just kind of sat dead-red heater and put a good swing on it.”
Here’s the kicker: The go-ahead run was charged to Bedard, so he wound up absorbing the loss on a night when visions of a no-hitter were alive much of the night. Though as Bedard’s pitch count mounted, it became increasingly clear he wasn’t going to do it alone.
For Bedard, the start was the 206th of his career, and he’s thrown just one complete game: A two-hit shutout against the Rangers on July 7, 2007. But his stuff was electric on Friday night.
“He had a great breaking ball going, a live fastball,’’ Wedge said. “He did everything good to keep us off-balance but we made him work. We were able to get him out of there at a reasonable time and try somebody else out.”
Bedard became just the sixth pitcher, dating back to 1916, to give up no hits over at least six innings and allow two or more runs. It hadn’t been done since ex-Mariner Matt Young, then with Boston, in 1992.
Overshadowed early, Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma prevailed for the victory, giving up two runs over seven innings. The Mariners’ streak of 23 straight games with a homer ended, and so did Kyle Seager’s 15-game hitting streak.
The Mariners, trailing 2-0 after five, with only a leadoff walk by Kendrys Morales in the fifth to show for their night’s work thus far, managed to tie the game in the sixth inning -- while Bedard kept his no-hitter intact.
He struck out Zunino to start the inning, his 10th whiff of the game (the 12th pitcher this year to have double-digit strikeouts against the Mariners).
But Bedard walked Saunders and followed with a base on balls to Brad Miller. Both runners moved up on a passed ball by Houston catcher Jason Castro, and Nick Franklin delivered a sacrifice fly to center. Miller advanced to third.
Yet another passed ball on Castro allowed Miller to scoot home with the tying run. Bedard, now laboring, walked Raul Ibanez before getting Morales to fly out. Both runs were unearned.
Charlie Furbush and Wilhelmsen finished up for Iwakuma, each with a scoreless inning of relief. Wilhelmsen was aided by a great running catch in right by Saunders to rob Justin Maxwell, leading off the ninth, of extra bases.
“That’s the play of the day,’’ Wilhelmsen said. “Maybe his double as well. He closed down on that sucker so fast. That ball was smoked. I was like ‘Holy Cow.’ He was full extension, incredible catch. Huge.”
Added Wilhelmsen: “Those are games that winning ball clubs win. And we’re on our way.”