With rotation ailing, Iwakuma steps up

With rotation ailing, Iwakuma steps up

BOSTON -- Hisashi Iwakuma has been around long enough to know the score. And not just the 8-4 total that stood on the Fenway Park board after his Mariners topped the Red Sox in Friday's series opener.

His club is suddenly minus the other two veteran starters in its rotation with Felix Hernandez and now Wade Miley both on the 15-day disabled list, so Iwakuma is left carrying the mantle for a team fighting to stay in the playoff chase in the American League at 36-31.

"Miley went on the DL today and Felix is on the DL for a couple weeks," Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. "We all have to pick up our game to make up for that, and that's how we all feel. I'm very happy that I got to do my job today."

Manager Scott Servais was thrilled to see the veteran right-hander give him seven innings, allowing four runs on nine hits to beat a Red Sox team that has bedeviled him in the past.

"It was huge, especially with the spot starter coming tomorrow," said Servais, who is expected to go with rookie Adrian Sampson in place of the injured Miley on Saturday. "We really needed that to kind of calm things down here a little bit. Hopefully it sets us up good for the rest of this series, but these guys are tough in this ballpark, no doubt about it."

Iwakuma knows that as well as anyone, coming in with a 10.20 ERA in four previous starts against Boston. But the Mariners staked him to a 7-0 lead before David Ortiz touched him for a two-run blast in the fourth, and Iwakuma kept things in check well enough to pick up his fifth win in his last six outings to improve to 6-5 with a 4.18 ERA.

Ortiz went 1-for-2 with a walk against him and is now 5-for-10 with three homers and two doubles with six RBIs in his career against the Japanese standout.

"It's hard to express my happiness that he's retiring after this season," Iwakuma said with a sly grin. "He's got great numbers against me. But at the same time, he's a great hitter and we all respect him as pitchers. He got me again today and I tip my cap to him."

On this day, however, it was Iwakuma who came out on top at the end, recording his first career win against the Red Sox. And he appreciates what that means, particularly at Fenway.

"To be honest, from my perspective this is a very tough park to pitch in," he said. "You really feel like you're on the road. The atmosphere is different, the fans get on you. It's not an easy place to pitch, but today we scored early and I wanted to run with that. I was patient when I had runners on, and when I got into a jam, I executed when I needed to and that helped."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.