The Seattle Mariners remember a year ago, when Jason Vargas won his ninth game of the season and then didn’t win again in his last eight starts.
On Monday, Vargas followed win No. 9 last week with win No. 10 in his final start of the 2011 season, beating the Oakland Athletics, 4-2, on home runs by Miguel Olivo and Justin Smoak.
By the end of the evening, Vargas had pitched the 201st inniing of the season and won his 10th game – both plateaus he’d never reached.
“I’ve never had either before,” Vargas said, beaming. “The 200 innings is what every starting pitcher shoots for. The 10 wins for me? It is what it is.”
What it is that’s working for Vargas is that slight mechanical change he made late in the season, a Felix-like turn on the mound that helps him stay atop the rubber a bit longer and seems to have improved his fastball – which, in turn, has set up his changeup.
“I thought he was as strong today as he’s been. He did a much better job with the fastball,” manager Eric Wedge said. “He’s had a better fastball the last five or six starts. He threw some good changeups and mixed his breaking ball in nice.
“He did a lot of good things tonight.”
Don’t just take Wedge’s word for it.
“I thought early on we had some better swings, but he got better as the night went on,” Athletics manager Bob Melvin said. “He actually threw a few more fastballs than you usually see out of him.”
Olivo’s solo home run in the fifth inning tied the game at 1-1 and gave him a club record for home runs in a season by a catcher – 19 – passing Dan Wilson and Kenji Johjima.
The sixth was a two-out attack that won the game. Dustin Ackley singled to get the inning to Mike Carp. Carp singled to get it to Smoak – and Smoak homered off Brandon McCarthy.
”I finally had guys on base and was able to put a good swing on it,” Smoak said of the inside fastall. “I was pulling off the ball a little bit. He was trying to throw sinkers away and come in and brush me back. I was finally able to stay on one and drive it.”