© 2008 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
SEATTLE -- Second baseman Jose Lopez was second to no one on Opening Day.
He did everything a second-place hitter should do in helping the Mariners start the regular season with a 5-2 victory over the Rangers in front of a sold-out crowd of 46,334 at Safeco Field.
Lopez was instrumental in the Mariners' two-run sixth inning, which turned a one-run deficit into a one-run lead against Rangers starter Kevin Millwood, and was Jose-on-the-spot in the seventh, when he capped a three-run rally with a two-strike, two-run double just inside the third-base line.
After starter Erik Bedard bobbed and weaved his way through the first five innings, four-sixths of the Seattle bullpen took it from there as manager John McLaren used right-hander Sean Green, left-hander Erik O'Flaherty and then right-handers Mark Lowe and J.J. Putz to subdue Texas.
Green got the win, Putz notched the save, and Lopez received a large share of credit for the win.
The Mariners, held to just two hits by Millwood through five innings, were trailing by a run when Ichiro Suzuki reached on shortstop Michael Young's error. Lopez, 0-for-2 at the time, was in a bunting position for the first pitch, which was low and out of the strike zone.
McLaren went to the hit-and-run play.
Ichiro broke with the pitch and Lopez somehow pushed the high-and-inside pitch to the right side of the infield, perfectly placed so Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler, who was on his way to cover second base, couldn't get to the ball in time to get Lopez.
"It wasn't the prettiest thing in the world, but it was very, very effective," McLaren said.
Raul Ibanez followed with a run-scoring single to right field to tie the game, and, one out later, third baseman Adrian Beltre said he "ran as fast I can" to beat the throw to first base on what would have been an inning-ending double play.
Instead, he received the go-ahead RBI.
The Opening Day outcome was decided in the seventh inning, when the Mariners scored three times off reliever Kazuo Fukumori, who walked two batters, uncorked two wild pitches -- the second one scoring a run -- and surrendered Lopez's huge double past third base.
Fukumori fed Lopez five consecutive split-finger fastballs. The fourth one started at the knees and dropped to ground level in a hurry. Lopez swung way over the top of the ball for the second strike.
The next splitter didn't drop nearly as much, and Lopez put a good swing on it and drilled it past third base. He was clapping his hands when he pulled into second.
"That was a big hit down the left-field line," McLaren said. "I feel good about Jose. He's having fun. He came into camp with good enthusiasm, he's a wonderful person and he's maturing. I think last season was a step in the right direction. I like what I've seen out of Jose Lopez."
Indeed, Lopez is having fun again.
He was all smiles after the game and said he got more satisfaction from the infield single than the double because "We were behind 1-0 at the time."
"We had runners on second with nobody out and the middle of our lineup coming up in Raul, Richie [Sexson] and Adrian."
The heart of the batting order produced two runs, gave Seattle the lead and got Millwood out of the game.
Ichiro called Lopez's infield single, "probably the biggest play of the game."
Ichiro went hitless, but reached base twice and scored two runs.
"When I got on base, things happened, so I have taken that and recognized that," he said through his interpreter. "I would like to apply that for the rest of the season."
The envelope will be pushed often this season as the Mariners attempt to manufacture runs.
"Our philosophy is to get a lead and add on to it," McLaren said. "And we want to add on to it by doing whatever it takes: stealing, bunting, and running."
Or even watching.
The Mariners are known as an aggressive-hitting team and had finished last in the American League last season in walks. On Opening Day this year, they had more walks (seven) than hits (six) -- something that happened just once in 2007.
Bedard, meanwhile, pitched out of the stretch position most of the day.
"We had the chance to score some runs on him when he was struggling, but that's why he's a quality pitcher," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We did a great job of working him but didn't cash in."
The only run Bedard surrendered came on a first-inning solo home run by Young.