Wild play lifts Mariners in opener

Wild play lifts Mariners in opener

SEATTLE -- Adrian Beltre and John McLaren weren't sure what happened. Even the umpires seemed confused. One thing is for sure: Thursday, July 12, appeared more like Friday the 13th.

The Mariners used a bizarre fifth inning for yet another come-from-behind victory, this one a 3-2 triumph over the Detroit Tigers in front of 31,994 fans at Safeco Field. The win puts Seattle within two games of the American League West-leading Angels, while building its lead to 7 1/2 games over third place Oakland.

The game started and ended typically, but it was hardly by the book.

The Tigers jumped on Felix Hernandez early, building a 2-0 lead through three innings. But any sense of normalcy ended when Tigers catcher Pudge Rodriguez was ejected in the fourth.

With Beltre stealing second and Yuniesky Betancourt at bat, Rodriguez's throw to second missed its target and bounced into center field. While arguing with home-plate umpire Mike Winters about possible interference by Betancourt, Rodriguez bumped him, prompting an ejection.

Betancourt denied interfering, and said he didn't make any contact with the catcher.

Oddly, that was just a prelude for Beltre, the umpires and second base.

Just one inning later, with the bases loaded and two outs, Beltre delivered by knocking a two-run single before advancing to second on the throw home. He appeared to be tagged out by Tigers shortstop Carlos Guillen after sliding past the bag, but second-base umpire Bruce Froemming said no tag was made and play continued as usual.

Well, there wasn't much usual about it.

Beltre got to third as Richie Sexson scored the go-ahead and eventual game-winning run, but the Tigers appealed, tagged second, and Beltre was ruled out for having never touched the bag, ending the inning.

He wasn't sure if he was tagged, but he was sure he touched the base.

"I'm still confused about what happened," Beltre said. "Guillen tried to tag me, and I was trying to get away from him, and I went to third and Bruce called me safe. And after they went to second, and tagged second, they called me out. He said I never touched the bag, which I did."

But did Guillen ever make the tag?

"He might have tagged me, I don't know, because it was weird, because I was trying to swing away from him," Beltre said. "I don't know if he tagged me, I can't really answer that."

Both McLaren and Beltre were sure the Mariners had taken the lead, until the Tigers appealed. Then McLaren wasn't so sure.

Froemming said Guillen never got Beltre on the sweep tag, but later granted the appeal by saying he never touched the base.

"Three of the guys say that he never touched second base, they went to the mound for the appeal, and that's when I called him out," Froemming said. "[There was] no force play, and action goes until there is a force play."

The one-run cushion was all Hernandez, and the Mariners bullpen, needed to hold the win. Hernandez allowed two runs on 10 hits in 6 1/3 innings while striking out six, the 13th time he's fanned at least five this season.

With runners on first and third and no outs in the fourth, he worked his way out of a jam, retiring three straight batters.

"I'm real proud of Felix," McLaren said. "He wasn't real sharp, but he kept us in the game, and that's all you can ask."

Hernandez said the first two innings of Thursday's game felt like he hadn't pitched in a long time, but he settled down from there.

Adjustments, along with being the beneficiary of some bizarre plays, helped him cruise after the third.

"I didn't know what was going on out there," Hernandez said of the Mariners' scoring play. "All I knew is that we scored three runs. ... We won the game with those three runs."

That's all he needed, because Seattle's bullpen came in and did what it's been doing all season by shutting down the opposition.

Sean Green, George Sherrill, Chris Reitsma and J.J. Putz combined to allow just one hit in 2 2/3 scoreless innings, with Putz recording his 25th save in as many opportunities.

Dating back to last season, Putz has now recorded 27 consecutive saves, tying Eddie Guardado's club record.

His ERA in save opportunities is 0.31.

"I feel honored to be in the same [category] as Eddie Guardado," Putz said. "He's a good friend and a great competitor, a great closer. It's nice, but it's even nicer that we got the win."

Sure, it was under bizarre circumstances. Sure, the Mariners' fifth inning was a strange way to earn the win. But the fact remains that Seattle is now 14 games over .500, and very much alive in the second half of the season.

So what did Beltre think about the frenzy?

"It ended up being the winning run, and we'll take that any time," he said. "It was kind of weird today, but we'll take it."

And better yet, the Mariners are starting to cement themselves as a contender in the league. Earlier this season, they completed a three-game sweep against the AL East-leading Red Sox, and took three of four from intradivisional rival Oakland prior to the All-Star break.

Other clubs may want to pay attention: Seattle is for real.

"When you're playing a team like Detroit, they went to the World Series last year, we want to make a statement that we're an elite team in this league, too," McLaren said. "It's one game, but it was a good game for us, and it was a real good win, something to build on."

Patrick Brown is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.