ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Based on the pitching matchup alone, the Mariners’ hopes of winning Monday afternoon’s game at Tropicana Field ranked somewhere between slim and “are you kidding me?”
The Rays were sending ace and former CY Young Award winner David Price to the mound. In a previous outing against Seattle, he pitched nine innings, allowing one run on six hits with 12 strikeouts.
Meanwhile, the Mariners were countering with Erasmo Ramirez, who was lucky to even be making the start after lasting three innings in his previous start in Atlanta.
Add in the fact that the Mariners were using a patchwork lineup with rookie Stefen Romero (.217 batting average) hitting cleanup, and it surely was a recipe for a loss.
Except it wasn’t.
Robinson Cano delivered a crucial two-run single in the third inning and the Mariners got a serviceable outing from Ramirez and a better showing from their bullpen to hang on for a 3-0 victory over the Rays.
With the win, the Mariners completed a 6-1 trip and are 34-29 on the season.
“It was a pretty good trip,” said manager Lloyd McClendon, chuckling.
The Mariners scored all three of their runs off Price in the third inning. John Buck led off the inning with a single. Willie Bloomquist later followed with a one-out single up the middle. With runners on first and second and one out, James Jones dropped down a perfect drag bunt, pushing the ball past Price and the mound. When James Loney fielded the ball there was no one covering first and Jones had long since crossed the bag.
“It’s something I got to do to get Cano up there, especially with bases loaded,” Jones said.
This was no sacrifice. He was going for a hit and trying to put the ball exactly where it ended up.
“I’d rather take my chances putting it in the confused area where there are three people instead of one,” he said. “The worst that would happen was it would be a sac bunt and I’d get the guys over for Cano.
Instead, he gave the Mariners’ best hitter a chance with the bases loaded, meaning Price couldn’t pitch around him.
“That was a great bunt,” Cano said. “We all know that’s his game. I like that play right there because we all know he’s going to throw fastballs and come right at you.
Price jumped ahead on Cano, getting two quick strikes. But Cano seemed indifferent and never panicked. He punched a single into left on the next pitch to score two runs.
“All of his pitches are pretty nasty, I was just looking for a pitch up in the zone,” Cano said. “Good thing it was a fastball and I ended up getting a good swing and getting two RBIs.”
It was a splendid piece of hitting and a precise example as to why the Mariners acquired Cano in the offseason.
“It just shows you how good this guy is,” McClendon said. “To be down like that to one of the toughest lefties in baseball and really stay inside the ball, that was a huge hit for us.”
Romero added another run on a RBI groundout to score Jones to make it 3-0.
That’s all the Mariners would get off Price. He allowed just two more hits after the Cano single, leaving after eight innings. He gave up the three runs on seven hits and struck out 10.
“He’s another guy you want to score early against,” Cano said. “Because the deeper in the game, the better he gets. You can see what happened after that.”
Beyond Cano and Kyle Seager, the Mariners are mostly a collection of sub .250 hitters trying to find runs any way possible.
“We are a team that has to do anything to win a game,” Cano said. “We don’t have those three or four or five guys that can hit 30 homers and 100 RBIs, so we have to play the little game and do the little things.”
Ramirez worked 42/3 uneven innings, none of which were clean. He gave up four hits, walked five and struck out five.
“He did OK,” McClendon said. “It was better than his last two or three outings. He made some good pitches at times.”
Pitching coach Rick Waits wore a path from dugout to the mound, making four visits to nurse Ramirez through the start.
Cano saved a run in the fourth inning, making a beautiful running grab and an off-balance throw to first on Desmond Jennings’ bouncer up the middle. Tampa manager Joe Maddon asked for a replay review, but the out call was upheld.
“I didn’t know if he was going to get him because (Jennings) is such a good runner,” McClendon said. “But Robby has such a strong arm.”
But in the fifth inning with two outs and runners on first and third, McClendon had watched Ramirez tightrope through trouble for long enough. He called on lefty Joe Beimel to face left-handed hitting David DeJesus. Maddon countered with right-handed swinging pinch-hitter Jerry Sands. It didn’t matter. Beimel struck him out to end the inning.
From there, the bullpen took over. Beimel faced one batter in the sixth — a ground ball out — which was enough to earn him the win in relief. Dominic Leone pitched the remaining two outs of the sixth.
Danny Farquhar pitched a scoreless seventh and eighth inning, getting some help from Cano on a nifty double play in the seventh.
Fernando Rodney picked up his league-leading 18th save of the season, pitching a 1-2-3 ninth. Rodney hasn’t allowed a base runner in his last four saves.