CHICAGO — The Mariners saw what the long wished to see Sunday but, alas, at a time when they least wished to see it.
Right-hander Hector Noesi harnessed his long-intriguing tools for a dominating performance into the seventh inning in Chicago’s 1-0 victory over the Mariners at U.S. Cellular Field.
“You’ve got to give him credit,” second baseman Robinson Cano said, “but also we chased a lot of pitches out of the zone. That’s what makes any pitcher even better.”
“You start chasing, and he doesn’t have to throw you strikes.”
OK…maybe the Mariners were too anxious to hit against Noesi. Maybe they did help him out. They were, after all, hitless in 11 at-bats with runners in scoring positions.
Most of that came in Noesi’s 6 2/3 innings.
“You can watch a guy when you’re playing behind him,” third baseman Kyle Seager said, “but when you’re in the box, it’s a whole different thing. He’s always had really good stuff. That’s never been the issue.
“Today, I can only speak for myself, but he located extremely well against me. He never really gave me anything to hit hard.”
The White Sox scored the game’s only run on a wild pitch in the first inning by Mariners starter Taijuan Walker, who battled command issues throughout his four innings.
“He didn’t have command of the fastball,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “They didn’t do any damage off of him. He did the damage to himself. Just not very good control today.”
The loss means the Mariners (48-40) settled for a 4-2 trip that began with a three-game sweep in Houston. They still haven’t won a series on Chicago’s South Side since 2007.
They have just five victories here in 28 games over the last seven years and were fortunate to escape this weekend without getting swept. They scored twice Saturday in the ninth inning before winning 3-2 in the 14th.
Noesi, 3-6, gave up five hits, all singles, in 6 2/3 innings before relievers Eric Surkamp and Jake Petricka closed out the victory.
The Mariners acquired Noesi in the January 2012 trade with the Yankees that also netted Jesus Montero for pitchers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.
Noesi flashed potential on occasion with the Mariners, but he was 2-14 with a 6.13 ERA over parts of three seasons before getting designated for assignment on April 4.
He landed briefly with Texas before moving on to the White Sox. Noesi said he tried not to get emotional about starting for the first time against the Mariners.
“Yeah, it did cross my mind,” he said, “but if I put it in my mind I would get lost trying to do too much.”
On Sunday, he did to the Mariners what he too often failed to do for them: He made pitches when he needed to do so. Or flip the coin: The Mariners failed to capitalize on numerous chances.
McClendon’s view was clear: “We swung at a lot of balls. If we were patient, we probably should have walked seven or eight times. We just didn’t have good at-bats.”
Noesi carried that one-run lead into the sixth but started the inning with a four-pitch walk to Cano. That sort of thing, in the past, often triggered a Noesi meltdown.
Not this time.
Noesi struck out Corey Hart and Seager before ending the inning by retiring Logan Morrison on a fly to center.
An inning later, Noesi yielded one-out singles to Dustin Ackley and Brad Miller but retired Endy Chavez on a fly to deep right. That moved Ackley to third — and the White Sox decided that was enough.
Surkamp replaced Noesi for a left-on-left match-up against Michael Saunders, who drew a walk. That loaded the bases for Cano, who ended the inning by hitting a routine fly to center
Petricka pitched the final two innings for his third save.
Walker (1-1) yielded just one run and two hits before exiting after the fourth inning, but he also walked five, worked behind to most hitters and threw 83 pitches.
“Again, the command of the fastball wasn’t there,” Walker said. “I’m going to back, watch video and figure out what’s going on with that.”
The lone run scored on one of Walker’s two wild pitches. That came in the first inning after Walker retired the first two hitters. Conor Gillespie drew a walk and went to third on Jose Abreu’s line single to center.
When Walker fell behind 2-0 on Adam Dunn, it brought a mound visit from McClendon. Walker then threw two strikes…and then two balls.
The ball that walked Dunn was up-and-away and got past catcher John Buck for a run-scoring wild pitch. Walker avoided further damage when Miller handled a smash to short by Alexei Ramirez for the third out.
That one run, though, was all Noesi and the Chicago bullpen needed.