SEATTLE — The Mariners had already shown in the first two games of their series with Detroit that strong starting pitching will only get you so far.
On Thursday, there was more where that came from, as Hisashi Iwakuma blanked the Tigers for six innings before pesky blister issues forced him out of the game.
This time, however, the Mariners managed to get the clutch hitting that had eluded them those first two games, and do so against ace Justin Verlander, no less.
The result was a 2-0 victory over the Tigers at Safeco Field that partially eased the pain from a heartbreaking 14-inning loss the night before as they headed out on a six-game road trip.
The key hit was provided by Kyle Seager, in a rare pinch-hitting role with two outs in the seventh inning of a scoreless game. On the first pitch he saw from Verlander, Seager lashed a double into the left-field corner, sending Robert Andino racing all the way around to score from first base.
“Against Verlander in that situation, you have to be aggressive,” Seager said. “And any time you’re pinch-hitting, you have to be aggressive, because you’re not necessarily in the feel of the game, because you haven’t had any at-bats that day. It’s good to just get up there and be ready to go.”
That same aggressive attitude was used by third-base coach Jeff Datz, who had waved Justin Smoak to a game-ending out at the plate on a Dustin Ackley double the night before.
The swifter Andino, who started the rally with a two-out single, beat the throw handily. And when Endy Chavez followed with a sharp single to left, Datz waved home Seager, who slid in safely on an extremely close play.
“It was no different than last night,” manager Eric Wedge said. “Last night was obviously a little different situation, but it’s the same mindset. …
“When you’re not pounding the ball like I know we’re capable of doing, and will do, you’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity, because there might not be another one coming around.”
That finished the scoring and allowed Carter Capps, who worked two scoreless innings of relief, to pick up his first career victory. Tom Wilhelmsen converted his sixth consecutive save this season, and he earned this one, retiring the meat of the Tigers order: Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez.
Wilhelmsen downed the Tigers in order, but not without considerable help. Seager made a nice backhand play on a hard grounder by Cabrera, and center fielder Chavez raced in to make a sensational diving catch on a soft fly by Fielder.
“That catch was something else,” Wilhelmsen said. “I had to control my emotions a little after that one. I usually don’t get too fired up over that, but it was just huge. It’s a tough lineup, and every out is a big deal.”
Chavez, who also made a nice catch at the wall on a Cabrera drive in the first inning, said he knew he had to go all-out to get Fielder’s ball.
“With Victor Martinez behind him, I know he has power, and I wanted him to hit without men on base,” Chavez said. “That’s why I knew I had to go and make that catch.”
The duel between Iwakuma and Verlander was what you’d expect from two starters who have the best statistics in the American League since last year’s All-Star break. Iwakuma blanked the Tigers on three hits over six innings, giving Mariner starters Aaron Harang, Felix Hernandez and Iwakuma a combined 1.42 earned-run average, with 20 strikeouts and one walk, in the series.
The Tigers came in as the top-hitting team in the American League and the hardest to strike out. But they fanned 37 times in the first two games, allowing the Mariners to tie a major-league record (since 1900) for the most strikeouts in consecutive games.
The Mariners tacked on five more whiffs Thursday, leaving manager Jim Leyland highly impressed with Seattle’s pitching.
“You have guys throw 100, 98, 97, spotting the ball real good,” Leyland said. “Last night, I’ve never seen Hernandez better. We saw a lot of good pitching in this series. Both teams saw it. It looks to me like their bullpen is really good. Capps and Wilhelmsen are both nasty. I was impressed with the starter (Iwakuma) — he was very good.”
And this time, the Mariners eked out just enough offense so the good pitching wouldn’t be for naught.