BY John Hickey 09:14PM 04/30/2011

Fister dodges bullets; Mariners win fifth straight

Three Seattle pitchers hold Red Sox hitless in 11 at-bats with men in scoring position in a rare shutout in Fenway Park.

Doug Fister - Seattle Mariners - 2010 - 2

Doug Fister outdueled the Red Sox Saturday en route to a 2-0 win in Fenway Park. /Ben Van Houten / Mariners

Nothing like a five-game winning streak to put the fun back in the game for a baseball team that was floundering in the abyss.

Unless it’s doing it on the road.

And doing it against teams that have been trouble.

Then there’s the knowledge that the ace is up next. Felix Hernandez is 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA in four career starts in Fenway Park, a place where the Mariners have losing records nine of the last 10 years. He goes Sunday morning to attempt the sweep of the Red Sox.

For as much fun as was Saturday night’s 2-0 win in Fenway Park,  nerves were put to the test inning after inning. From the first, when starter Doug Fister had to pitch out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam by getting out David Ortiz and J.D. Drew, to the seventh, when reliever Aaron Laffey faced Ortiz with men on second and third as the tying runs, it was high drama.

Laffey got an easy fly ball, stranding the runners.

It was a common tale Saturday. The Red Sox challenged Seattle, ending six innings with runners in scoring position, while the Mariners pitching staff had them 0-for-11 with men in scoring position.

Fister, 2-3, had nine of those. He frustrated Ortiz with a couple of strikeouts that had Big Papi wondering what Fister was throwing besides his usual combination of fastballs, sliders and change-ups.

“He really competes out there,’’ manager Eric Wedge said of Fister. “It looks to me that he’s at his best in a tough situation. You have got to make good pitches in general, and especially against a group of good hitters like that. Ultimately he never gave into them.

“It’s really about having conviction with your pitches. When you have conviction along with confidence, you’ll have a good opportunity to get good hitters out.’’

The pitchers had some serious help from the defense – and the umps. With the bases loaded and none out in the fifth, slugger Adrian Gonzalez lined out to Jack Wilson at second base; Wilson flipped the ball to second apparently too late to double off runner Jacoby Ellsbury. But umpire Gerry Davis called Ellsbury out.

Later in the inning, first baseman Justin Smoak raced close to the stands to make a nice catch of a foul pop to end the fifth with men on first and third. The sixth inning ended with catcher Miguel Olivo making a passable impersonation of Willie Mays with a basket catch inches away from the stands to end another first-and-third jam, this one for Laffey.

After Laffey induced an inning-ending fly ball from Ortiz in the seventh, the Mariners only had one more trouble spot. Jarrod Saltalamacchia opened the ninth against Brandon League with a single, but Wilson started a double play on a grounder hit by Ellsbury, and League closed it out for a career-best seventh save.

“It’s nice,’’ League said after closing out Fister’s second start. “I’m just happy to help the team win. We’re doing a great job right now.’’

The bullpen in particular is on a roll. With Jamey Wright and his 0.73 April ERA needing the day off, the left-handed Laffey stepped up and got seven outs, serving as the bridge between Fister and League as Seattle pitching registered just its 11th Fenway Park shutout.

“We’re soaking it in; we like the feeling and we want to keep it going,’’ League said. “The one thing we said at the beginning of the season was that we’re going to be like a family down there (in the bullpen). So far, so good.’’

Wedge said that Laffey had to pitch longer than optimum, but said the lefty handled the chore nicely.

“Laffey was the difference maker for us tonight,’’ he said. “We were going to give Jamey Wright the day off, and Aaron really stepped up for us.

“We pushed him there at the end, and he was able to work through it.’’

The Mariners got on the scoreboard in the third inning when Ichiro Suzuki, who had two more hits and who now has an eight-game hitting streak, walked. Chone Figgins singled him to third. A double down the left field line from Milton Bradley not only brought home the game’s first run, it brought Bradley’s 0-for-22 slump to an end.

One of the season’s most curious plays followed. This time the umpiring didn’t go Seattle’s way. With runners now on second and third, Olivo grounded to third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who double pumped before throwing to first. The throw was too late, but first base umpire Tim Tichenor called Olivo out.

Bradley, who had a clear view as he held up at second base, protested and was ejected by second base ump Gerry Davis, the crew chief.

“I was out there arguing,’’ Wedge said, “and when I was coming off, he was yelling too, and I guess they got him.’’

With Fister dodging disaster, the Mariners built the pitch count against longtime nemesis John Lackey. The right-hander came into the game with 13 wins over Seattle, his second-best total against one team. In the sixth, Lackey showed some weakness when Jack Cust, who walked twice earlier, singled and took second on a Michael Saunders single. A bunt by Brendan Ryan moved up the runners and Wilson got the run in with a sacrifice fly.

NOTES: Bradley’s ejection was the first of the year for a Mariner. … The shutout was the third of the season for the Seattle pitching staff, and it brought the team ERA under 4.00 at 3.95. … Laffey and League combined to throw 3.1 shutout innings. Coming into the last game of this trip Sunday, the relievers have gone 13.1 innings without allowing a run. … Ichiro, whose career .301 April average is his worst month, had two or more hits in seven of his last eight games and finished the month with a .328 average.

Twitter: @JHickey3


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