© 2008 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
05/28/08 2:49 AM ET
Lopez ends drama, slide in Seattle
Walk-off hit overcomes Manny's HR, snaps seven-game skid
By Jesse Baumgartner / MLB.com
SEATTLE -- A game full of unexpected twists and turns appeared to be heading to an all-too familiar path for the struggling Mariners on Tuesday. But on a night when Seattle desperately needed a victory, the game ended with a rather unfamiliar sight -- Jose Lopez playfully backpedaling through the infield as his teammates stampeded after him following his game-winning, walk-off single down the left-field line, which gave the Mariners a 4-3 triumph over the Red Sox in front of 30,758 at Safeco Field. With the hit, Lopez ended the Mariners' seven-game losing streak and gave them reason to celebrate after a winless six-game road trip and a tough loss Monday night to begin the homestand. "There is something always special about a walk-off," manager John McLaren said. "I just wanted a win for everybody. We played the game right, we played the game hard. Not to reflect on negative things, but the game Sunday was tough on all of us. ... [This was a] good feeling because guys are sticking together and we're going to come out of this." Wladimir Balentien singled to lead off the bottom of the ninth and was sacrificed to second base by Miguel Cairo. Following a groundout by pinch-hitter Jeremy Reed and an intentional walk to Ichiro Suzuki, Lopez ripped a 1-2 inside-fastball from Mike Timlin down the third-base line and past a diving Mike Lowell. "I want a chance to win the game," Lopez said after the game while music pumped in the clubhouse and teammates continued to give him hugs. "Take one strike, I feel comfortable, relaxed, looking for one pitch in the strike zone." The exciting finish came on a night that appeared rather ordinary up until the bottom of the fifth, when Red Sox starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka threw a few warmup pitches before leaving the game with right shoulder fatigue. But that unexpected problem was merely the start of what became a truly bizarre half-inning, in which shortstop Julio Lugo and manager Terry Francona were both ejected by third-base umpire Angel Hernandez after a check-swing from Raul Ibanez. With a 3-0 lead at that point, it seemed to be Miguel Batista's night. Sporting a good fastball, he was able to keep Boston's fearsome lineup off balance despite nibbling around the plate and falling behind the hitters at times. He even matched David Ortiz's massive swing with a 94-mph heater to strike out the big man for the last out of the third inning. But when shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt dropped a routine grounder with one out and nobody on in the sixth, it ruined Batista's smooth ride and was a precursor for rocky events to come. Ortiz lined a single to right and Manny Ramirez ushered Batista's first pitch into the right-field stands for his 499th career home run to tie the game at 3. "Yuni is a Gold Glove as far as I'm concerned," McLaren said. "He felt bad, I know he did. All I thought was, 'Stay together, stay together and everything will be fine.'" Batista rebounded and took Seattle into the eighth for his strongest start in weeks, but when Boston put its first two runners on to open the eighth inning, reliever Brandon Morrow stepped up. First, Morrow woke Ramirez up with a 96-mph fastball high and inside before striking him out with a 99-mph heater on the outside corner. Lowell got off a little easier, swinging through a 98-mph fastball for strike three, and J.D. Drew hit a hard line drive to right field that Balentien squeezed as the win-hungry fans at Safeco Field let out a relief-filled roar. "The biggest pitches I thought to Ramirez and Lowell were that first-pitch slider I threw both times," Morrow said. "Getting ahead is the biggest part. You fall behind those guys and they know the fastball's coming, and that's where you get in trouble." But even when Morrow did throw the straight heat, the Red Sox sluggers weren't touching it. "You never can tell [the speed], but the bats will let you know that you're throwing the upper 90s, when guys are behind it," said Morrow, who mentioned he's worked on calming himself in big situations. Those three outs, and J.J. Putz's scoreless ninth, set the stage for Lopez's heroics and gave McLaren an eighth-ninth inning punch that he'd like to use more often as the Mariners try to turn the season around. "[Morrow] came in, in a real tight situation with some pretty good hitters coming at him," McLaren said. "He was pretty electric tonight. He really stepped up. J.J. threw the ball well. There were a lot of positives." The Mariners hope to build on those positives as they try to take advantage of eight more games at home in the coming days. But for one night, they could finally stop asking, "What if?" and focus on some concrete success. "A walk-off is huge," Morrow said, "and to finally get [the losing streak] over with is huge."
Jesse Baumgartner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.