Burke, ace lead Seattle to win in finale
Catcher hits first HR, plates two; Hernandez goes 8 2/3 innings
SEATTLE -- Journeyman catcher Jamie Burke took a lot of swings at all kinds of pitches during the first 245 official at-bats of his Major League career.But none of the baseballs he hit cleared a fence in fair territory. But the one he hit on the nose Sunday afternoon at Safeco Field established a career first. The first swing he took against Rangers left-hander A.J. Murray in the second inning produced a different sound, a different look, and sailed over the wall in left-center field, landing in the Mariners bullpen. "I can't explain it," said Burke after his two RBIs helped the Mariners end the regular season with a 4-2 victory over the Rangers in front of 30,442 at Safeco Field. "The pitch just kind of ran into my bat." Right-hander Felix Hernandez (14-7, 3.92 ERA) took advantage of his catcher's offensive heroics and came within an out of pitching his first complete game of the season. He definitely could have finished what he started, but with closer J.J. Putz one save away from his 40th of the season, manager John McLaren walked to the mound one last time this season. "That was probably the toughest decision I faced all year -- whether to give Felix his first complete game of the year or let J.J. get his 40th save," McLaren said. "I thought about it, and we owed it to J.J. to get his 40th. A couple of the infielders encouraged bringing J.J. in. That's the route we went, and Felix was a pro about it." Putz needed five pitches to strike out Jarrod Saltalamachia for the final out of the season and join Kaz Sasaki as the only pitchers in franchise history to record at least 40 saves in a season. "That's a nice, even number," said Putz, who warmed up in the eighth inning, but was told Hernandez was going back out for the ninth inning. And then, after the first two batters were retired, "I saw Mac go to the mound and I thought I might be coming in," Putz said. "It was fun." Putz, who blew only two save opportunities all season, got a taste of his own medicine after the game when injured reliever Chris Reitsma delivered a shaving-cream pie while Putz was conducting an interview. It was a fun afternoon at the ballpark. The Mariners swept the Rangers in a three-game series for the first time since June 4-6, 2001. They ended the season on a five-game winning streak. Second baseman Jose Lopez hit his career-best 11th home run. Hernandez became the first pitcher since Randy Johnson in 1995 to win the first and last games of the season. After three consecutive losing seasons, the Mariners finished with an 88-74 record. But there were some bummers attached to the season finale. Neither third baseman Adrian Beltre nor right fielder Jose Guillen drove in a run, leaving them with 99 RBIs. Beltre had the best shot at it. He came to bat in the first inning with runners on first and second and struck out. He had another chance at No. 100 in the fifth inning, after Guillen reached on a two-out double past third base. Beltre popped out. Except for the first inning, when Ichiro Suzuki was on first base with one out, Guillen had to drive in himself to reach the 100-RBI mark for the second time in his career. The bases were empty in his other three at-bats. "I'm disappointed for A.B. and Guillen not getting their 100 RBIs," McLaren said. "But 99 speaks for itself." Ichiro went 1-for-4 and ended the season with a .351 batting average, losing out to Detroit's Magglio Ordonez in the batting race. Ordonez went 3-for-4 on Sunday and finished with a .363 average. It is Ordonez's first batting title while Ichiro was going for his third in seven seasons. It would hard to imagine Ordonez feeling much better about the regular-season finale than Burke did in his final game of the season. Besides the home run, he laid down a perfect suicide squeeze bunt to drive in Adam Jones from third base in the fourth inning to give Seattle a 2-1 lead. "We got a lot more than we envisioned," said McLaren of Burke, who signed as a Minor League free agent Nov. 16 and was invited to camp as a non-roster player. "We thought we were getting a lot, but he brought a lot more to the table than his play on the field. I'm really happy for him and proud of him." Burke finished the season with a .301 batting average and 12 RBIs. Oh yes, and one home run. "To do that on the last day, catch a good game, and win, made it that much more special," he said. Burke's homer tied the game at 1. It was his 112th at-bat of the season. A walk to Willie Bloomquist, a stolen base, an infield hit and an error on a ball Ichiro dribbled to first base, gave Hernandez a 2-1 lead. The Rangers never caught up. Lopez redeemed himself for the error he made in the fifth inning, which led to an unearned run, by belting a Murray pitch over the manual scoreboard in left field. Lopez hit 10 home runs last season when he was selected to the AL All-Star team.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.