Ichiro's HR helps M's slam Padres
That soft bubble in the schedule the Seattle Mariners took advantage of during the last month to climb back above the .500 mark is done.
Now comes the real challenge to see how long this surprise team can stick around in the AL West race.
Ichiro Suzuki lined the 29th leadoff homer of his career into the right-field seats and finished a triple short of the cycle, and the Mariners gave starter Jarrod Washburn his first win in more than two months, 9-3 over the San Diego Padres on Thursday.
The win came as the Mariners headed out of town on a brutal nine-game road trip at the Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox that may determine Seattle's course for the rest of the season. Seattle took two of three from San Diego and spent the previous month taking series from the likes of Baltimore, Arizona and a pair from the Padres, winning seven of its last eight series after dipping to a season-low of 21-26 on May 26.
"It is for sure that we have made progress," Suzuki said through an interpreter.
At two games above .500 at 37-35, the Mariners sound ready for their road test.
"We're going to be playing three of the best teams in baseball the next week and a half. Hopefully we'll play good ball and it'll put us in position around the All-Star break to be buyers, not sellers," said Mike Sweeney, who recorded his first four-hit day in nearly three years. "We're playing good baseball."
Suzuki hit the third pitch from San Diego starter Wade LeBlanc (0-1) for his sixth homer of the season. He added a double in the second and single in the fourth, but grounded out and reached on an infield hit in his final two at-bats. It was his third four-hit game of the season.
Rob Johnson added a three-run double in Seattle's four-run first, Wladimir Balentien hit a solo homer in the fifth and Sweeney capped his day with a two-run single as the Mariners finally gave Washburn (4-5) some run support.
This was an offensive outburst Washburn isn't use to. Averaging just 4.27 runs of support in his Mariners career - lowest among AL starters - Washburn worked liberally. He gave up hits and allowed runners in scoring position in four of his six innings, but kept the Padres scoreless until Chase Headley's two-run homer in the sixth.
Washburn allowed six hits and struck out six, winning for the first time since April 21. He was 0-2 in his previous five starts, despite a 2.25 ERA.
"I told (Johnson) as soon as he got that hit I said to myself, 'Game over,"' Washburn said. "I just had to go out and make pitches. For the most part I did that."
Seattle headed for the road after taking full advantage of LeBlanc, making just his second start this season.
Suzuki got the offense started, followed by Adrian Beltre's single and Sweeney's double. After Franklin Gutierrez, who has four homers this season against San Diego, was intentionally walked, Johnson came through. The young catcher was just 1 for 13 on the homestand, but drove the first pitch from LeBlanc to the wall in left-center easily scoring all three runners.
Seattle added another run in the fifth when Ronny Cedeno executed a perfect squeeze bunt to score Gutierrez from third and Balentien followed with his towering homer into the second deck in left field. Sweeney then drove home a pair in the eighth.
Edgar Gonzalez added a solo homer in the seventh for San Diego, who loaded the bases with two outs but Kevin Kouzmanoff flew out to Suzuki to end the threat.
"We had the go-ahead run at the plate in a game that looked like it could get away from us real early," said San Diego manager Bud Black, who watched most of the game from the clubhouse after getting ejected.
San Diego outfielder Scott Hairston and Black both were ejected in the first inning by plate umpire Marvin Hudson. Hairston started toward first after a 3-2 pitch from Washburn appeared high and outside. But Hudson emphatically punched out Hairston, triggering a few choice words from the Padres' No. 3 hitter. It didn't take many before Hairston was tossed, and Black's ejection was moments later when he started arguing with Hudson as well.
Suzuki is now tied with Kenny Lofton for 11th all-time in leadoff homers. ... Padres DH Adrian Gonzalez walked in the seventh inning, breaking the franchise record for walks in June. He has been given 28 free passes this month. ... Seattle placed SS Yuniesky Betancourt on the 15-day DL with a strained hamstring. He could be out until after the All-Star break.