ST. PETERSBURG -- Jamie Burke waited until his final start last season to hit his first big league home run. The Mariners' backup catcher needed only two starts to take his second leisurely run around the bases, showing off his rarely used home-run trot in the eighth inning Wednesday night in Seattle's 7-1 victory over the Rays in front of 12,106 at Tropicana Field. Burke's three-run blast into the left-field seats off reliever J.P. Howell secured left-hander Jarrod Washburn's first win of the season for another victory over a team Washburn dominates.
Washburn improved his Tropicana Field record to 6-1 record and lowered his career ERA here to 1.98 -- the lowest among active pitchers with at least seven starts. "It's funny how things like that work," Washburn said of his success at Tropicana Field. For the first time this season, the Mariners went into the late innings of a game with some room to spare. The seven runs were the most in any one game this season and the six-run differential was the widest gap, by far. Five of the first eight games were decided by one or two runs, and the outcome in the other three games was three runs. This one counted as a blowout. "We left some runs out there, but I don't want to harp on the negative because it was a good game," Mariners manager John McLaren said. Washburn turned a three-run lead over to the bullpen after seven innings and Burke's home run made things much easier than usual for left-hander Ryan Rowland-Smith and right-hander Sean Green. "It was nice to put some runs on the board and give ourselves a little bit of a breather there," McLaren said of Burke's blast. "Lately, every pitch meant something and was magnified." Washburn was in command from the get-go, retiring sixth of the first seven batters he faced and the worked his way out of the few predicaments he encountered, the final one coming in the seventh inning when, with two outs and Willy Aybar, on second base with a leadoff double, tried to score on a single to left field by Jason Bartlett. Raul Ibanez made a strong, accurate throw to the plate, where Burke stood his ground and tagged out the runner for the inning-ending out. "That was a great play," Washburn said. "I think Raul is underrated as an outfielder. He doesn't have the strongest arm, but his throws always seem to be right on the money. Tonight was a good example of that. "It was 4-1 at the time and could have been a big momentum swing right there." Washburn called it a night after that play and watched his first win of the season materialize. "He really did a nice job of moving the ball around and changing speeds," McLaren said. "He had a real good feel, kept them off-balance, moving the ball in and out, up and down." It was the kind of game Washburn knows he must pitch to have success. The inside corner was as much of a friend as the outside corner. "I have to establish the inside part of the plate to be successful, and tonight I was able to do that," he said. "They key was I was able to locate my fastball on both sides of the plate. They are an aggressive team and I knew they would be swinging." So he concentrated on getting early-pitch outs to keep his pitch count manageable -- and it worked. He threw 105 pitches, 65 of them for strikes, walked one and struck out two. Washburn's primary concern was the lack of a quality changeup, a pitch he worked on and seemed to have mastered during Spring Training, thanks to a new grip he was taught by pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre. "It must only work in that light Arizona air," Washburn said. "I threw like four of them tonight. One was a ball in the first inning to a left-hander, and the other three, two were doubles, and Ichiro caught the other one at the wall off [Jonny] Gomes' bat. So, it didn't really work that well for me." While pitching inside helped Washburn limit the Rays to one run, the same backfired on Howell, who fed Burke a steady diet of in-on-the-hands pitches before going to the well once too often. "He was busting me inside, trying to get me to hit into a double play," Burke said. "I just kind of set my sights inside." Burke hit a long fly ball to left that started fair but curved foul at the last minute. He stepped back onto the batter's box, and took the next pitch deep. "I probably was guessing more than anything, hit it good and was able to keep it fair," he said. "The first one was a little more inside. This one I got, I don't know how I did it, but I did it. I knew I hit it good, but I haven't hit enough home runs in the big leagues to know if it would go out." It did, and he received the "shaving cream pie-in-the-face" honor after the game during a TV interview. "I love Burkie," Washburn said. 'He's a guy everybody pulls for. He has busted his butt for a long time. He spent a lot of years in the Minor Leagues and now he's here and making the most of it. It seems like every time he gets a start, he does something and tonight was no different. He did a great job."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.