The veteran should get credit for a save on this one as well, given he pitched deep enough into the game to save a bullpen stretched thin by a 14-inning battle the night before. Manager Eric Wedge already had determined that Lucas Luetge was unavailable, having pitched in four of the past five games.
Wedge also wanted to stay away from Josh Kinney, if possible, given he'd gone 2 1/3 innings on Friday. He wound up using everyone else except Steve Delabar, and the bullpen came up aces as Shawn Kelley, Oliver Perez, Brandon League and Tom Wilhelmsen combined for three perfect frames.
All of that was needed on a night the Mariners got their only runs on a bases-loaded single by Michael Saunders in the first.
"It starts with Jason Vargas," Wedge said. "Everybody knew what our situation was. To know that as a starting pitcher and have the heartbeat he did and get us deep in the ballgame like that, it starts with him. He didn't have the command he normally does, but he didn't give into it either in a tight ballgame."
Vargas allowed baserunners in each of the first six innings while giving up five hits and three walks, but spread things around well enough that Tampa Bay pushed only two runners past first base in that span.
"I'd rather not have baserunners, but I was able to get in the stretch and kind of limit the damage," he said. "I really wasn't in the strike zone that much tonight, but I was able to somehow get them to swing and put it in play. Our hitters came through in the first and we were able to keep it where it was for the most part."
Vargas has won his past three starts with a 1.80 ERA in that stretch. The 29-year-old has allowed a Major League-high 25 home runs this season but ended a club-record streak of 12 straight games with a long ball by shutting down the Rays.
Tampa Bay made things interesting in the seventh when Desmond Jennings led off with a single and Jose Lobaton followed with a bloop base hit to right. When Ichiro Suzuki tried to throw out Jennings going to third, his throw skipped wide of Kyle Seager, allowing the Rays left fielder to scoot home and Lobaton to advance to second.
It was Ichiro's first error of the season and snapped a club record of 12 straight errorless games.
Kelley replaced Vargas at that point and Tampa Bay sacrificed Lobaton to third. But Kelley got B.J. Upton to pop out and Oliver Perez came on to strike out Carlos Pena to preserve the 2-1 lead.
League and Wilhelmsen finished off the perfect night for the bullpen, with Wilhelmsen picking up his ninth save with two strikeouts, including a knee-buckling curve on a 3-2 count to Jennings after he'd fallen behind 3-0.
"You certainly don't want to walk guys," Wilhelmsen said. "Especially him, he's such a speedster. I remember last year plunking him and then he stole second and third on me. So yeah, that was a huge out there, coming back. [Catcher John] Jaso put down a curve and I'm 100 percent comfortable throwing it. So I did."
From his adjacent locker, veteran starter Kevin Millwood interjected: "And it was a doozy."
The victory puts Seattle at 41-55 for the season and 1-5 against the Rays going into Sunday's series finale.
The Mariners jumped on Alex Cobb for a 2-0 lead in the first inning, with Saunders driving in both runs after Casper Wells and Seager had sandwiched walks around a Jaso base hit to load the bases.
"That was a big knock there and it ended up being enough," Wedge said. "Those are rare to win games like that. Obviously we've had our struggles here, but to win games like that, it was a good win."
The Mariners knocked Cobb out of the game in the second, literally, when Ichiro lined a sharp grounder off the right-hander's leg. Cobb fielded the deflected ball and flipped it to catcher Lobaton to get Carlos Peguero at the plate for the final out of the inning.
Cobb stayed down on the turf after the play before eventually being helped off with what later was determined to be a bruised leg. Left-hander Cesar Ramos, just recalled from Triple-A on Saturday, replaced Cobb and pitched four scoreless innings with six strikeouts.
The Mariners, after striking out 17 times in 14 innings in Friday's 4-3 loss, went down swinging 15 times Saturday against five Rays pitchers.
Jaso and Peguero each had two hits on the night, with Jaso now 5-for-12 against his former team this season, along with a walk and two hit-by-pitches.