SEATTLE (AP) — Nelson Cruz wasn’t expecting to see a pitch he could hit in the ninth inning. He did and came up with a two-out RBI single to give the Seattle Mariners a 2-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Friday night.
Cruz, the league’s leading hitter at .361 coming in, stepped to the plate with Brad Miller on second and first base open. Junichi Tazawa relieved and his intention was not to give an intentional walk.
Cruz worked the count to 3-2 then hit a hard game-winning single into the left-center gap.
“It’s the game. You never know what’s going to happen,” said Cruz, when asked if he was surprised he wasn’t walked. “If they didn’t want to pitch to me, they walk me right away.
“I like challenge. I like to be in that spot.”
Boston manager John Farrell took full responsibility for the decision.
“That’s a terrible decision on my part. I own that one,” Farrell said. “We had a base open. We saw Cruz’s first three at-bats he was chasing some off-speeds below the zone (three strikeouts). He was 1 for 8 against Taz previously. It didn’t work out. That’s a horrible decision on my part.”
Miller had started the rally with a one-out single to deep short off Tommy Layne (0-1). Robinson Cano advanced him to second with a right-side groundout.
“We got it set up with two outs,” Farrell said. “We could easily take the bat out of his hands, walking him and have lefty-on-lefty with Layne against (Kyle) Seager. That was the move to make.”
Cruz has had at least one hit in each of his last eight games, hitting .467 (14 of 30).
Tom Wilhelmson (1-0), who tossed two shutout innings, picked up the victory.
Seth Smith hit his third home run for the Mariners, in the sixth.
Clay Buchholz, who worked the first eight innings for the Red Sox, had no walks and a season-high 11 strikeouts, one shy of his career high. He showed no signs of a left ankle injury sustained Sunday against Toronto.
“He was pretty filthy today,” Cruz said of Buchholz. “I’ve never seen his changeup before when I faced him. He got me twice with that. I guess he keeps that in his pocket.”
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said his club “battled pretty tough” against Buchholz.
“He threw a heck of a ballgame. He had all his pitches working, in and out, soft, hard,” he said. “Our guy did the same thing. He pitched pretty good.”
Mariners starter J.A. Happ went seven innings, allowing one run and five hits, walking one and striking out three.
Shane Victorino used his bat and his back to score the Red Sox run in the second. He singled then Pablo Sandoval hit a soft liner to shortstop Miller. Victorino was caught too far off first and scrambled back.
Miller’s throw, however, hit Victorino in the back and he was ruled safe. When the ball hit him, Victorino was on the infield grass, considerably out of the baseline. McClendon did not argue.
“You kind of make your own baseline coming back to the bag,” McClendon said. “That’s a veteran play. It’s a smart move. We teach our guys to do the same thing.”
Victorino then stole second and scored on Xander Bogaerts’ triple off the wall in left-center.
Of the first 35 games, the Mariners have played 31 decided by three runs or fewer.
Mariners: Any way you look at it, RHP Felix Hernandez (6-0, 1.85) has been a handful for the Red Sox to deal with over the years. In 17 career starts, Hernandez is 8-2 with a 3.06 ERA against Boston. He is 5-1 with a 3.51 ERA in eight Safeco Field starts, including 4-0 with a 2.53 ERA over his last six. He is off to the best start of his career and second-best in club history behind Aaron Sele’s 8-0 start in 2001.
Red Sox: RHP Rick Porcello (3-2, 4.50) threw 101 pitches in only five innings in his previous start, Monday against Oakland. He is 2-3 with a 4.18 ERA in five career starts against Seattle but this will be only his second career start in Safeco Field, since April 20, 2011, while with Detroit.
Mariners: CF Austin Jackson (right ankle sprain) “should be close” to heading out on a rehab assignment, according to McClendon. “I told him what I’d tell any player, you have to swing the bat before you come back, and have some success ’cause you don’t want to waste your at-bats up here.” … McClendon gave SS Chris Taylor a rest. He has a neck strain and is hitting .143.
Red Sox: RHP Justin Masterson (right shoulder tendinitis), placed on the DL on Wednesday, is starting off by merely playing light catch at this point.