SEATTLE -- Between Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright and Mariners junkballer Wade LeBlanc, there wasn't a whole lot of heat at Safeco Field on Saturday, despite mid-70s temperatures on a nice Pacific Northwest evening.But the soft-tossing LeBlanc and his mid-80s fastball proved just a little more befuddling than the dancing
SEATTLE -- Between Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright and Mariners junkballer Wade LeBlanc, there wasn't a whole lot of heat at Safeco Field on Saturday, despite mid-70s temperatures on a nice Pacific Northwest evening.
But the soft-tossing LeBlanc and his mid-80s fastball proved just a little more befuddling than the dancing array of 70-80 mph knucklers from Wright as the Mariners edged the Red Sox, 1-0, to take a 2-1 series lead in the four-game set.
"That was a very, very interesting matchup today," said Mariners manager Scott Servais. "Both guys were outstanding. We got just enough off a really tough knuckleballer. Our guys are not used to seeing that and he was really good. ... Our guy was just a little better."
After a leadoff single by American League batting leader Mookie Betts, LeBlanc retired 22 straight Red Sox as he cruised through a season-high 7 2/3 innings before giving up a base hit to Eduardo Nunez.
LeBlanc hadn't been past six innings or 92 pitches this season, so Servais pulled him at that point and he departed to a standing ovation from the 44,151 fans, having allowed just the two hits with no walks and nine strikeouts on 98 pitches.
"That was a really neat moment," LeBlanc said. "Guys that throw 86 don't get standing ovations very often. I definitely wanted to kind of take them in and show them my appreciation for it."
The appreciation was mutual as Mariners fans couldn't help but be reminded of former Mariner standout Jamie Moyer with his ability to mix a low 70-mph curve and mid-70s changeup with his 83-86 mph fastball.
LeBlanc came into the game with the lowest average fastball velocity of any starter in the Majors this year at 86.5 mph and he rarely even touched that, instead relying on what he said was the best changeup he's had all year.
"It's more of a power game right now, for good reason," LeBlanc said. "There's a lot of guys that can throw hard and execute pitches. But I think the game would get boring if you could throw that hard and execute pitches. I like to keep things challenging, I guess."
The Mariners totaled five hits in seven frames against Wright, but managed to bunch three of them together in the third to tally a run. Singles by Dee Gordon, Mitch Haniger and Nelson Cruz did the job, with Cruz getting the RBI, his 39th of the year, for the 1-0 lead.
LeBlanc said he loves watching Wright throw his knuckleball and the respect is mutual.
"In today's game, you see so many guys throw 95-plus," said Wright. "I faced Wade back in college so I've followed him his entire career. That's his game. Change speeds, throw cutters and changeups. Today he did an unbelievable job. From his numbers it seems like he's been doing a pretty good job all year."
LeBlanc has been outstanding since moving into the Mariners' rotation when Erasmo Ramirez went on the disabled list at the start of May, but this was his best outing yet. The 33-year-old from Louisiana is 3-0 with a 2.06 ERA in nine starts and Seattle has won seven of those games.
The Mariners have gone 22-6 since May 18, the best record in the Majors, and are 46-25 overall, 21 games over .500 for the first time since the final game of the 2003 season. They've needed all of that to hang with the Astros, who won their 10th straight Saturday in Kansas City to keep a half-game lead in the AL West.
The Mariners have mastered the art of winning close games as they're 23-10 in one-run games. The next closest team in the Majors is Milwaukee with 16 one-run wins.
Boston slipped a game behind the Yankees in the AL East at 48-24 with their second straight one-run loss as Mariners closer Edwin Diaz slammed the door by striking out the side in the ninth for his MLB-leading 27th save.
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
For the Mariners, this one boiled down to the one inning they chipped away at Wright, ending his string of 24 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings with the trio of base hits to left field by Gordon, Haniger and Cruz. That was enough to give Seattle its fourth 1-0 win of the season, already tied for the second-most in franchise history for a season behind only the six of 2012.
"It was tough to get anything going [against the knuckleball]," Servais said. "Really, that's hard. When you don't see a guy that does that, that's why he's effective in this league, when he's throwing strikes and moving it around the way he is. We didn't hit a ton of balls hard off him, either. The guys hung in there. He didn't give us much of a chance, but we did just enough to get it done today."
With 27 saves in the first 71 games, Diaz is on pace for 62 for the season, which would tie the MLB record set by Francisco Rodriguez in 2008 with the Angels. No other closer has ever had more than 57 in a season. Diaz is tied with Fernando Rodney (2014) for the second-most saves prior to the All-Star break behind only the 29 of Kazuhiro Sasaki in 2001 … and the Mariners still have 20 more games til the break.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Dee Gordon continued his outstanding play at second base since moving there after Robinson Cano was suspended for 80 games. He made an excellent diving stop to his left to rob Xander Bogaerts of a base hit in the fifth.
"Dee Gordon, again, the range at second base," Servais said. "I was thinking to myself, if I'm a 7- or 10-year-old kid out there, I've got to be practicing that diving play in the living room somewhere tonight. Really cool."
HE SAID IT
"It's a humbling thing to step back and take a look at where we've been and where we've come from. At the end of the day, you kind of enjoy it today and maybe a little bit tomorrow and then get ready for them again because I've got them in six days." -- LeBlanc, who faces Boston again in Fenway Park next Friday
Mike Leake (7-3, 4.26 ERA) closes out the series against Red Sox lefty Eduardo Rodriguez (8-1, 3.64) on Sunday at 1:10 p.m PT at Safeco Field. Leake is 4-0 with a 2.63 ERA over his last seven starts -- all Mariners wins. But he's never beaten Boston (0-2, 6.56) in four career meetings.
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.