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09/19/09 2:30 AM ET
Ichiro's walk-off shot stuns Mariano, Yanks
Catalyst homers off NY closer in ninth to give Felix 16th win
By Jim Street / MLB.com
SEATTLE -- When the Mariners were down to their final out against perhaps the best closer in Major League history, the chances of a second consecutive walk-off win seemed unfathomable. But a two-pitch sequence delivered a lucky 13th in the ninth inning on Friday night. Shocking. Stunning. Surprising. That is about the only way to describe the pinch-hit double veteran Mike Sweeney hit against Rivera, and the ensuing first-pitch homer Ichiro Suzuki sent into the right-field seats, lifting the Mariners to a 3-2 victory before 28,935 at Safeco Field. "Mariano doesn't leave many pitches over the plate," Sweeney said. "He's the best in baseball as a closer. I got a cutter. I think Mariano was trying to come in and left it a little middle away. "I was glad I got on base for Ichiro. We were fortunate to square up two balls and get out with a win, because usually with Mariano coming into the game in the ninth inning, you don't get to shake hands after the game." There was a whole lot of shaking going on at home plate and in the dugout after Ichiro's 10th home run of the season gave him back-to-back walk-offs, his third of the season and the Mariners' club-record 13th. That is just one fewer than the Yankees, who are on the verge of clinching the American League East title. But they got a taste of their own medicine in the opener of a three-game series. Sweeney received the ceremonial shaving-cream pie in the face after the game, and Mariners ace Felix Hernandez got his 16th victory of the year and possibly a few more votes for the AL Cy Young Award. Hernandez pitched his second complete game of the season and notched his league-leading 26th quality start. Only one of the two runs he surrendered was earned as his record improved to 16-5 -- a career high in wins -- and his ERA dipped to 2.45. Ichiro, meanwhile, did something for the third time this season that he never did during the first eight years with the Mariners -- deliver a walk-off hit. "It's only fitting that he's the one that hit it," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "It still baffles me that it's the third one for this club, and all are this year. He's done so much this year that's phenomenal. The 2,000th hit, and 200 hits for the ninth straight season." Ichiro had four hits in this game, but only one really mattered. "With a pitcher like Mariano Rivera, there is no way you can plan anything like that," Ichiro said. "Mike Sweeney created an opportunity for us and I just went with the flow he created. It was an at-bat I went with my emotions." One pitch, one swing, game over. "I don't know what happened," Rivera said. "I thought the pitch [to Ichiro] was inside, but not enough. The Sweeney pitch caught too much of the plate." Rivera had converted 40 of his 41 save chances this season, including his past 36. But just like White Sox closer Bobby Jenks, who could not hold a two-run lead in the ninth inning on Thursday, Rivera also stumbled. "Ichiro can do a lot of things," Rivera said. "If you make mistakes, he's going to hurt you. I wish I could bring it back and make my pitches, but it's done. I just have to move forward." It was Rivera's first blown save against the Mariners since 1997, ending a streak of 27 consecutive conversions. Unlike the previous night, when Ichiro ran into center field to prepare for his post-hit celebration after stroking a game-winning single into right field in the 14th inning, the reception at home plate on Friday night was different. "Yesterday, I was able to escape them," he said through his interpreter. "But today, there was nowhere to escape. I got beat up a little bit today." He received a hearty handshake and thank you from Hernandez. "That was a great, great game," Hernandez said. An unearned run in the sixth inning put Hernandez behind, 2-1, and it appeared that it would be the deciding run, but not really damage his chances of becoming the second pitcher in Mariners history to win a Cy Young Award. A passed ball by catcher Rob Johnson allowed Johnny Damon to reach third base with nobody out, and Mark Teixeira followed with a sacrifice fly, producing the run that gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead. The Mariners' offense was held in check by right-hander A.J. Burnett, who battled Hernandez pitch for pitch. He held Seattle to seven hits over seven innings. Ichiro had three and center fielder Franklin Gutierrez had two, along with three superb defensively plays. Second baseman Jose Lopez drove in the Mariners' first run, dropping a single into left-center field in the third inning to score Gutierrez from second. It was Lopez's 90th RBI of the season, a single-season career high. But that was the extent of Seattle's offense and after seven innings, Burnett handed the ball to the Yankees' bullpen. Usually, with Rivera, who has 522 career saves and ranks second on the all-time list, when he throw the final pitch, the Yankees are the ones shaking hands. Not this time.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.