Mariners stun Rangers with late rally
Club scores three runs in ninth; Gutierrez's catch saves the day
ARLINGTON - It's too early, it's way too soon to call a victory in the sixth game of the season a crucial one, right?
Probably so. But the way the Mariners won against the Rangers in Texas on a beautiful Saturday afternoon for baseball, it sure felt like a defining moment.
Staring a 1-5 record in the face, the Mariners picked themselves up and found a way Saturday, rallying from a two-run deficit in the top of the ninth inning for a 4-3 victory over the Rangers.
It took a manager pushing all the right buttons, a lineup that wasn't hitting with runners in scoring position to string together three clutch singles and a pulsating catch by their center fielder to finish off the comeback.
"This was a confidence builder," veteran Ken Griffey Jr. said. "It's always good when you get a confidence boost."
Start with the ninth-inning rally. Trailing, 3-1, Casey Kotchman began things with a single to center field off Rangers closer Frank Francisco, who isn't exactly pitching with the confidence of a Mariano Rivera. Kotchman's hit put Francisco on the brink.
Rob Johnson followed with a walk, which led to the first of many big decisions by manager Don Wakamatsu, who decided to have Jack Wilson bunt the runners over. The Mariners gave up the out, but moved the runners to second and third.
Ichiro Suzuki, who admitted after the game that he's not a big proponent of coming up after a sacrifice bunt, followed with a line-drive single to cut the lead to 3-2.
Wakamatsu then made another key, and rather tough, decision -- pinch-hitting Griffey for Chone Figgins, the Mariners' prized free-agent signing this past offseason. The manager said in his postgame interview it might be the one and only time he does it this season. Hitting Griffey proved the right call as the 40-year-old punched a single into center field to tie the game.
"It's not something I wanted to do," Wakamatsu said. "But it was the best situation at the time. It's no knock on Figgins. I can't say I'll do it again this season."
The rest of the game came down to the Mariners' budding superstar, center fielder Franklin Guttierez. With runners still at first and third and the game tied, Wakamatsu called for the safety squeeze. Darren O'Day, who had relieved Francisco by this time, threw a slider that Gutierrez couldn't get down and fouled off. O'Day followed with another slider, and Gutierrez, now swinging away, stroked it into left field for a 4-3 lead.
The game wasn't sealed there. Closer David Aardsma got the first out of the bottom of the ninth on a strikeout of pinch-hitter David Murphy. Then Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus got a line drive up into the jet stream that blows out to right-center field, and it looked like the ball was headed over the fence.
That's when Gutierrez, who has made a habit of making the spectacular catch, swooped in to take away a home run from Andrus. Aardsma quickly got the third out to end the game.
"If he doesn't make that catch, it's a tie game," Aardsma said. "We needed a win, and he pretty much saved it."
Don't forget this was a Felix Hernandez start, and with Cliff Lee out into the first week of May, the Mariners are banking on wins from Hernandez more than ever.
Hernandez was cruising along into the bottom of the fifth with a 1-0 lead when he allowed a leadoff single to Joaquin Arias. Then Hernandez hit Rangers catcher Taylor Teagarden, who was hitless for the season coming into the at-bat with six strikeouts. The inning unraveled from there.
After a sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third, the Rangers' Julio Borbon hit a ground ball up the middle. Second baseman Figgins came home with the throw and threw it past catcher Johnson to the screen. Not only did Arias score, but so did Teagarden with the go-ahead run.
The Mariners struggled with runners in scoring position again. Suzuki came up in run-producing chances in the second and fourth innings and was unable to produce both times.
Ichiro did find the magic in the top of the ninth, and so did Griffey and Gutierrez.
And with that, the Mariners left the ballpark late Saturday afternoon feeling like a revived team.
Todd Wills is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.