Ramirez helps Mariners hold off Yanks

Ramirez helps Mariners hold off Yanks

SEATTLE -- Every time left-hander Horacio Ramirez has pitched at home this season, he has looked like one of the best hurlers in the American League.

Now, if he could only find that same magic on the road, he would be a Cy Young Award candidate.

The first-year Mariner was at it again on Sunday afternoon at Safeco Field, where he befuddled the Yankees for more than six innings, and then turned the series finale over to the electric Seattle bullpen.

As usual, the 'pen put on the finishing touches -- in spectacular fashion this time -- to secure a 2-1 Seattle victory in front of 46,181, the second sellout in the three-game series.

While Ramirez (3-3) methodically kept the Yankees hitters quiet for most of the afternoon with change-of-speed tactics, the Mariners' relievers used hard stuff to close the door on any comeback attempts the Bronx Bombers may have had up their pink wristbands.

Right-hander Brandon Morrow, the second of four relievers used by manager Mike Hargrove, struck out Alex Rodriguez with runners on first and second in the eighth inning, causing a roar that probably could be heard across Lake Washington.

The capacity crowd emptied its lungs again when closer J.J. Putz struck out Jason Giambi to begin the ninth inning. Hideki Matsui caused a hush when he doubled to right-center field, but Putz ended a prolonged test of wills against Yankees catcher Jorge Posada with a seldom-used split-finger fastball for another strikeout and more noise.

And then, with just about everyone on their feet, Putz fanned Doug Mienkiewicz for the game-ender.

The bullpen was golden, once again.

"They had some thunder out there the last two innings," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "They threw the ball pretty hard, especially in the eighth inning. It just didn't work out for us. You have to give [Morrow] credit. He ran a couple of counts up to 3-2, then struck out Alex on what looked like a really good pitch."

Seattle went into the game with the second-lowest bullpen ERA (3.29) in the American League. That number went down on Sunday, as Chris Reitsma, George Sherrill, Morrow and Putz recorded eight outs against 10 batters.

"Reitsma came in and got a big double play for us, and George got to Morrow, who got a big out, and J.J. scared us all to death and did his job," Hargrove said.

The relievers are now 5-1, and Putz is 9-for-9 in save chances.

The highlight for many of the fans came in the eighth inning, when, with the Mariners clinging to the one-run lead, Johnny Damon singled and advanced to second base when Morrow replaced Sherrill and walked Derek Jeter on a full-count pitch after first getting ahead of him, 0-2.

Morrow fell behind A-Rod before coming back to strike him out -- perhaps the biggest strikeout thus far in the reliever's young career.

"Maybe," Morrow said. "It was big, especially after I walked Jeter. All I was concentrating on was throwing strikes, especially when it was 3-2 [to Rodriguez]. I didn't want to load the bases. Putting the winning run on was bad enough."

Even with the crowd noise getting louder with each strike on A-Rod, Morrow tuned it out the best he could and kept his composure in the tight situation.

"It was fun," Morrow said. "I felt pretty calm, actually. Calm, but excited."

The final strikeout by Putz extended his consecutive scoreless streak to 12 2/3 innings, the third-longest ongoing streak among current AL relievers.

Ramirez has a little streak of his own.

He improved to 3-0 with a 1.45 ERA at home this season.

"I like the dimensions, and the fact that the ball doesn't carry very well," Ramirez said.

Ramirez mentioned a ball that A-Rod hit to the warning track in right-center field with a runner on base in the sixth inning as an example of the ball not carrying as well here as in other ballparks.

But, for the most part, Ramirez kept the ball on the ground. Nine of the first 10 outs were recorded by Seattle infielders.

That's the reputation Ramirez had when he pitched for the Braves. From 2003-06, he had the 14th-best ground ball-to-fly ball ratio in the Major Leagues. He was 39th coming into Sunday's game and ended up with 14 ground-ball outs and only three in the air to the outfield.

"He kept throwing strikes," Hargrove said. "He had good command of all his pitches. He threw a lot of curveballs for strikes to get ahead of hitters and then changed speeds. He really pitched well."

Ramirez spent most of the past five days thinking and working on ways of changing speeds and keeping the ball down -- and out of the middle of the strike zone.

"This was a big outing for me," Ramirez said. "I wasn't happy with the way I had been pitching, especially the last two starts on the road. It was good to get to the seventh inning."

Ramirez pitched splendidly in odd-numbered innings during his starts at Boston and Detroit, but he struggled mightily in even-numbered innings. In back-to-back road losses, Ramirez surrendered no runs in the first, third and fifth innings, but 14 runs in the second, fourth and sixth frames.

But it was home, sweet home again on Sunday. He was perfect for three innings, and quite good for the next two before allowing a run in the sixth inning, when Damon singled, stole second and scored on Jeter's two-out single to left field on a 3-0 pitch.

"In his last outing, everything he did was wrong," Hargrove said. "In this outing, everything he did was right, and it was against a real good-hitting club."

The Mariners are off on Monday -- their last off-day until June 7 -- and they will begin a three-game series against the Angels on Tuesday night. The main attraction is right-hander Felix Hernandez, who will return for the first time since April 18.

With the Angels losing to the Rangers on Sunday, the Mariners are in third place, 1 1/2 games behind the AL West leaders.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.