A's blank Mariners in opener
Ziegler survives rocky ninth to nail down win for Smith
SEATTLE -- With a couple of timely hits and some strong pitching, it looked like it would be smooth sailing for the Athletics as they headed into the ninth inning on Thursday night against the Mariners.But nothing is too easy these days for the A's, who entered the game with a 6-25 post-All-Star break record. Brad Ziegler got into plenty of trouble by loading the bases with one out in the ninth, but he rescued himself just as quickly by inducing a game-ending double-play ball to save his team's 2-0 victory in the opener of the four-game series at Safeco Field in front of 25,611. Given a two-run lead thanks to an Emil Brown homer in the sixth and a Carlos Gonzalez RBI single in the ninth, Ziegler -- who had allowed two baserunners in the eighth inning -- quickly got into trouble again to begin the final frame.
He allowed a leadoff infield hit, struck out a batter and then gave up a double down the right-field line. Jeff Clement then walked to load the bases before Ziegler used a sinker to make Yuniesky Betancourt to hit a grounder to third, where Jack Hannahan stepped on the base for the force and threw out Betancourt at first.That left the red-hot Ichiro Suzuki (3-for-4 in the game) in the on-deck circle, something that Ziegler was aware of. "The biggest thing was the hit in the top of the ninth to give us a two-run lead, because it gave me a little cushion," he said. "One way or another, I got out of it, but I'm not going to say I wasn't thinking about Ichiro on deck. But I knew that Betancourt was a better matchup for me for sure." Ziegler also said he wasn't going to let the left-handed-hitting Clement beat him, preferring to go after the right-handed Betancourt instead. He has now given up just two runs this season in 44 innings pitched. The game was scoreless through the first five innings as rookie Greg Smith and Seattle's Ryan Rowland-Smith settled into a pitchers' duel. Smith was quiet and effective against the Mariners, going six innings and scattering just four hits while striking out one. He worked out of trouble in the second inning with a double play, picked off a runner to end the fourth and got the key force play that he needed in the sixth with two men on. "We were real happy with Greg Smith because his strike percentage was something that we just recently talked to him about improving, being aggressive in the zone early," manager Bob Geren said. "Be more efficient in the strike zone, and he really did a nice job." Smith has never given up a run to the Mariners, throwing a combined 12 scoreless innings against them this season. "I think it's just maybe a matchup thing. I can't put my finger on it. If I could, then I'd patent it and sell it," he said. "But maybe we threw well against them last time, threw well against them this time, so maybe it's just a matchup thing." Joey Devine worked a perfect seventh inning to set up Ziegler for the final two frames.
At the plate it wasn't as if the Athletics were having much success. They managed just five hits for the game, but they came in the right spots. With two out and no one on in the sixth inning, Brown got a first-pitch changeup and lifted a deep fly to left that sailed into the Oakland bullpen to break the scoreless tie and give Smith and the bullpen a lead to protect."I'm not guessing what he's throwing. I'm just mostly reacting," Brown said. "And the at-bat before, he made the same pitch and I swung and missed it." The Athletics then capitalized on a Mariners throwing error in the ninth with Gonzalez's RBI single to double the lead. The only thing that really went wrong for Oakland on Thursday came immediately after Brown's homer. After some discussions with home-plate umpire Bill Hohn earlier in the game, designated hitter Frank Thomas was ejected after the first pitch in his sixth inning at-bat -- a called strike. Thomas angrily jawed with Hohn after the ejection and tossed his bat and helmet back toward home plate as he walked back to the dugout. "It's the old arguing balls and strikes -- you're not supposed to do that I guess," Geren said. "But he's been around a long time ... he knows."
Jesse Baumgartner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.