In two nights in Anaheim, the Mariners and Angels played the equivalent of three games. But they get credit only for one 3-2 win each in the splendidly pitched series.
The Mariners took Saturday’s 12-inning thriller when they exploded for two runs in the top of the frame, then David Freese pulled one back in the bottom with a leadoff homer off Dominic Leone, the previous night’s loser in 16 innings.
Charlie Furbush, offering the last in a long line of great relief performances, came on and went 1-2-3 to cool the hottest team in the American League, which lost only for the second time in 11 games and the second time in 24 home games.
Fitting for a game of numerous odd plays, the winning run happened in a most unlikely way. With the bases loaded in the 12th, pinch-hitter Justin Smoak, a dead-pull hitter when hitting left-handed, cue-sticked a dribbler down the third base line that third baseman Freese dove to field. But he was left with no play as pinch-runner Willie Bloomquist scored the second run of the inning that proved decisive.
The first run of the inning came after Kyle Seager opened against the Angels’ sixth pitcher, Joe Thatcher, with a double, then scored when Logan Morrison, another dead-pull lefty, pushed a double down the left field line.
Back-to-back hits was a major feat so far this weekend, but the Mariners added a third one on another freak play. Pinch-hitter Endy Chavez attempted a sacrifice bunt that started fair down the third base line, veered foul, then worked its way back fair as Freese stared and Bloomquist reached third standing.
After Chavez stole second, Brad Miller was walked intentionally to load the bases. Manager Lloyd McClendon had Smoak hit for backup catcher Jesus Sucre, who drove in the game’s first run in the sixth, to deliver the winning nubber.
“Sure, I’d like to have seven-eight runs, but it is what it is,” McClendon told reporters afterward. “we found a way to win.
“I told my guys we’re good. But we have work to do.”
Certainly the offense does. They finished with nine hits, but none came in the first five innings against Garrett Richards, the best pitcher who wasn’t in the All-Star Game. He won seven in a row with 1.27 ERA and was perfect until Dustin Ackley led off the sixth with a double.
He moved to third on an infield out and scored on a single to left by Sucre, playing in his third Mariners game this season and getting his second hit and first RBI.
That figured to be the best that Felix Hernandez could expect — another one-run lead. But the Mariners’ ace couldn’t hold it, opening the seventh with walks to Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, his third and fourth passes of the game. Howie Kendrick’s grounder up the middle went between Miller and second baseman Robinson Cano, and neither knew whether to field or cover second base.
The hesitation forced Miller to lunge to stop the ball, ending the chance to start a double play. Then he made a dubious decision to try to throw to first from his knees. The ball skipped away from first baseman Morrison, and Pujols scored on the error.
But on the next play, Hamilton was tagged out in a third-base rundown. Hernandez escaped the inning by inducing a ground out and a strikeout to preserve a remarkable streak.
It was his 12th consecutive start of at least seven innings pitched and two or fewer runs allowed, which hasn’t been seen in the American League since the semi-legendary Chief Bender did it in 1907.
But Hernandez was done after 114 pitches. He was followed by equally stout relievers — Yoervis Medina, Joe Beimel, Brandon Maurer and Francisco Rodney all held scoreless form as part of the AL’s best bullpen. Leone also had a scoreless inning in the 11th, but the Freese homer brought out McClendon, who summoned Furbush to end another lengthy, high-drama finish.