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Ichiro's grab seals Mariners' gritty win

Ichiro's grab seals Mariners' win

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KANSAS CITY -- The game-ending catch Ichiro Suzuki made on Tuesday night is sure to be shown on some highlight shows -- allowing the fans who were at the game to actually see it.

"Almost the entire stadium didn't have a good view of that play," the Mariners right fielder said after making a sliding catch near the tarp along the first-base line at Kauffman Stadium. "I did catch the ball, but even if I didn't, I probably could have scooped the ball up and said, 'Hey I caught it,' and probably no one would have known about it."

The catch might have saved the game for the Mariners, who waged a back-and-forth battle with the Royals before escaping with a 7-6 victory before 15,057.

Right-handed closer David Aardsma dodged a bases-loaded jam to notch his 26th save of the season in 28 chances.

There is no telling what John Buck might have done if his slicing popup would have fallen safely, but Ichiro made the conjecture moot.

The eight-time Gold Glove winner raced in from right field and just as he hit the dirt warning path near the stands, he slid feet-first, stuck out his glove and caught the ball. Out of the dust he emerged, holding the ball in his glove for first-base umpire Mike Estabrook to see.

Game over.

"I couldn't see him," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "All I saw [from the third-base dugout] was a glove coming up from behind the tarp with a ball in it."

As just about everyone else, Wakamatsu thought the ball had little chance of staying in play.

Seattle shortstop Jack Wilson had a good view of the play -- and was totally impressed with what he saw.

"When you see the ball hit, you obviously are hoping he can get there," Wilson said. "He's so fast, there is a good chance he will. But he had a long run, and I saw him make a feet-first slide and the ball was in a perfect spot.

"If it's a little shorter, it bounces off the tarp. But to be running that hard, knowing the tarp is there, and still make the catch is a pretty awesome play."

Asked just how difficult of a play it was, Ichiro said: "It's hard to say. It's a play that I didn't know if I would get to the ball in time."

And thus, the game ended pretty much the way it started -- with Ichiro in the spotlight.

The first swing he made in the series opener was a home run to right field, his seventh of the season and the 30th game-opening homer of his career.

"Griffey said something in our [pregame hitters] meeting today that Ichiro needs to add some power to his game," Wakamatsu said, smiling. "So he gets up and goes deep in his first at-bat."

It jump-started an offense that produced 14 hits. Every starter except third baseman Adrian Beltre, who came off the DL before the game, had at least one hit. First baseman Russell Branyan had two hits and drove in two runs, to push his total for the year to 58 and set a single-season career high.

With an RBI double in the sixth inning and a run-scoring single in the seventh, which scored the eventual winning run, Branyan snapped out of a hitting slump.

"I have been pressing a little bit here lately, and I'll be the first to admit it," he said. "I don't know whether it's pressure of getting a hit or what, but I have been putting pressure on myself and getting out of my approach, swinging at balls and not accepting my walks. It's time to step back and simplify my approach and clear my thoughts."

It was a good day offensively for Mariners and ex-Mariners.

Royals shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, playing his first game against his former teammates since being traded last month, hit a run-scoring triple in the fourth inning, drove in another run in the sixth with a double and scored one run.

But it's the way he scored it that raised eyebrows.

Betancourt scored from third on a 110-foot popup behind first base.

Second baseman Jose Lopez, Betancourt's former double-play partner with the Mariners, made the catch.

Betancourt tagged up at third and broke for the plate. Lopez already had committed to throwing the ball to catcher Kenji Johjima, but for some reason, shortstop Jack Wilson cut off the ball, and by the time he turned and threw the ball to Johjima, it was too late to nail Betancourt.

As it turns out, Wilson was not supposed to be there.

"We don't run that particular defense and Pittsburgh does," Wakamatsu said. "On short popups, we don't have a cutoff man in that situation."

"It's imbedded in my skull," Wilson said, "but I have to get it out of there. It won't happen again."

Left-hander Ryan Rowland-Smith struggled in the start, surrendering two runs in the first, one in the second and two in the fourth, departing with the Mariners behind, 5-4.

"It looked like a different guy out there," Wakamatsu said. "In his last outing, I saw a guy whose mechanics were much tighter and more efficient. It looked like he was falling off a little, and he threw a lot of pitches up in the zone.

"I don't know if was the mound, the heat, or whatever, it wasn't the same guy we saw the last time."

In his previous start, Rowland-Smith held the Twins hitless for six innings.

"I just didn't feel right out there and kept falling behind the hitters," the left-hander said.

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

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