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Vargas leads Mariners to first series win

Vargas leads Mariners to first series win

SEATTLE -- The ignition switch for the Mariners' small-ball offense has been short-circuited for the most part this season, but it was hard to imagine it staying that way much longer.

It took awhile, but in their 87th inning of batting back-to-back at the top of the lineup, Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins finally scored in the same frame on Wednesday night.

It happened in the fifth on a two-out, broken-bat single to left field by Milton Bradley, pulling the Mariners even with the Athletics. An inning later, two-out RBI singles from Franklin Gutierrez and Jose Lopez provided the difference in Seattle's 4-2 victory over Oakland before 15,978 at Safeco Field.

Left-hander Jason Vargas pitched a solid six innings for his first win and closer David Aardsma worked a perfect ninth inning for his fourth save in four chances.

The Mariners figured coming into the season that they had one of the best table-setter tandems in the Major Leagues in Ichiro and Figgins. They are still a work-in-progress, but the fifth inning showed just how much damage they can do at any given time.

With the Mariners behind by two runs, Ichiro reached on an infield single -- ending a 0-for-13 streak -- and Figgins walked. Gutierrez also walked, putting the squeeze on Athletics left-hander Gio Gonzalez a little more.

"[The Mariners] did a great job of being patient, and it paid off for them," Gonzalez said.

One out later, Bradley stepped up and hit the first pitch into left field, scoring Ichiro and Figgins, capping just the sixth time this season they were on base at the same time.

After scoring a combined 202 runs last season, neither has really clicked into their usual get-on-base-and-score form. Ichiro is off to a bit of a slow start, batting .244 (10-for-41) with four runs, while Figgins is hitting .278 (10-for-36) with five runs and six walks, including two in Wednesday night's victory.

Once they find their customary cruise control, the Mariners offense figures to make things easier for the pitchers, who have carried the team to its four wins this season including, for the first time, two victories in a row.

"The most impressive thing for me was that two nights in a row, our starting pitchers did not give up a walk," manager Don Wakamatsu said.

One night after right-hander Doug Fister pitched eight walk-free innings, Vargas went six frames with no free passes.

"Vargas gave up a two-run homer early, but wasn't fazed," Wakamatsu said. "He came back and retired 15 of the last 17 he faced. He gave us six innings and a chance to go to the bullpen."

Right-hander Brandon League contributed two scoreless innings and Aardsma took care of the last one.

"That was the sharpest I have seen Aardsma this year," Wakamatsu said.

The same could be said of Vargas, who improved to 1-1 and used his cut fastball for the first time this season. And it worked well, especially after falling into a two-run deficit in the second inning when Jake Fox slugged a two-run homer to center field.

"I really didn't feel any different other than I was able to throw more strikes early in the count," he said. "I have been working on a cut fastball and to have that to go along with a breaking ball seemed to be able to expand the zone a little bit, and to be able to still pitch effectively with my fastball and changeup, it worked early in the count."

Vargas said the cutter was a pitch he went away from last year to work on his breaking pitch, and it didn't take much time to go back to the pitch and refine it to the point he felt comfortable using it in a game.

"It's just the grip on the ball and after a couple of bullpen sessions, I was ready. Tonight was the first time I used it."

He said the pitch makes his fastball more effective against right-handed hitters.

"We like to pitch in a lot and you can't always beat the big guys with fastballs in," he added. "To be able to throw something that looks the same with somewhat the same velocity, but has different movement really helps."

He had to be at the top of his game as the Mariners, who had 11 hits overall, stranded 12 runners and had two others thrown out on the bases -- both in the bottom of the second inning.

Lopez started the frame with a double to left-center, but things went downhill from there.

Bradley, the hero in Tuesday night's win, hit a one-hopper back to Gonzalez, who started a rundown that nailed Lopez between second and third. After Eric Byrnes walked, Matt Tuiasosopo flied out to center and catcher Adam Moore reached on an infield single.

However, Bradley rounded third, stopped and didn't budge. He eventually was out in another rundown and the fans, who cheered Bradley's game-winning home run hours earlier, voiced their displeasure this time.

"We had some miscues early and we are well aware of that," Wakamatsu 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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