SEATTLE — All it took was two clutch at-bats for John Jaso to get a new title in the Seattle clubhouse.
“Best clutch hitter ever!” Miguel Olivo shouted toward Jaso from just a few feet away.
For the second time in three games, Jaso came through in the late innings for the Mariners. Jaso lined a single over Detroit’s drawn-in infield in the eighth inning Wednesday night to drive in Michael Saunders with the tiebreaking run, Jason Vargas pitched eight strong innings and the Mariners beat the Tigers 2-1.
Jaso’s single off reliever Duane Below was hit so hard shortstop Jhonny Peralta barely had time to react before it was landing in the outfield grass and Saunders was jogging home with the go-ahead run. Saunders had led off the eighth inning with a pinch-hit double down the left-field line.
The late run capped a brief, but successful homestand for the Mariners, who took four of six from Minnesota and Detroit, and twice picked up wins thanks to Jaso’s bat. Jaso had the game-winning RBI in Monday’s series opener against the Tigers when Seattle rallied for three runs in the ninth inning, capped by Jaso’s sacrifice fly that scored Munenori Kawasaki with the winning run.
“I don’t think I thrive. I don’t think I get more energy from it. It’s just the way I am I guess,” Jaso said of the late-inning heroics. “I’ve been in a couple of championship situations … and I just treat it like every other game. I’ve taught myself to do it and I try not to get too high or too low and stay as level as possible.”
Jaso’s single was the needed capper to back what Vargas did on the mound. Vargas (4-2) threw a season-high eight innings, striking out six and giving up just five hits. He outpitched young Detroit starter Drew Smyly, who gave up just two hits but was pulled after the sixth.
Though Vargas had thrown only 90 pitches, Seattle manager Eric Wedge went to closer Brandon League in the ninth. League immediately fell behind Austin Jackson 3-0 and walked him on a 3-2 pitch. However, Jackson was quickly erased when shortstop Brendan Ryan made his third strong defensive play in the game, this one starting a 6-4-3 double play off the bat of Brennan Boesch. League then got Miguel Cabrera to end it for his eighth save in 10 chances this season.
Earlier in the game, Ryan had made a barehanded grab and throw to get Jackson and stole a base hit from Prince Fielder leading off the seventh.
“Brendan Ryan had an unbelievable game,” Wedge said. “We talk about it time and time again, that’s why we’re really working to try and get his bat going because he is so valuable to us.
While Jaso will get the accolades, Saunders’ at-bat was just as important. Saunders pinch-hit for Casper Wells to lead off the eighth inning and lined a double down the left-field line off Detroit reliever Luke Putkonen (0-1) in just his second major league appearance. Saunders advanced to third after Chone Figgins’ sacrifice bunt. That was it for Putkonen, who was replaced by Below to face Jaso.
Below got the count to 2-2 on Jaso before his hit. Jaso got greedy and was thrown out trying to advance to second on the hit.
Seattle didn’t get its first hit off Smyly until one out in the fourth inning when Ichiro Suzuki softly served a single into left-center field. Suzuki stole second and scored when Kyle Seager lined Smyly’s pitch off the wall down the right-field line, missing a home run by just a couple of feet. It was Seager’s ninth RBI during the Mariners’ six-game homestand and his 10th two-out RBI over the past eight games.
The sixth was the only inning Vargas was knocked around when Laird led off with a double and scored on Jackson’s sacrifice fly to deep center. That inning was highlighted by another defensive gem when Seager gloved Cabrera’s one-hop smash and started an inning-ending double play.
The Mariners lefty retired 12 of the first 13 batters, the only hit coming on Peralta’s single leading off the third. Vargas pitched into the eighth for the first time this season in his most efficient performance. Vargas said he would have liked to go back out for the ninth at only 90 pitches, but understood the decision to go to League.