Maroth extends streak in win over M's

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Maroth extends streak in win over M's

04/22/2006 3:35 AM ET

By Jason Beck

SEATTLE -- Mike Maroth said he couldn't sweat Friday night because the weather here was so cold. The way he's pitching, even 80-degree weather might not have drawn a drop.Maroth has tossed 17 1/3 scoreless innings since giving up a home run in his first inning of the season April 8. The last 13 scoreless innings have come when he couldn't afford to give up anything. The six he tossed Friday helped turn another low-scoring duel in his favor, outpitching Jarrod Washburn before his bullpen held on for a 2-1 win over the Mariners at Safeco Field.

The left-hander whose claim to fame was a 21-loss season three years now owns a 3-0 record. He's the first Tigers pitcher to win his first three starts in a season since David Wells in 1993. Yet the 3-1 win Wells pulled out for his third victory almost seems like a slugfest compared to Maroth's last two starts.

"It's fun in a low-scoring game like that," Maroth said. "It's a pitchers' duel and you get into it a little bit more, kind of focus on making your pitches, knowing that any run could be crucial."

Not even Safeco Field could cool off Maroth -- not competitively, at least. In previous seasons, this has been a relative house of horrors; beyond the 0-2 record and 15.95 ERA, he hadn't lasted so much as four innings in any of his previous outings here.

Though he had at least two opportunities to continue his struggles here, he quickly established that he was in this one for a while. Adrian Beltre's one-out single in the second inning nearly put runners at the corners, but right fielder Magglio Ordonez caught Kenji Jojhima rounding too far off second base, an out that became bigger once Willie Bloomquist followed with a single.

Jeremy Reed battled out of an 0-2 count for a two-out walk to load the bases for Ichiro Suzuki. He battled the count full before Maroth escaped by handcuffing him into an inning-ending dribbler in front of home plate.

"I struggled with my control a little bit," Maroth said, "but I think I had good movement on my sinker, got a lot of ground balls, and that was the key."

Maroth retired seven of the next eight batters he faced before Ichiro came back up to hit a one-out single in the fifth. A two-out walk to Raul Ibanez put runners at first and second for cleanup hitter Richie Sexson, but the M's sent both runners on a 2-0 pitch. Maroth missed the strike zone, but Vance Wilson threw out Ibanez at second to end the threat.

Maroth scattered four hits, three walks and a hit batter while striking out three. He earned 10 ground outs compared to just three outs in the air.

When the Tigers signed Kenny Rogers last December, the lingering question was how the Tigers would fare with two left-handers who pitch very much alike. So far, the southpaws are a combined 6-1, accounting for more than half of Detroit's victories. Rogers, however, has a track record of winning. Maroth entered this year with five April wins for his career.

"You have to remember," manager Jim Leyland said, "this guy won 14 games on a team that was 20 games under last year. So he's a pretty credible Major League pitcher."

Many who have watched him from afar are now coming to a similar conclusion.

"He's a lot farther ahead than I ever anticipated just watching him on TV," said Todd Jones, whose first save since rejoining the Tigers last December finalized the win. "He's a polished big-league pitcher. Mike's been through a lot, losing 20 games and not ducking starts. He's pretty far ahead."

The Tigers offense didn't fare much better against Mariners starter Jarrod Washburn (1-3) until the sixth, when Brandon Inge led off with an opposite-field double into the right-field corner.

Just as Inge's 15-pitch at-bat Thursday at Oakland proved critical to a win, Wilson battled Washburn for 10 pitches before moving Inge to third on a groundout. In so doing, he set up Inge to score when Placido Polanco drove the first pitch he saw into left field for a sacrifice fly.

"That's the type of player he is," said Leyland, who was originally going to have Wilson bunt Inge over but pulled back. "He's a battler."

Once Maroth finished the bottom of the sixth, he and his upper-80s fastball gave way to Joel Zumaya, whose combination of upper-90s fastballs and lower-80s curveballs claimed another victim.

After retiring the side in order in the seventh, Zumaya gave up a single to Ichiro leading off the eighth, setting up the showdown between one of baseball's best base stealers and a 21-year-old flamethrower. The deciding factor in the showdown was Zumaya's slide step, something he said he developed on his own coming up.

"He has a slide step and still throws 98 [mph]," Wilson said. "To me, that makes him that much more special."

Ichiro couldn't go during Zumaya's five pitches to Jose Lopez, capped by a strikeout. Ibanez moved Ichiro to second, setting up Sexson with two outs, but Zumaya spotted a first-pitch curveball followed by three fastballs at 98 mph. Sexson watched the last one hit the middle of the plate for a called third strike.

With Fernando Rodney having pitched two innings Thursday, Jones' return from the disabled list came in a save situation, albeit a two-run lead following Ivan Rodriguez's ninth-inning solo shot. That run proved critical once the back-to-back singles from Carl Everett and Beltre followed by a Roberto Petagine walk loaded the bases with one out.

Jones retired Reed on a sacrifice fly to center, but pinch-runner Matt Lawton moved to third on the play, putting the tying run within 90 feet with Ichiro at the plate. Ichiro put it in play, right to second baseman Polanco for the out.

The team was once struggled to win close games pulled out its third one-run victory in six days. Sweat or no sweat, Maroth has two of them.

"As long as we win," Maroth said, "it doesn't matter."