ANAHEIM, Calif. – Navigating a bullpen minefield without his closer is something manager Eric Wedge had spent the past week dabbling in.
And it almost blew up in his face Tuesday night when he dabbled with recently removed closer Tom Wilhelmsen in the eighth inning and saw him yield a tying home run to Albert Pujols two pitches in.
But Wilhelmsen got through the rest of that inning and part of a nervy ninth before a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels was secured on a Kendrys Morales single in the 10th.
Yoervis Medina shut the Angels down in the 10th for his first career save, capping one of those rare wins by the Mariners in the kind of game they typically lose.
“There were a couple of guys we wanted to try to stay away from and Tommy (Wilhelmsen) is the guy to go to right there,” Wedge said. “It’s a fresh inning. We had to send him out there for the next inning, too, because of what ended up happening.”
Wedge planned to use right-hander Medina to close the game and did not want to deploy him earlier. He’d already used left-hander Oliver Perez in the seventh to take care of a switch-hitting back end of the Angels order, as well as slugger Josh Hamilton.
The Mariners were limited to using southpaw Charlie Furbush against just one batter if needed, with his arm having been taxed heavily by recent outings. That batter turned out to be Hamilton in the ninth, with two on and two out after Wilhelmsen left.
Furbush threw him nothing but breaking balls and Hamilton went down swinging. Hamilton is now just 2 for 12 lifetime against Furbush with six strikeouts.
“I was definitely giving him a heavy dose of breaking balls,” said Furbush (1-3), who got the win. “It’s just something that in the past has worked for me against him. I decided to go with my best pitch there and see how it turned out.”
Hamilton grounded into three double plays and struck out twice with runners on base. The crowd of 33,040 at Angel Stadium let him have it with boos growing progressively louder with each botched chance by the pricey free-agent acquisition, batting just .213.
The Mariners had struck early with solo home runs by Raul Ibanez and Justin Smoak off Angels starter Joe Blanton in the second for a 2-0 lead. Smoak’s blast came on the very first pitch he saw after returning from the disabled list.
“Raul had gone deep right there, so I was sitting dead-red first pitch,” said Smoak. “I got a fastball and put a pretty good swing on it.”
Smoak had two more good swings in which he made solid contact, one of them a drive to left-center that speedy Peter Bourjos robbed him of an extra-base hit.
“I felt great,” Smoak said. “I felt like I hit three balls hard.”
Blanton later hit his stride and went on to strike out a career high 11 batters over 62 / 3 innings.
Mariners starter Jeremy Bonderman gave one run back in the bottom of the second on a Mike Trumbo home run.
He went on to pitch six solid innings, left with a 2-1 lead and was six outs from a win before Wilhelmsen torched the save.
The Mariners have seen all their scoring limited to just an inning or two on this trip and it’s caused them to fail to put games away as early as they should. It looked like it might cost them again until Kyle Seager doubled with two outs off Angels relief pitcher Garrett Richards in the 10th.
Morales then hit a slicing line drive just off the glove of leaping shortstop Erick Aybar to bring in the run.
Wilhelmsen’s curveball looked sharper than it has in some time. He’d thrown a nice one to Pujols for a called strike to start the at-bat in the eighth, then saw a high fastball drilled over the left-field wall.
He gave up a leadoff single, wild pitch and a walk in the subsequent inning before rallying for a strikeout on Peter Bourjos and a fly out by Mike Trout.
“You’ve got to use your guys in your bullpen and Tommy’s a guy we’ve got to use, even though he’s in a different role,” Wedge said. “Otherwise, he can’t be here. So, that was the situation tonight.”