BY John Hickey 06:34PM 06/05/2011

Hickey: Olivo shaping Mariners into a winner

A big homestand ends well thanks in large part to their veteran catcher; Mariners are 10 games above .500 when Olivo starts. It’s no fluke.

The Mariners are 10 games above .500 when Miguel Olivo is the starting catcher this season. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Miguel Olivo waited in the dugout for Ichiro Suzuki, grabbed him and gave him a big hug.

Six innings later, Ichiro waited in the dugout to return the gesture.

And everybody had a high-five, fist bump or hug for rookie Greg Halman on the occasion of his first big league start  Sunday as the Mariners completed a highly successful homestand with a 9-6 win over Tampa Bay.

Ichiro broke out of a 0-for-16 slump with the Mariners’ first big hit of the day. His team down down 3-0 in the third, Ichiro crushed a Wade Davis pitch for a two-run triple, then scored the tying run on a perfectly executed suicide squeeze bunt by Brendan Ryan.

“He’s my teammate; we’re all family,’’ Olivo said of Ichiro. “I know what he’d been going through. You know he’s going to hit. It was great to have him get us going.”

Six innings later, the Mariners were down 6-5, having squandered a 5-3 lead. Adam Kennedy tied the game with an RBI single, then Olivo stepped up with his third home run in three days, a three-run blast that provided the difference as the Mariners scored their sixth consecutive series win.

Ichiro – and everyone else in a Seattle uniform – was waiting to pummel Olivo when he returned to the dugout.

Seattle has won 15 of its past 20 games to climb from the cellar into second place in the American League West. A team that looked two months ago to be a reincarnation of the 101-loss team of the previous season has made itself into a contender.

While it’s clear that this isn’t the 2001 Mariners, it should be pointed out that by winning their last six series, this outfit has done what no Seattle team has done since that 116-win season.

Few have more to do with the run than Olivo, who has three homers in his last seven at-bats. He’s started 46 games for Seattle behind the plate. The Mariners have won 28.

It’s small wonder that manager Eric Wedge has Olivo in the lineup as often as possible; when anyone else has been behind the plate, the club’s record is 3-10. But, as Wedge points out, “Miguel wants to play every day.’’

He may get his wish.

“He’s a big-game player,’’ Wedge said of Olivo. “He wants to be up there in those big-game situations.’’

Kennedy’s hit, which came after Justin Smoak walked and Jack Cust beat the shift with a single to left, tied the game at 6l and spelled the end of the day for Rays reliever J.P. Howell. Next up was Joel Peralta, who saw Olivo Saturday touch him for a two-run, pinch-hit homer.

Peralta tried to get Olivo with the same pitch, a splitter. The result was the same – a shot over the left field wall. Moments after being down 6-5, the Mariners were now up 9-6. Brandon League closed it out with a 1-2-3 ninth for his 16th save. The Mariners completed a 10-game homestand with a 7-3 record, all against the American League East, probably the AL’s toughest division.

Along the way, the Mariners had contributions from rookie outfielders Carlos Peguero and, on Sunday, Halman. Peguero had two homers and four RBIs Thursday. The Mariners were 7-1 in games he started on the homestand. Halman, called up Friday, had a single and scored a run in the three-run third inning, tripled home two runs to break a tie at 3 in the seventh inning and added an eighth-inning single.

“It is what you see,’’ Ichiro said. “I think it’s good to have that kind of energy (added to the clubhouse).’’

Halman was up for 29 at-bats last year, when he was nervous beyond expectations. The nerves are gone now – at least they were after getting a single in his first at-bat, then two more.

“The nerves from last year to this year are totally different,’’ Halman said. “I feel much more comfortable here now.’’

With Seattle suddenly seeing some contributions from the new outfield crew of Halman and Peguero – Mike Wilson, the third rookie outfielder, was 1-for-6 on the homestand – the Mariners are starting to feel comfortable themselves.

They play three games in Chicago and four in Detroit this week. The challenge will be to produce to the levels of the homestand, although it should be pointed out that Seattle was 5-1 on the last trip, through San Diego and Minnesota. So they have produced on the road before.

NOTES: Olivo’s contribution isn’t solely with the bat. Mariner pitchers have a 2.74 ERA when he is behind the plate. … Olivo’s pinch-hit homer Saturday was the third of his career and the first by a Mariner this season … Lefty starter Erik Bedard didn’t get the win Sunday despite allowing just three run in seven innings. But he is 3-0 with a 1.76 ERA in his last seven starts. … Ryan pulled off the Mariners’ first successful suicide squeeze bunt of the season to get Ichiro home from third in the third inning, tying the game. Ryan has seven sacrifice bunts, one-third of Seattle’s total of 21.

Twitter:@JHickey3


YourThoughts

  • Michael Kaiser

    Ya, pretty soon I am going to have to start praising the Mariners.  I am not even sure I can make my mouth muscles move like that.  

  • Michael Kaiser

    Ya, pretty soon I am going to have to start praising the Mariners.  I am not even sure I can make my mouth muscles move like that.