Ichiro, King Felix send M's past Rays
Ichiro Suzuki hit seven of eight pitches for home runs in batting practice. The show was reminiscent of his prodigious pregame display at the All-Star Game two years ago.
So, can the singles machine really hit home runs just about any time he comes to the plate?
"No way!" Suzuki said with a chuckle through his interpreter.
Yet that was the way surprising Seattle won on Thursday. Sensing a pitcher's duel, Suzuki lined James Shields' second pitch of the game for a home run and ace Felix Hernandez saved his injury riddled team with a seven-inning gem in the Mariners' 1-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday.
"Today was a special case," said the Suzuki, an eight-time All-Star and perennial 200-hit man whose other home run this season tied the career hits record for a Japanese player. "Even before the game started, we could all tell the type of game it was likely to be. I kept thinking, 'Do your best, Felix! Do your best, Felix!"'
It was the 22nd time a leadoff homer was the deciding run in a game, and it was just the second time it happened for the Mariners. Greg Briley's shot provided the lone run June 19, 1992, against Minnesota.
The win was the second 1-0 victory of the season for the first-place Mariners, who lead the American League with a team ERA of 3.01. Seattle won only one 1-0 contest all last season, while losing 101 games.
The battered Mariners were coming off their ugliest loss of an otherwise surprising first month. They were starting a fourth-string first baseman, and they scored one run while making three errors. Yet Hernandez (3-0) did what aces are supposed to do.
He bulled through another twisting of his previously sprained right ankle to allow four hits and three walks. He struck out seven in his first scoreless outing since June 6 at Boston, 23 starts ago.
He trumped Shields (2-2), who allowed four hits and the lone run in 7 1-3 luckless innings.
The 23-year-old dubbed "King Felix" left to a fittingly royal exit: thankful teammates swarmed him for hugs and high-fives in the dugout.
"It was great. I knew it was going to be a tight game. Shields was dealing," he said.
Clubhouse crackup Ken Griffey Jr. then walked by and teased, "Yeah, some guys get all the run support."
The 39-year-old Griffey, batting .171 with two RBIs in 12 games in his return to Seattle, was the only healthy position player on the bench. He used what will be his customary day game off after a night game this season to have some fun with Ichiro.
Griffey watched as Suzuki put on a skinny black leather neck tie, circa the 1980s, for the bus ride to the airport to begin a road trip. The slugger vowed to remove that "Duran, Duran" tie from Suzuki's retro chic wardrobe.
What Suzuki did not know: Griffey had at his locker a box of white ties with a blue likeness of new manager Don Wakamatsu splashed on the bottom.
"We're all putting these on as soon as we get on the bus," Griffey whispered.
David Aardsma pitched a perfect eighth with two strikeouts. Brandon Morrow walked Pat Burrell with one out in the ninth and sent pinch-runner Gabe Kapler to second with a wild pitch. But Morrow got Ben Zobrist to pop out and Dioner Navarro to fly out for his fifth save in five chances.
Shields walked one and struck out four. It was the second time in four starts he allowed four hits or fewer, yet the Rays lost for the seventh time in nine games.
"The first hitter of the game? The second pitch? I'll take that all day. If that's all I give up in a game, I'm doing my job," Shields said.
With runners on first and third and one out in the second, Hernandez got Navarro to chase a full-count pitch low and away for a strikeout and Akinori Iwamura to fly out. With Carl Crawford on second base in the third because of Seattle's ninth error in five games - by shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt - Hernandez struck out 2008 AL rookie of the year Evan Longoria.
And after walking two with one out in the fourth, Hernandez got Navarro to fly out and Iwamura to ground out.
"His slider ... ," Mariners catcher Rob Johnson said, shaking his head, "I mean, it was nasty."
Hernandez is 3-0 for the first time in his five-year career. ... Suzuki has 28 career leadoff home runs in the major leagues. This was his first to win a professional game, dating to his rookie season with Orix in Japan as a teen in 1992.