BY SPNW Staff 08:11PM 07/21/2012

Vargas finally gives Mariners a win in Tampa

Despite striking out 15 times, the Mariners made two first-inning runs stand up for 2-1 triumph over the Rays Saturday night that broke Seattle’s eight-game losing streak in Tampa’s Tropicana Field.

Jason Vargas won his staff-leading 10th game by allowing only one unearned run in seven innings. He was backed by relief from Shawn Kelley, Oliver Perez, Brandon League and Tom Wilhelmsen, who had a 1-2-3 ninth for the the save. The bullpen was impressive because it nearly was burned up in the 14-inning game Friday, when the Mariners lost their 12th game in the past 13 in Tampa, 4-3.

Michael Saunders two-out, bases-loaded single in the first inning brought home Casper Wells (walk) and John Jaso (single) with the entirety of the Mariners’ scoring.

They even knocked out Tampa’s starter, Alex Cobb, in the second inning. Ichiro’s line drive struck him on the lower leg, but Cobb managed to recover and throw out Carlos Peguero at the plate. Cobb couldn’t continue, but reliever Cesar Ramos shut down the Mariners through the next four innings.

“It’s rare to win games like that,” said Wedge, referring to first-inning runs holding up. “Vargas didn’t quite have the command he usually has, but he didn’t give in to it, and the bullpen did a great job backing him up.”

Tampa scored its only run in the seventh, thanks to a throwing error by Ichiro that broke the club’s record of 12 consecutive games without an error.

Jason Jennings singled, then headed for third when Jose Lobaton singled to right center. With no chance to get the runner, Ichiro nevertheless threw to third wildly, where Kyle Seager had no chance to get to the ball until it hit the grandstand wall.

Jennings scored, Lobaton advanced to second and Kelley came in for Vargas, who gave up seven hits, three walks and five strikeouts on 108 pitches. Kelley induced a pop-out, then  made a strong fielding play on a sacrifice bunt to get the runner at first. Perez came in for Kelley and struck out the Rays’ home-run leader, Carlos Pena, to end the inning.

Ichiro’s play was his second bad throw in two nights. Friday night, he fielded Ben Zobrist’s 14th-inning double in right field, threw past the cutoff man and was wide of the plate to allow in the winning run.

Despite the win, Wedge lamented that the offense has against fallen asleep. The Mariners have struck out 32 times in the past two games.

“Good as we were in KC (31 runs in four games), we’ve actually gotten away from things that led us offensively,” he said. “It’s usually the same thing — we take pitches early in the count that you need to be hacking on. Then we’re swinging at balls in the dirt or up in the zone.”

NOTES —  Ramos, who shut down the Mariners for four innings, was a teammate of  Vargas at Long Beach State .  .  . CF Franklin Gutierrez continues to suffer from headaches after being conccussed three weeks ago by a pickoff throw while on first base. “It’s unfortunate, but we were told there could be some back and forth with this,” manager Eric Wedge told reporters before the game. “It’s just that type of injury, and that’s what we’re seeing. Some days are better than others, but the fact he still has some recurring headaches, we’re going to shut him down and have the doc look at him Monday (in Seattle).” . . . Starting pitcher Erasmo Ramirez pitching a simulated game before the Tampa game Saturday and is progressing from a sore elbow to the point where he will start a rehab assignment in AAA Tacoma Wednesday  . . .  The Mariners’ side was struck out in the fourth and eighth innings . . .  Kelley retired two batters in the seventh, a day after being sent back to the team hotel after a sudden illness. He missed the 14-inning loss to Tampa in which the Mariners burned through seven pitchers and had C Miguel Olivo warming up as an emergency pitcher in the bullpen . . . Reliever Stephen Pryor, who was on the disabled list after straining a groin June 12, has been activated and sent to Tacoma, where he will begin a a rehab stint.


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