SEATTLE -- Anyone wondering how far right-hander Jeff Weaver has come since the first game he pitched for the Mariners can get a glimpse just by comparing his two starts against the Red Sox this season. There was the game he started at Fenway Park on April 10 that was short (two innings) and ineffective (10 hits and seven earned runs) -- the first of several short and ineffective outings before he landed on the disabled list. Now, fast forward to Monday night at Safeco Field.
Weaver did an about-face against the American League East leaders, withstanding a shaky third inning to capture his second consecutive win, a 9-4 victory in front of 33,830 -- seemingly evenly divided between Mariners and Red Sox fans. This time, he held the Red Sox to two runs (one earned) over 5 2/3 innings and picked up his second straight win. The first one was against the Pirates, a complete-game shutout that might not have been as impressive as Monday night's outing. "His last three starts have been awfully good, especially the one before this one," manager Mike Hargrove said. "And tonight's start ... that was a good lineup, a good-hitting lineup. They don't have the best record in baseball because they're lucky. He did a good job." Except for the third inning, when his own throwing error created a major bind, Weaver handled a Red Sox lineup that features some big-time hitters. He said striking out one of them, Manny Ramirez, with one out, two runs in and runners on second and third bases, might have been the biggest out of the game for him. "That was a big at-bat," Weaver said. "Manny could add on very easily. To get out of that with only two runs was huge." It might have been the ballgame as the Red Sox could have broken it wide open in that inning. Instead, the Mariners broke it open in the fifth inning when they scored five runs. Beltre ignited the rally with a leadoff double to center field and later drove in a run with the second of two consecutive bases-loaded walks. In between, Willie Bloomquist had an RBI single and Jose Lopez singled home two runs off losing pitcher Julian Tavarez. The Mariners reached double-digits in hits again, with 10, but none of were by Ichiro Suzuki. His latest hitting streak ended at 19 games. But there still was plenty of offense spread around. Beltre had two hits, including his 10th home run; catcher Kenji Johjima contributed a two-run home run, a two-run blast into the visiting bullpen with pinch-runner Jason Ellison aboard in the seventh inning, immediately before Beltre launched his home run. It was the first time this season Seattle had back-to-back home runs. "Johjima's two-run home run, and then Beltre's solo home run really, really put us over the top," Hargrove said. "Even going out with a 6-2 lead up to there, the offense that Boston has, as explosive as it is, four runs is not a lot of runs against those guys. So it was important, those last three runs really put us over the top and allowed us to do what we did." Hargrove used three of his rookie relievers, along with veteran left-hander George Sherrill, over the last 3 1/3 innings, but never used either Brandon Morrow or closer J.J. Putz. But the biggest news of the night was Weaver. "Just watching him, you can see the difference in his stuff now compared to early in the season," Bloomquist said. "His breaking pitches have more 'bite' and he has more velocity. You can tell by the swings the hitters are taking that his stuff is so much better now than it was early on. "I think that's what he expects out of himself and when he has his good stuff, his track record speaks for itself. It's nice to have him back and he's going to be a big part of this the rest of the way." The Mariners chopped a game off the Angels' lead in the AL West, closing to within seven games, while at the same time putting another game between them and the third-place Athletics. Fellow starter Jarrod Washburn said Weaver's teammates never lost confidence in him and are glad to see him have this kind of success. "That's the kind of pitcher we expected when we signed him," Washburn said. "He is capable of doing that and everyone in this clubhouse knew there was something wrong, but knew he would come back. You guys [media] kept bashing him, but we had faith in his ability." The track record and success in the postseason convinced Washburn, among others, that Weaver would, eventually, emerge from his early-season funk. "Speaking from first-hand, going to the World Series takes a lot out of you going into the next season," Washburn said. "The offseason is a lot shorter than usual and you're not able to catch your breath. Maybe that had something to do with it." The time Weaver spent on the disabled list apparently cured whatever was wrong. "His velocity is higher, his breaking ball is crisper and his command is sharper," Washburn said. "He's stronger now, made some mechanical adjustments and it is real good to have him back. We know what he can do, and he knows what he can do." And right now, Weaver is doing it, although he was miffed at his pitch count. "He was angry at himself," Hargrove said. "He was angry at the number of pitches it had taken him, 80-some pitches going into the sixth inning. "I told him that, 'Give us what you got. I'm going to leave you out there as long as you're effective, whether it's 84 or 120'. As long as he was strong and felt like he was still in command of his pitches. He was going to pitch, so I don't have to worry about the pitch count." Weaver finished with 104 pitches and a pat on the back. "It's just two games and we had a long way to go," Weaver said. "But it's nice to start out a series against a team like Boston with a win. The key was to keep it close until our offense does what it usually does, and that's come around in the middle of the game." That formula worked again.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.