Hernandez dominates Jays in finale
Righty allows one run, strikes out eight over eight innings
TORONTO -- The Mariners are starting to make a habit out of coming up with some dramatic late-inning victories.
For the second time in three games, Seattle was able to steal a win away from Toronto thanks to a two-out ninth-inning rally led by the heart of the Mariners' lineup.
Left fielder Raul Ibanez became the hero by hitting an RBI single off Toronto closer B.J. Ryan to give Seattle a 2-1 victory in the finale of a three-game series at Rogers Centre.
After getting ahead in the count, 2-0, Ibanez fouled off two tough pitches from Ryan to work the count to 2-2. He then lined a fastball from Ryan into right field, which scored Ichiro Suzuki for the game's winning run.
"He's one of the elite closers in the game," Ibanez said of Ryan. "He's so tough, I was just trying to hit the ball somewhere."
Ibanez's RBI never would have been possible if it weren't for Ichiro's use of speed on the basepaths.
With Ichiro on first after being issued a walk, there was a sense of inevitability that Seattle's speedster would attempt to steal second base. Ryan, who is notoriously poor at holding runners on base, seemed to get that feeling, too, as he threw over to first.
But as soon as Ryan delivered his first pitch to designated hitter Miguel Cairo, Ichiro took off and easily stole second base.
"I wasn't sure if I was able to find the right time, but I thought I had to," Ichiro said through an interpreter. "If I thought it was impossible to get a steal, then I wouldn't go. But in today's case, I thought I was able to at least get a chance to go. So I went for it."
The stolen base gave Seattle the chance it needed to bring home the game's winning run. It's something Mariners manager John McLaren has grown accustomed to after watching Ichiro over the past few seasons.
"He was trying to figure out Ryan," McLaren said. "He was giving him some different looks. Ichiro's so intelligent, once he gets him, he gets him. He saw an opening and he took it."
The Mariners (24-42) headed to the bottom of the ninth inning clinging to the one-run lead and called upon closer J.J. Putz, who was looking for his eighth save of the season. The burly right-hander got off to a rough start, though, by issuing a walk to second baseman Joe Inglett.
Things then went from bad to worse for Putz. After getting ahead in the count to Toronto center fielder Vernon Wells, 1-2, Putz was seen shaking his right arm in discomfort.
McLaren ran onto the field and after finding out his reliever was experiencing soreness in his right elbow, he opted to not take any chances and removed Putz from the game during the middle of the at-bat.
Right-hander Brandon Morrow was brought in from the bullpen. He struck out Wells and retired DH Matt Stairs to put him one out away from recording the first save of his career.
It didn't come without a scare, though. Toronto first baseman Lyle Overbay drove a 1-2 fastball towards the wall in right-center. It appeared to have enough distance to get over the wall, but Ibanez ran back and made the catch at the wall to secure the victory.
"I definitely almost had a heart attack out there after that at-bat," said Morrow, who kept the game ball and said he would be giving it to his mother as a keepsake. "I definitely thought it was gone. Raul kind of slowed up at the fence and I thought he was just going to watch it fly over his head."
The Mariners' offense wasn't able to get much going early in the game because of the performance by Blue Jays starting pitcher Shaun Marcum. Seattle managed seven hits off the 26-year-old, but only had one run to show through his seven innings of work.
As good as Marcum was, Felix Hernandez matched him pitch for pitch. Seattle's ace dominated Toronto all afternoon, allowing just one unearned run over eight innings. He surrendered four hits while striking out eight and walking one.
"Felix stepped up big time," McLaren said. "That's as good of an outing as he's had all year. I thought he did extremely well."
Seattle pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre approached Hernandez (5-5) prior to the start of the ninth inning to see if he was able to finish the game. The 22-year-old said he felt his legs tightening up during the late innings, though, a possible side effect of the afternoon heat at Rogers Centre, and decided he should turn the ball over the bullpen.
Despite a disappointing start to the season, the Mariners can now take solace in the fact that they are able to return to Seattle having gone 3-3 on a tough East Coast road trip against Boston and Toronto (34-34).
"It's been a really difficult road trip," Ibanez said. "A lot of stuff's been happening right now. It's been tough, but we were able to scratch and claw and leave .500."
If Putz is lost for an extended period of time, they might have to scratch and claw that much more.
Gregor Chisholm is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.