BY John Hickey 09:21PM 04/29/2011

Vargas ends long losing streak in Fenway debut

Cust’s breakthrough double extends Seattle’s winning streak to a season-best four games.

Mariners starter Jason Vargas ended a nine-game losing streak with a 5-4 win in Fenway Park. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

There aren’t many places that have been tougher on the Seattle Mariners over the last few years than Fenway Park.

The Mariners came into Friday with nine wins and 20 losses in Fenway in their last 29 games in Boston and have had just one winning season there since 2001.

For one night, anyway, the Mariners have a winning record in Fenway. Starter Jason Vargas, who knows something about long dry spells, pitched seven innings and picked up his first win since last Aug. 14, giving up four runs, but no runs in his final three innings. He came into the game with a nine-game losing streak.

“The last three innings were what was real impressive to me,’’ manager Eric Wedge said. “The way he threw the last three, he really bowed his neck and gave us every opportunity to get back in the game.’’

That performance enabled Seattle’s suddenly robust offense to rally from a 4-2 deficit for a 5-4 win. Designated hitter Jack Cust, whose 2011 season has been as dry as anyone’s, doubled off the top of the scoreboard on the left field wall to snap a 4-all tie in the seventh to give the Mariners the win.

Seattle got a two-run single from first baseman Justin Smoak, added a run in the fifth when Ichiro Suzuki scored on a throwing error, then got two more on a run-scoring grounder by Miguel Olivo and Cust’s subsequent double, bringing the Mariners to 4-0 on this road trip with games left Saturday and Sunday.

“We’re definitely coming to the park expecting good things to happen,’’ Cust said. “Wedge has preached that from the beginning, and the guys are starting to come out of whatever funks they are in.’’

It’s yet to be proven that Cust, who has yet to hit a home run and who at .185 has a ways to go before he sees the bright side of the Mendoza line, is out of his funk. But he doubled in his final at-bat Wednesday after having struck out four times. Then after getting Thursday in Detroit time to just watch the game, Cust struck out in his first at-bat Friday, walked twice, then doubled.

“I’m trying to contribute,’’ Cust said. “It’s baseball, and you go out and put in the work and trust in your ability. It’s hard when you start off slow; your numbers are what they are. It would be different if this was the middle of the year, but it’s early in the season and things will turn around.’’

Wedge believes that, too, and Wednesday’s double was one reason Cust was back in the lineup Friday and in position to deliver Friday’s game-winning double.

“It was a big hit at a big time for us Friday,’’ Wedge said. “Then you saw him come away with a big hit in a big situation tonight.’’

It didn’t hurt that Cust likes hitting in Fenway, which along with Cleveland’s Progressive Field, are the only American League parks where he has a career .300 average.

“I always feel good here,’’ Cust said. “That wall is so close in left field; it keeps me on the ball. I’ve been feeling better of late; it’s a slow process.’’

The 2011 season has been a slow process for the Mariners, but things seem to be heating up. Key to Friday’s win were the eight walks that the Mariners worked against Boston starter Daisuke Matsuzaka. That meant he already had 81 pitches when Ichiro singled to open the fifth inning with Boston up 4-2, and the heavy pitch total may have led to Matsuzaka being forced out of the game at that point with elbow pain.

“You could tell what type of game we were in early,’’ Wedge said. “We needed to get into their bullpen.’’

The Mariners have been good at beating up bullpens, and they did it again. When the scored the two runs in the seventh, reliever Bobby Jenks was booed by the full house at Fenway.

NOTES: Brandon League is a perfect 6-for-6 in save opportunities while taking over for disabled closer David Aardsma. League joins Neftali Feliz of the Rangers and Jonathan Papelbon of the Red Sox as the only AL closers who are perfect in five or more save chances. … Second baseman Jack Wilson was held out of the lineup Friday in Boston after having to leave Thursday’s game in Detroit having suffered a scratched right eye. There is still redness in the eye, but Wilson played the final two innings Friday on defense and could be in the lineup Saturday. … Disabled center fielder Franklin Gutierrez had a long workout before Friday’s game. He seems to be stronger and he could head out on an injury rehabilitation assignment in the next few days. “Guti has been feeling really good,’’ Wedge said. “All things have been good so far. His energy level is starting to creep back up.’’

Twitter: @JHickey3


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