Rangers squeeze out victory over Felix
Key defensive play in eighth helps spoil Hernandez's home debut
SEATTLE -- The Rangers worked on defending the squeeze play on Field No. 7 at their Spring Training complex in Surprise. Ariz. In a crucial situation on Thursday night, pitching coach Mike Maddux and catcher A.J. Pierzynski both told reliever Robbie Ross to be ready for the possibility.
But this was not some back field in the desert. This was in the eighth inning of a one-run game at Safeco Field on a cold, brisk night when the Rangers had a chance to beat Felix Hernandez. It was up to Ross to make the play, and he did just that.
Ross and Pierzynski were able to defend the suicide squeeze and the Rangers were able to hold off the Mariners for a 4-3 victory.
"It's all about execution," manager Ron Washington said. "It came down to execution to win a ballgame and we did just that."
In doing so, the Rangers won on a night when they had to summon Justin Grimm from Triple-A and throw him against one of the best pitchers in baseball. Grimm responded by lasting just four innings, throwing 92 pitches and allowing 40 percent of the batters he faced to reach base. But he also left the game with his team holding a two-run lead and the Rangers ended up winning the clash of Emergency Starter vs. Cy Young Award Winner.
"When you look at it that way, it was good," Grimm said. "It was a battle. It was a matter of not trusting my stuff, but when I had to trust it, I did. It could have been a lot worse. At least I battled and gave my team a chance."
Grimm allowed five hits and three walks among the 20 batters that he faced. But he allowed just two runs because the Mariners were 0-for-6 against him with runners in scoring position. The Mariners were also 0-for-9 on the night in those situations, counting some big ones -- including the suicide squeeze -- against Ross in the seventh and eighth innings.
The big winner in all of this was rookie left-hander Joe Ortiz, who retired six straight hitters in the fifth and sixth innings for his first Major League victory. Joe Nathan also sent down the side in order in the ninth to earn his third save. Those were the only three innings in which the Mariners went down in order. The other six innings saw Rangers pitchers fighting to keep the things under control.
"Joe Ortiz did a great job and so did the rest of the bullpen," Pierzynski said. "To get out of all the messes and jams we did tonight was a testament to those guys as competitors.
Hernandez wasn't as adept at getting out of jams. Besides a home run by Pierzynski, Elvis Andrus had a two-out RBI single off Hernandez in the second and then the Rangers were able to break a 2-2 tie in the fifth on a two-out RBI single by David Murphy, followed Nelson Cruz's RBI double.
"Felix is a good pitcher," Murphy said. "Anytime we beat him, especially in his own park, means that we battled and did what we needed to do to win. I have seen him have more devastating stuff, but he still has as good stuff as any pitcher. We just did what we needed to do to win."
With the Rangers leading 4-2, Tanner Scheppers took over for Ortiz in the seventh and retired the first two hitters before the Mariners loaded the bases with two outs on a single, walk and hit batter. Ross was then summoned from the bullpen and he struck out Raul Ibanez to end the inning.
Then came the eighth. Justin Smoak led off with a single and went to third on a double by Jesus Montero. After Endy Chavez pinch-ran for Montero, Robert Andino grounded out to first to bring home Smoak and make it 4-3. Chavez moved to third on the play and the Mariners tried to squeeze him home with Brendan Ryan.
But Ryan bunted it firmly straight at Ross, who was able to get off the mound, field the ball cleanly and flip it to Pierzynski for the out.
"As I started my delivery, in my peripheral vision I saw him breaking," Ross said. "As I let the ball go, I saw Ryan twist to bunt. My momentum was going to the plate so I got there as quick as I could."
"Lucky he bunted it hard enough and Robbie was able to get it to me in time," Pierzynski said. "I was begging for him to get me the ball as quick as he could. That's an uncomfortable position for a catcher. You got a guy bearing down on you and the ball is coming at you. You want the ball so you can protect yourself."
The Mariners tried to argue Chavez slid under the tag, but home plate umpire Paul Emmel said Pierzynski blocked him off the plate.
"It was a close play," Mariners manager Erid Wedge said. "Ryno got the bunt down good, but right back to the pitcher is really the only shot they had to make the play and that's what they did. It just looked like he caught his foot on the catcher's foot or shinguard there and that's how they got him."
Spring Training drills do really pay off sometimes.