If he could have caught it with two hands and touched first base, he would have. But Tom Wilhelmsen wasn’t dropping that ball. He’d done that before in Cleveland and it cost the Mariners the game.
So with his team leading by two runs and on the verge of getting his first save in three weeks, Wilhelmsen carefully looked the ball into his glove on the toss from first baseman Justin Smoak, and then made an emphatic catch, while stepping on first base for the final out in the Mariners’ 4-2 win over the Texas Rangers in 10 innings.
It was his 17th save of the season – the first since June 10 – and small piece of redemption for Wilhelmsen, who pitched his way out of the closing role.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge said pregame that if the match-ups were right in a save situation, Wilhelmsen would be on the mound.
With three right-handers coming to the plate in the bottom of the 10th inning, using Wilhelmsen to close out the game and secure a rare series win – the first since May 28-30 of 2012 – was Wedge’s best option.
“It was either going to be him or (Danny) Farquhar and (Carter) Capps was sick,” Wedge said. “Obviously, Danny hadn’t had any experience with that. It was a good time. With what Tommy’s been doing, the momentum he’s gained, it was a good opportunity for him to do that. It wasn’t something we sat down with him ahead of time and said, this is going to be your role. We just rolled into it and matched up like we do.”
And Wilhelmsen responded with a 1-2-3 inning.
He got Ian Kinsler to line out to center, coaxed a ground out to third from Elvis Andrus and then the ground out to first from Nelson Cruz. It wasn’t dominant. But it was clean.
“I’m getting there,” he said. “So it’s just like a snowball effect right now get back to the right mindset,” Wilhelmsen said.
Does it mean he’s back closing full time? No.
Does it mean that he lobbying for the role? No.
“Every single inning is exciting and fun to be out there,” he said. “If we had scored runs the inning prior, I wouldn’t have been out there. So I don’t know or quite frankly care so much if it’s a closer’s role or not. It’s just getting outs at this point.”
Still, it would help the Mariners bullpen immensely if he can resume to his early season form where he was dominating save situations. The entire approach to late inning situations would set up better for Wedge.
How did Wilhelmsen get to be in that save situation?
Well, Kyle Seager’s two run homer in the top of the 10th inning gave the Mariners the lead. Michael Saunders drew a two-out, lead-off walk after falling behind 0-2 to lefty Robbie Ross. Saunders wouldn’t bite on four straight pitches out of the strike zone.
“It was a great at-bat by Saunders,” Seager said. “For him to battle there, that was big and that’s a tough lefty there.”
Seager then worked a 1-1 count and jumped all over fastball hitting a line drive over the wall in right field for his 12th homer of the year.
“He’s a clutch hitter,” Wedge said. “He hits with no fear. Left-handers, right-handers, he’s going to give himself a chance. When he hit it, I didn’t think it was going to get out. But I thought it had a real good chance to get over his head. That’s why I was screaming at Saunders to run and get going. Fortunately for us, it got out of the ballpark.”
Seager wasn’t sure either.
“I was certainly hoping,” he said. “I knew I hit it pretty good, but it didn’t really get too high for me. Two outs like that, you’re definitely looking for a pitch to drive. But off him, it’s pretty tough. He’s pretty tough on lefties. So I was just trying to look for a good pitch to hit and try not to miss it.”
Seager didn’t miss much on Wednesday, going 3-for-5 in the game.
After being in a minor slump, Seager came into the game trying to let the ball travel longer before starting his swing.
“It’s definitely a rewarding feeling when you make an adjustment and get that instant success,” he said. “It definitely helps.”
The Mariners got a solid start from Felix Hernandez, who has had his struggles against the Rangers this season. He pitched seven innings, giving up two runs on seven hits with two walks and seven strikeouts. The two runs came in fifth inning when David Murphy and Ian Kinsler hit solo home runs to give Texas a 2-1 lead.
“Those two homers – I fell behind against Murphy and he hit it pretty good and Kinsler put up a great at-bat and I missed my pitch and he hit it out of the ballpark,” Hernandez said.
The Kinsler at-bat lasted 11 pitches.
“I used everything,” Hernandez said “He just fouled them off. He was a tough at-bat.”
The Mariners tied the game in the sixth inning when Mike Zunino was able to hit a hard ground ball to third base with bases loaded off of Rangers’ starter Derek Holland. The ball took a tricky hop on Adrian Beltre, who couldn’t come up with the play. Zunino was given a hit and an RBI.
“I gave myself two opportunities in the first couple of at-bats and couldn’t do anything with them,” Zunino said. “I just needed to stay patient. But I fell behind 0-2. They were still trying to put me away with the same stuff. I was able to lay off a couple sliders in the dirt and get one a little more elevated on 3-2 and put it down the line and was able to get a hit.”
Charlie Furbush (2-4) picked up the win relief, pitching 1 2/3 hitless innings.