Mariners end tough trip with a bang
Team pounds out 19 hits, creeps up Wild Card standings
DETROIT -- The playoffs start in three weeks and the Mariners' flickering postseason hopes are on life support.The road trip they finished on Sunday took their own destiny out of the Mariners' hands, but as long as there's a mathematical chance of playing games in October, they refuse to surrender. "We have some work to do, but we're not done yet," Willie Bloomquist insisted. "We have some momentum, and the tables will be turned. We play 14 of our last 21 games at home." The momentum he referred to was generated by a 19-hit offensive outburst and stellar defensive performance by shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt on Sunday afternoon, enabling the Mariners to overcome the shaky pitching of right-hander Felix Hernandez for a 14-7 victory over the Tigers in front of a sellout crowd of 39,990 at Comerica Park. "Needless to say, that was a big win for us on a tough road trip," manager John McLaren said. "We're looking forward to going back home." The Mariners must get as hot at home as they were cold on a road trip through Cleveland (0-1), Toronto (0-3), New York (1-2) and Detroit (1-2). Tack on the five consecutive losses they had before the trip, and Seattle (75-66) went through a disastrous stretch of winning just twice in 15 games. It is five games behind the Yankees in the Wild Card race after being three games ahead when the skid started on Aug. 25. "The road trip seemed like three weeks," McLaren added. "We knew it was going to be a rough trip. We didn't know it was going to be this rough. We had no idea it would be this rough." But at least it ended on a positive note on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Motown. Third baseman Adrian Beltre collected three legs of the cycle (a single, double and triple), Ichiro Suzuki scored a run in each of the first four innings, and right fielder Jose Guillen matched his single-game career high with four hits. But it was Betancourt's defense that stood out the most. He saved at least three runs, and probably more, with three fielding gems.
The first one came in the fourth inning when the Tigers were trying to cut into a seven-run lead the Mariners had given Hernandez. With runners on second and third and two outs, Magglio Ordonez drilled a hot grounder up the middle. Betancourt raced to his left, stretched as far as he could, caught the ball and made a strong throw to first base to end the inning.Two innings later, the Tigers had runners on first and second with nobody out. Placido Polanco hit a high chopper over reliever Sean Green's head toward center field. Betancourt timed his run to second base so well that he fielded the ball, touched the base for the force, and in the same motion, made an acrobatic throw to first base to complete the double play. "I would hurt myself making some of the plays he makes," Bloomquist said. "On that double play, if I tried to do what he did, I'd probably fall over the runner and twist my ankle. He makes plays other people can't make." Betancourt's other great play came in the fifth when, with one out and one on, Mike Rabelo hit a one-hopper back to Hernandez, who caught the ball, turned and bounced a throw to second base. Betancourt hit the deck, knocked the ball down, picked it up while his right foot remained on the base, and made a throw to first base while on the seat of his pants. Rabelo barely beat the throw. Former Mariners shortstop Carlos Guillen, a two-time All-Star, raved about Betancourt during a pregame interview on Saturday afternoon. That was before Betancourt put on Sunday's dazzling display. "He's unbelievable," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "For me, he's the best defensive shortstop in the league, without question. He's a hell of a player, a tremendous shortstop. Tremendous." The Mariners would agree. "There are times when I'm not playing and will be watching other shortstops make great plays and I say, 'I can make that play,'" Bloomquist said. "I don't say that with Yuni. He's special, and is only going to get better. He's fun to watch." Hernandez just shook his head and smiled when he was asked about the game Betancourt had just played. "He is unbelievable," Hernandez said. "He told me that when I sign my next contract, he will get my bonus." Besides the run-saving plays made in the field, Betancourt went 3-for-5, scored three runs and drove in one. He is now batting .285 with nine home runs and 58 RBIs. McLaren predicted that Betancourt would become an All-Star. "His game is going up and up and up," McLaren said. "He has to be one of the best in the league, night after night, right at the top. The plays he makes, the acrobatic moves he makes, the arm strength he has. And he has fun playing baseball. "Yuni is going to be an All-Star, for sure, a great all-around player," he added. The Mariners will need a lineup full of Betancourts the rest of the way -- and get some help elsewhere -- if they are going to participate in the playoffs for the first time since 2001. "We have to play every game from here on out like it's a playoff game and take our chances," McLaren said. Seattle might not have first baseman Richie Sexson available. He was removed from Sunday's game in the fourth inning when his left hamstring began bothering him again. "He'll have it looked at by the [team] doctor [on Monday]," McLaren said. "You can tell he's not right up there."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.