The strategy was defensible, but the blast by Richie Sexson wasn't — a game-ending grand slam in the 10th inning after Tampa Bay chose to walk two batters intentionally ahead of him.
On a night when Felix Hernandez flashed his vintage form, a slumping icon named Ichiro — on Japan Night, no less — keyed the winning rally, and Sexson dramatically completed it, as the Mariners beat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 5-1 at Safeco Field on Tuesday.
In a by-now-familiar scenario, Sexson made the opposition pay for walking Raul Ibanez ahead of him. This time, after Ichiro led off the 10th with a double and was sacrificed to third, Rays manager Joe Maddon chose to walk both Adrian Beltre and Ibanez to set up a bases-loaded situation for Sexson.
The strategy backfired in spectacular fashion when Sexson, on a 1-0 pitch with everyone drawn in, rocketed the Seth McClung pitch over the center-field wall.
"The pitch was executed, and Richie Sexson executed it, too," McClung said.
It was the 13th grand slam of Sexson's career and his fourth this season — three coming after Ibanez intentional walks (he had another homer as well in the same situation). He tied Edgar Martinez's single-season Mariners slam mark, set in 2000.
Ibanez has been intentionally walked 14 times ahead of Sexson this season, and Sexson is 8 for 12 with two walks in those situations.
Winning pitcher: Julio Mateo (8-4)
Losing pitcher: Shawn Camp (4-1)
Tonight: Tampa Bay at Seattle 1:35 p.m., no TV/KOMO (1000 AM)
Starting pitchers: M's Jarrod Washburn vs. Jamie Shields
"I think it gives him extra incentive," Ibanez said. "But you also have to have what [hitting coach] Jeff Pentland calls a shark's mentality. Sharks have no emotion. They just eat."
Sexson has feasted with the bases loaded, delivering the sixth walk-off slam of his career, and writing a different ending than on Sunday, when he whiffed with runners on second and third in the eighth inning against Oakland.
"We need to win games, and a grand slam is a big lift," Sexson said. "Sometimes that can get a team rolling emotionally, to win close games like that."
Said Ibanez: "It was awesome — so awesome, as I was running around the bases, I didn't know what was going on. It didn't hit me until I saw everyone at home plate that the game was over."
Ichiro, with just three hits in his previous 32 at-bats, led off the 10th with a double down the third-base line off Rays pitcher Shawn Camp.
With McClung replacing Camp, Jose Lopez moved Ichiro to third with a sacrifice, forcing a dilemma for Maddon.
"The whole idea when you put a lineup together is to make the other manager pick his poison," Mariners manager Mike Hargrove said. "With the disparity in the batting averages, I can understand why he walked those guys. Then again, Richie can be so electric with his bat, you run the risk of what happened tonight."
Sexson is also a candidate for an inning-ending double play — "I'm not too fast, if you hadn't noticed," he said with a grin — but his towering fly to center kept carrying over the wall.
"I put him [McClung] in a tough spot," Maddon said. "I felt it was the best option at that point, considering how hot the other two guys have been."
Hernandez completed eight innings for just the second time all year, throwing 111 pitches — one fewer than his season high of 112, reached July 16 against Toronto.
He allowed one scratch run, gave up five hits, walked one and struck out five. Hernandez's only longer, and better, outing occurred on June 11 in Anaheim, when he went nine innings and fired a four-hitter in beating the Angels, 6-2.
Most importantly, he saved the bullpen on a night when Mark Lowe (elbow tightness) was unavailable, and J.J. Putz (a combined 58 pitches the two previous nights) was a last resort.
"I was really conscious of the fact everyone was tired, and I had to give the bullpen a rest," Hernandez said.
When the Mariners did call on relief, they got two strong innings from George Sherrill and Julio Mateo, the latter earning his eighth victory to trail only Hernandez and Gil Meche on the M's staff.
Trailing 1-0 to an impressive Jae Seo, Seattle finally broke through in the seventh, the rally starting on, of all things, a strikeout. Leading off the inning, Ben Broussard waved at a pitch in the dirt from Seo, which bounced away from catcher Dioner Navarro.
As Broussard hustled up the line, Navarro pounced on the ball but threw wildly past first, Broussard winding up on second. In short order, Kenji Johjima delivered a soft single to left, and Broussard came home with the tying run.
The Rays' run had come under similarly underwhelming circumstances. Russell Branyan — who was once traded for Broussard — led off with a single, moved to second on Johjima's passed ball, and after a walk, stole third on the front end of a double steal when Johjima double-pumped on his throw.
It was Branyan's first steal of the season and eighth of his 10-year career, and proved vital when he came home on Rocco Baldelli's ground out.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.