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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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March 31, 2008 9:16 PM

M's take opener

Posted by Geoff Baker

opening 025.jpg

It took a while, but the bats finally came through for the Mariners -- the first-place Mariners, as the Angels lost to the Twins -- in a 5-2 win over the Texas Rangers in front of a sellout crowd of 46,334 at Safeco Field. Seattle trailed 1-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth, but scored a pair of unearned runs off Kevin Millwood that frame and then piled on three more off Kazuo Fukumori in the seventh. The photo above shows Yuniesky Betancourt crossing the plate after a two-run double by Jose Lopez capped off the seventh-inning rally.

Erik Bedard wasn't very forthcoming with his post-game interview answers. I let Jerry Brewer tackle Bedard for his column and focused more on the guys who played a direct role in the victory.

But Bedard was right up there with some of the things that stick in my head from this game. Yes, Bedard threw a whole lot of pitches, but managed to avoid the big damage on the scoreboard. That fifth inning, when Texas had a runner on second with only one out, proved huge as Bedard notched consecutive groundouts to keep it a one-run game.

I talked to Kenji Johjima about it afterwards and he praised Bedard for not giving in and abandoning his game plan when plate umpire Jim Joyce refused to give him the inside corner on his fastball.

"I think he had a few pitches inside that were fastballs where he should have had strikes called," Johjima said through an interpreter. "But he kept pitching inside and not going more towards the plate. So, that's how (mentally) strong I think he is. He's a very stubborn guy.''

Some fine pitching by Sean Green after that carried the M's to five more outs. Green wound up credited with the victory. Eric O'Flaherty also got the key out needed in the seventh when Josh Hamilton popped out foul with a runner on.

Offensively, Lopez delivered the back-breaking double and also completed the hitting part of that hit-and-run with Ichiro in the sixth to get Seattle's two-run rally started. Lopez did not look great defensively today, but he came through with the bat. I liked the seven walks taken by Seattle hitters as well, two by Johjima, on a cold day when hits were tough to come by early.

J.J. Putz pitched a scoreless ninth, allowing only a two-out single by Michael Young, for the save.

Raul Ibanez admitted there was a sense of urgency in the sixth when he came up with two on, none out and his team down 1-0. The M's had already squandered a chance in the second inning against Kevin Millwood.

β€œAt that point, when you're first and second with nobody out, there's definitely a sense of urgency in a game like that when the guy you're facing is pitching the way he was,'' Ibanez said.

Hear what Ibanez said right here in this audio clip.

Ichiro shared Ibanez's sentiments about the sixth inning being critical. He was standing on second and scored the tying run on Ibanez's single. The M's went on to a two-run inning, knocking Millwood from the game after six.

"That was probably the most crucial point in the game," Ichiro told me through an interpreter. "If Millwood had gotten through that inning without allowing any runs, it's possible he would have been able to complete the entire game. So, for us to get runs in that situation was highly crucial.’’

Crucial indeed. The M's get the win. It wasn't the best played game. There was only one extra-base hit in the cold weather. But Seattle came away 1-0 and in first place, as I mentioned. Do that 161 more times, or even 94 more times, and this will be one heck of a season. But the M's got the opener out of the way.

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