Washburn and Putz combine for gem
Strong pitching, early offense help McLaren notch first victory
KANSAS CITY -- Along with a memory "that will never leave me," John McLaren collected the game ball, lineup card and a green bottle of Dom Perignon champagne signed by the players on Wednesday night.
The mementos signaled McLaren's first victory as the Mariners' manager, a 4-0 victory over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. It also erased two straight losses since Mike Hargrove stepped down as Mariners' skipper after Sunday's game.
"We needed a win," McLaren said. "Of course, I wanted my first win, that's big, but we needed a win as a team. We went through a shock, me included, when Grover stepped down. We needed a pick-me-up."
Jarrod Washburn provided the biggest lift, as the left-hander tossed eight-plus innings of shutout baseball. J.J. Putz worked out of a ninth inning jam and coaxed the final three outs for his 24th save.
Just as important, the duo halted the team's two-game losing streak -- a streak that started after Hargrove left the team on Sunday.
"This one is a extra special for Mac," Washburn said. "I think everyone is a little pumped to get it out of the way."
Washburn saved a team that had won a season-high eight straight after Sunday's victory. After Hargrove stepped down, the team lost in extra innings on Monday and suffered what Putz called a "debacle" in a 17-3 loss on Tuesday. Wednesday provided a different story.
"Great team win," McLaren said. "Washburn came through big time for us and J.J., when we needed [him], was there for us."
The win may not have decided a pennant, but it certainly helped raise momentum heading into a four-game series this weekend against Oakland, an American League West foe.
"Any day that we come to the park, we think that is a must-win," Washburn said. "Every day you are here is the most important game of the season. You just have to look at way. You play the game today and then you worry about tomorrow, tomorrow."
And Washburn kept McLaren from worrying about his first win -- or about organizing his suddenly stretched bullpen. The relief corps worked extra innings Monday night and needed to eat 6 2/3 innings in the blowout loss on Tuesday.
Washburn made everything easy. He worked at least eight innings for the second time in three starts and the fourth time this season.
"He has supreme confidence," McLaren said. "Heckuva gamer. He believes in himself, his stuff, his team."
Helped by four first-inning runs, Washburn won his third straight victory -- and tossed his third straight quality start.
"He was throwing that cutter in to righties and that slider to lefties. He didn't miss much over the plate," Royals' catcher John Buck said.
Washburn threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of 30 hitters and mixed 71 strikes among a season-high 115 pitches.
"I was commanding both sides of the plate with the fastball tonight and the off-speed pitches, too," he said. "I guessed right on a few guys that were early counts swinging and I threw some nice off-speed pitches to get early outs. I just kept them off-balance."
He never allowed a runner past the second base and only permitted five hits all evening. After Esteban German doubled with one out in the first inning, Washburn retired the next 13 batters before Buck singled in the fifth.
He cruised after that, and spread just 109 pitches over his first 24 outs.
After Washburn allowed two baserunners to lead off the ninth, Putz tossed two pitches to close the game and capture the first victory in the McLaren Era.
The victory also bumped Washburn's career mark at Kauffman Stadium to 6-1 with and lowered his ERA at KC's park to 2.43.
"It's a beautiful stadium," Washburn said. "I have always liked coming here. I wish that it was that easy to pitch in a place that you just think is a beautiful place. A lot of them are beautiful that I don't pitch well in at all."
Kauffman will also represent beauty for McLaren. A long-time baseball man, McLaren has also wanted to manage -- and wanted to win a game. Finally, in his 21st year in the big leagues and his third game as manager, he did.
"First one is always the toughest, I guess," he said.
After the game, McLaren took off his cap and glasses, put some plastic on that Richie Sexson provided and was doused in celebratory champagne. A few minutes later, he sat his office and looked at the mementos.
"I will always remember it," he said.
Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.