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Thursday, September 02, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Bob Finnigan
TORONTO In a purely unscientific poll the Mariners conducted over the past two games here, it was Bush over Kerry.
Of course, with the presidential thing too close to call, that would be the Toronto Blue Jays' Dave Bush, who got a 4-2 victory with seven good innings last night, over Kerry Ligtenberg, who took the 7-5 loss for Toronto with one poorly pitched inning Tuesday.
But while Bush, a right winger, was effective, it is hardly a stretch to say the Mariners fell again to their season-long malady of being major-league have-nots a pitch Gil Meche didn't have and an at-bat or two Ichiro didn't get to have.
In his three at-bats, Ichiro did get two more hits, to reach 214. He is on a pace for 263 hits, which would surpass George Sisler's 1920 major-league record of 257.
Meche, whose strong return from early-season troubles is one of the few bright spots of the year, was unable to use his curveball to any effect last night.
Meche was forced to go mainly with fastballs and an occasional changeup, which, as he put it, "is pretty much like letting the other team know you'll be going with a straight pitch, so they'll sit on the heater until they get one out over the plate they can drive."
Meche matched Bush for five 0-0 innings. But, without a breaking ball, he was forced to use a lot of pitches as the Blue Jays kept swinging and fouling off his fastballs.
After Meche finally got a lead to work with on Bret Boone's 19th homer for two runs in the sixth, the Jays caught up to him in the bottom of that inning and tied the score off reliever Ron Villone (5-5), who gave up three hits and two walks in one inning.
However, Seattle rose against Bush with two outs in the seventh. Jose Lopez's single put runners at first and third and brought up Ichiro, who had hit a line-drive single into center field in the first inning, grounded out in the third inning and bounced a single up the middle with a broken bat before Boone's homer in the sixth.
Jays manager John Gibbons called for an intentional walk, the 12th for Ichiro this year.
That was fine with Bush.
"As far as getting hits, no one in the game is better right now," the pitcher said. "We had a tie game, so I was all for it."
Ichiro said he expected it.
"When I was on deck, I thought, 'Oh, they're going to walk me,' " the outfielder said. "You want to hit, but you're not going to tell them they have to throw to me. It's part of the game."
Manager Bob Melvin acknowledged that much, saying, "I don't blame them, but hopefully we won't see much of that. That's the kind of stuff they do with Barry Bonds. You don't usually do it with a singles hitter, and you're putting speed on the bases, too.
"As I said, I hope we don't see a lot of it."
Making it more sensible for the Jays was that Bush had gotten the next hitter, Randy Winn, three times twice on strikeouts.
"I was comfortable facing Winn," Bush said. "Anyone would be compared to the way Ichiro is swinging. We had a base open, but the key guy was the runner on third."
Bush started Winn out with a curveball at 68 mph and threw him a second pitch at the same speed and location. Winn popped out to second to end the rally and Seattle's last chance.
Villone could not hold the game at 2-2. Frank Menechino led off the seventh inning with a line-drive home run to right field on an 0-2 pitch. With one out, Villone walked Vernon Wells, then let him get to third base on a pickoff throw that went wide of first base. Carlos Delgado made it 4-2 with a bloop single.
While Melvin sounded a bit of an alarm that teams might look to walk Ichiro intentionally rather than let him swing his extremely hot bat, Ichiro was philosophical about it.
"We just had one (intentional walk) today," he said. "It will depend on how many times they do it."
It would have been interesting to see how the Jays would have handled him had he gotten to the plate in the ninth inning. Bucky Jacobsen led off with a double, but closer Justin Speier retired the 7-8-9 hitters and left Ichiro on deck when the game ended.
Asked how he felt to miss one last at-bat, one last chance to help his team, Ichiro replied, "If there's a player out there that likes to lose, maybe that player would be happy. I was not."
Bob Finnigan: 206-464-8276 or email@example.com
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