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TB@SEA: Olivo jacks a three-run shot for the lead

SEATTLE -- Before Sunday's game, Mariners manager Eric Wedge spoke of Miguel Olivo's strength of personality as a team leader. He didn't even mention his catcher's hot bat.

But it was the latter that once again spoke the loudest in the series finale against the Rays.

Olivo's three-run home run in a four-run eighth inning finished off Tampa Bay in a wild 9-6 victory that saw three late lead changes, two bullpen breakdowns, and one memorable moment for a rookie outfielder making his first appearance in the Major Leagues in 2011.

Olivo's homer into the left-field bullpen with one out in the eighth came against Tampa Bay reliever Joel Peralta, right after Adam Kennedy had tied the game at 6 with an RBI single off J.P Howell.

It was Olivo's second homer in as many days, with his eighth-inning, two-run shot as a pinch-hitter on Saturday, also off Peralta, being too little and too late in a 3-2 loss.

And it cemented just how hot Olivo -- and the Mariners -- are these days.

The catcher is on a six-game hitting streak, he's homered in three straight games, and is hitting .365 (19-for-52) with five homers, 14 RBIs and 12 runs over his last 15 games.

"I feel more comfortable at the plate," Olivo said. "I knew it would come if I kept working and working in the batting cage. When you're doing badly, you're only going to feel great when you're getting better.

"Right now, I'm seeing the ball better. I'm having better at-bats, and good things are happening."

The same can be said for the Mariners, who took the series over the Rays and have now won 14 of 18 -- and 15 of their last 20. They are 23-13 over their last 36 games and have won each of their last six series, the first time they've accomplished that since their 116-victory season of 2001.

"The guys dug deep today," manager Eric Wedge said. "And that's what you need to do. That's just part of the process. You play it all the way through. It's why you play so many games, and that's why you play the number of innings you do. These guys are the best of the best, and you go pitch to pitch, at-bat to at-bat, inning to inning -- you recognize where you are in the ballgame and you just keep grinding.

"Our guys are doing a [heck] of a job of that right now."

Sunday's example came at the right time for the Mariners, who hardly had time to bask in the glow of 23-year-old Greg Halman's tie-breaking, go-ahead two-run triple in the seventh before the Rays teed off on Mariners setup man Jamey Wright in the eighth.

Deadlocked at 3, Seattle had its starter, Erik Bedard, in a position to win when the long fly ball off the bat of Halman, who was getting his first big league action this year after being called up from Triple-A Tacoma on June 2, dropped into the gap in right-center field and he coasted into third standing up.

"That's amazing," said Halman, who added two singles in his first career three-hit game. "You get back, your first game back in the big leagues when you know the team is going really good. ... It's real good to be a part of it and to have a good game in my first game back in the big leagues."

But once Wright entered the game, things went the other way quickly.

Just like that, Johnny Damon singled, Ben Zobrist doubled, Matt Joyce doubled and Evan Longoria delivered a pinch-hit single for a three-run rally to take a 6-5 lead.

The Mariners didn't panic. In the bottom of the inning, Justin Smoak worked a one-out walk against Howell, Jack Cust singled pinch-runner Jack Wilson to second, and Kennedy punched a single to right, setting up Olivo for the drama. Mariners closer Brandon League got the Rays in order in the ninth for his 16th save.

"I felt like Joel felt good in that moment, but Olivo got him twice," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's just that sometimes things don't work out. ... It's just that [the Mariners] are hot right now, and things are going their way."

Ditto for Olivo.

"He's a big-game player," Wedge said of his catcher. "He's had a lot of big hits in his career, and he loves to be up there in those situations. That's half the battle, and he had another big hit for us today."

The Rays started the game's scoring with a run in the second on two singles and a Kelly Shoppach RBI double, and they tacked on two more in the third inning. Zobrist hit a one-out single, moved to second on a fielder's choice and took third on a Bedard wild pitch before scoring on a B.J. Upton single. Felipe Lopez followed with an RBI double that silenced the Seattle crowd of 28,947, but not for long.

The Mariners answered right back in the bottom of the third. Carlos Peguero led off and was hit by a Wade Davis pitch, Halman singled him to second, and Ichiro Suzuki picked an opportune time to snap an 0-for-16 streak, hitting a stand-up triple into the right-center-field gap to cut the lead to one.

The Mariners then took advantage of shortstop Brendan Ryan's bat-handling abilities. With a 1-1 count, Ichiro broke for home and Ryan executed a suicide squeeze to perfection to tie the game.

Bedard and Davis dueled from there into the seventh. Bedard, en route to a season-high 111 pitches, settled in after the rough third inning and faced the minimum in the following four frames. He gave up only one hit, a fourth-inning Shoppach single that was erased quickly when the next hitter, Sam Fuld, reached first base on a fielder's choice and Bedard picked him off to end the inning.

"After the little rough start, it's nice to settle down and get some innings for the team," Bedard said. "It gives everybody a boost and keeps our bullpen intact.

"Early on, I was just missing a little bit. And later on, the more innings I threw, the better it got."

As the Mariners packed up to head off to Chicago and Detroit for a seven-game road trip that will conclude their latest grind of 20 games in 20 days, Wedge didn't mind savoring this one a little.

"That was a great game," he said. "It had to be a great game to watch. Obviously, when you have that type of emotional back and forth late in a ballgame, you always want to end up on top -- but even more when you're in that type of ballgame."

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