The hero Saturday night was Leonys Martin, who delivered a crucial two-out RBI single in the ninth inning to send the Texas Rangers to their third straight victory.
Neal Cotts deserves a tip of the cap, too, after limiting the damage in the seventh and delivering perhaps his best inning of the season in the eighth.
Robinson Chirinos’ two-run homer was a big blow for the offense.
However, the biggest and most unexpected contribution came from left-hander Joe Saunders, the pitcher no one wanted in the off-season and the one that many had hoped would never come off the disabled list and pitch again for the Rangers.
But he currently rates as their second-best starter after his first four starts off the disabled list. They haven’t been great, as he readily admits, but each one has exceeded expectations and given the Rangers a chance to win.
Saunders allowed two run in six innings, and Martin drove home the go-ahead run against Seattle closer Fernando Rodney as the Rangers squeaked past the Mariners 4-3 at Safeco Field.
They got their second straight one-run win because of their starting pitcher.
“Joe has been outstanding for us,” said Chirinos, the Rangers’ catcher. “Since Day 1 since he came back from the DL, he’s been competing, pitching well and giving us a chance to win.”
Saunders said that he’s still a work-in-progress as he tries to repeat his mechanics and hone in on his off-speed pitches. But the veteran has shown a knack for limiting damage in tough situations, and has a 2.42 ERA since coming off the DL on May 28.
He did that in the third inning, when he induced an inning-ending double play after three straight one-out singles. He did it in the sixth, striking out Rangers nemesis Kyle Seager after the Mariners has moved within 3-2 and had the tying run at second base.
Though manager Ron Washington will gladly take six innings from a starter in the Rangers’ patchwork rotation, Saunders isn’t satisfied.
“You’re always wanting more,” Saunders said. “In my mind they’re OK starts. They’re not good starts. I feel like I can do a lot better. It’s one of those things where you have higher expectations of yourself. You feel like you can do more and go deeper in games. It’s just a matter of going and doing it.”
The Rangers endured two overturned challenges by Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon on close plays in game in which the umpires went to the headset four times. The Rangers also saw Brad Snyder runner thrown out at the plate in the second inning.
Chirinos, though, hit a two-run homer in a three-run sixth inning that erased a 1-0 deficit. The Mariners took that lead in the fifth after singles to open the inning put runners at first and third. Stefen Romero followed with a sacrifice fly to open the scoring.
But the Rangers quickly countered in the sixth, which opened with a Shin-Soo Choo single and an RBI double by Adrian Beltre. Beltre was still at second after strikeouts by Alex Rios and Brad Snyder, but Chirinos drove a hanging slider from Danny Farquhar over the wall near the left-field corner for a 3-1 lead.
“I’d faced him before, and I knew at some point he was going to throw that big breaking ball,” Chirinos said.
Seattle, though, came back with a run in their half of the sixth, as John Buck singled and Robinson Cano snuck his hand across the plate just ahead of Chirinos’ tag for a two-out run that made it 3-2.
Cano drove in the tying run in the seventh after two one-out singles and an error on Luis Sardinas, who dropped a throw from second baseman Rougned Odor on what could have been an inning-ending double play.
Instead, Cano won a left-on-left matchup against Cotts by dropping a single in front of a diving Rios to plate Willie Bloomquist.
Cotts, though, left the bases loaded in the seventh and worked a perfect eighth inning, striking out the side.
The Rangers rewarded him in the ninth as Luis Sardinas lined a one-out single and went to second on a grounder by Rougned Odor.
Martin was next. He fell behind in the count 0-2 but slapped the next Rodney pitch past third baseman Kyle Seager to drive in Sardinas with the go-ahead run.
“I tried to see the ball and put it in play,” Martin did.
Joakim Soria did the rest, with another 1-2-3 inning for his 15th save. But Saunders did the heaviest lifting on the mound for the Rangers.
It’s time to stop being surprised when he does it.
“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to Joe,” Washington said. “Once again, he knows how to pitch around trouble. He got us through six, and we pulled it off.”