ST. PETERSBURG -- The Mariners used a different left-handed reliever to protect a ninth-inning lead on Tuesday night, and the only player in Major League history with a hyphenated last name provided a pick-me-up for an entire team. Ryan Rowland-Smith came to the rescue, and he did more than just pick up his first big league save. The lefty from Down Under retired all five batters he faced, including the top third of the Rays' lineup in the ninth inning, lifting the Mariners to a 6-5 victory in front of a sell-out home opener crowd of 36,048 at Tropicana Field, snapping a four-game losing streak.
"It was like pulling teeth, but we hung in there," manager John McLaren said. "We got sloppy at times, and we left some runners on base -- but the bottom line is we got a win, and we needed a win in the worst way." The Mariners received a three-RBI contribution from first baseman Richie Sexson, the first two RBIs of the season by right-fielder Brad Wilkerson, a crucial relay throw that cut down the tying run at third with one out in the seventh inning and, perhaps most of all, three scoreless innings of relief. Right-hander Roy Corcoran replaced starter Erik Bedard in the seventh inning and kept the Mariners ahead by one run, and Rowland-Smith took over with one out in the eighth and a runner on first. He threw 17 pitches, 13 of them for strikes and shook hands afterwards. "That last out felt pretty good," Rowland-Smith said of the strikeout of Carlos Pena, honored before the game as the American League's Comeback Player of the Year. "I wasn't going to come off the field giving fist pumps or anything like that. "But it felt good, especially after us losing four straight. It was nice to contribute." Ever since closer J.J. Putz went on the disabled list with a rib injury, the bullpen has been in disarray -- especially late in games. Left-hander Eric O'Flaherty and right-hander Mark Lowe, the first choices to save leads late in games, have struggled. Mariners bullpen coach Norm Charlton, a former closer, was impressed with what he saw from Rowland-Smith. "He's not afraid to go after people," Charlton said. "He went through those top three lefties in that order, and that's no cakewalk. It's his first big league save and I'm happy for him. I'm real happy for him." Rowland-Smith got the game ball and Corcoran received a collective pat on the back. As large their contribution was in the first road win of the season, there were other key factors in the outcome. McLaren hit it on the nose when he said, "That game had a lot in it. You could write a book on that game." It was three hours and 29 minutes of back-and-forth. The Mariners led three times and the Rays led once. The final turning point came in the seventh inning when, with one out, B.J. Upton drove a ball just inside the first-base line. The ball skipped past the Rays' bullpen, hit the low wall and was quickly picked up by Wilkerson. He threw a strike to Jose Lopez, who turned and threw a one-hop bullet to third baseman Adrian Beltre, who did his best to pretend that a throw was not being made. Just as Upton went into his slide, the ball went into Beltre's glove. At the same time, the Gold Glove third baseman put his right knee in front of the base, preventing the runner's foot from touching the bag, applied the tag and there suddenly were two outs and none on. Rays manager Joe Maddon was so hot that he was ejected. "It was a bang-bang play and I thought [Upton] was safe," Maddon said, "so I just let Hunter [Wendelstedt] know that, and he thought he was out. It's just a big moment. I did what I thought I had to do." Sexson agreed with the importance of that play. "That was huge," he said. "If he gets to third with one out, all it takes is a fly ball to tie the game. With the infield in on that turf, the ball just shoots through." Corcoran said he was backing up the play and didn't see exactly what happened, but after the inning he went into the clubhouse and was told by pitcher Jarrod Washburn what had happened -- that Beltre blocked the base with his knee. The fans spent the remainder of the night booing. "It was pretty loud," Corcoran said. "They booed for three innings, didn't they?" Another key play for Seattle came when, in the top of the sixth inning and with the Mariners trailing 5-4, they had Ichiro Suzuki on third base and Lopez on first with back-to-back none-out singles. Beltre hit a towering popup near the backstop screen. Rays catcher Shawn Riggans caught the ball, but didn't immediately see Lopez tag at first base and advance to second. Riggans tried to call timeout, but Lopez already was several feet from second and his request was not granted. The Rays elected to intentionally walk Raul Ibanez and take their chances with Sexson. "It's almost something a manager has to do," Sexson said. "I hit .205 last year and Raul is like Pacman when it comes to driving in runs. That's a managerial move that has to be made." Sexson put the Mariners ahead to stay with a two-run single into right-center field. Bedard worked the first six innings and picked up his first win with Seattle. He surrendered five hits, two of them solo home runs, walked four, hit one and struck out five. "He didn't have his great stuff," McLaren said. "It looked like he had his problems locating his fastball. But he had a real good breaking ball."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.