[photogallerylink id=35380 align=right]Michael Saunders lined a two-run single off Boston reliever Hideki Okajima in the bottom of the eighth inning to give Seattle the lead, Milton Bradley’s squeeze bunt added another run, and the Mariners rallied for a 4-2 win over the Red Sox on Sunday.
The Mariners’ unlikely rally salvaged a split of the four-game series and sent Boston into the final stage of its 10-game West Coast trip now eight games behind the New York Yankees in the American League East.
Seattle’s rally started innocently enough with singles by Jose Lopez and Justin Smoak. After Casey Kotchman’s bunt was botched by Okajima, Saunders followed by slapping a 1-2 pitch into right field to score Lopez and Smoak, with third-base coach Lee Tinsley chasing Smoak almost to the dirt circle around home plate to get the lead run across.
The Mariners only tacked on from there. Bradley, pinch-hitting, followed Saunders with a squeeze bunt for a base hit that scored Kotchman. Jack Wilson faked a bunt and smacked a single into right to reload the bases, but the rally ended there after Ichiro Suzuki grounded into a double play and Chone Figgins struck out.
Okajima (3-3) gave up two runs and five hits. One of the runs in the inning was charged to Daniel Bard, who allowed Lopez’s single.
It was the second straight day Saunders came up with a game-changing hit. A night earlier, Saunders broke up Jon Lester’s no-hit bid with a two-run homer in the sixth inning of Seattle’s 5-1 victory. The young left-fielder is hitting .309 over his last 19 games.
Seattle’s rally ruined a strong effort by Boston starter Daisuke Matsuzaka, who struggled with major control problems early before settling down to be in line for his third straight win.
Matsuzaka was wild early, at one point in the third inning already over 60 pitches and with an equal number of strikes and balls. But the Japanese righty settled down and retired 10 of the final 11 batters he faced. After Matsuzaka escaped a bases loaded jam in the fourth, he started rolling, setting down the Mariners in order in the fourth, then allowed one base runner in the fifth that was left at second base.
But his high pitch count early forced Matsuzaka out after six innings and Seattle took advantage of Boston’s bullpen. Matsuzaka allowed just one run and four hits, but was hampered by five walks. He struck out four.
Chris Seddon worked 2 2-3 perfect innings of relief for Seattle, but it was Brandon League (8-6) getting the win after he struck out Kevin Youkilis for the final out of the eighth inning. David Aardsma pitched the ninth for his 18th save in 22 chances.
Doug Fister pitched well for Seattle, but wasn’t helped by his own control problems that saw him leave after five innings. After starting the season 3-1, Fister appeared in line for his sixth straight loss before Seattle’s offense rallied. has now lost six straight decisions, despite giving up three earned runs or less in three of those losses.
Fister’s problems in the fourth started when J.D. Drew singled leading off and David Ortiz walked. Youkilis doubled home one run and Adrian Beltre’s RBI single gave Boston the lead. Fister only avoided more damange in the inning thanks to a strikeout of Mike Cameron and Wilson’s diving stab of Bill Hall’s liner to save another run.
NOTES: Smoak’s single in the eighth was just his third hit of Seattle’s seven-game homestand. He was 3-for-28 in the homestand. … Boston manager Terry Francona said it’s possible injured C Victor Martinez will be activated during the Red Sox upcoming series against the Angels.