Iwakuma holds off Halos to cap first MLB season

Iwakuma holds off Halos to cap first MLB season

Iwakuma holds off Halos to cap first MLB season
SEATTLE -- The Mariners may be limping to the finish line of the 2012 campaign, but they proved on Tuesday night that they won't go down without a fight.

The Mariners received timely two-out hits to build on an early lead, Hisashi Iwakuma kept the Angels at bay and Seattle evened the final series of the year with a 6-1 win at Safeco Field.

Iwakuma continued his mastery over the Angels, as he improved to 4-0 with a 1.23 ERA against the Halos after six shutout innings. In his final outing of the season, Iwakuma lowered his ERA to 2.65 in 16 starts to set a Mariners rookie record for lowest ERA by a starter. Felix Hernandez had held the previous record with a 2.67 ERA in 2005.

"His stuff has steadily improved throughout the course of the year. I mean, you saw him run it up there a few times tonight in the mid-90s," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "Threw some tight splitties, some tight sliders. Able to really throw any pitch that he wants when he's behind in the count. He throws with a great deal of confidence out there."

The Japanese right-hander struck out seven Angels, including slugger Albert Pujols three times. It's just the second time ever that Pujols has whiffed three times in one game against the same pitcher. The other hurler to accomplish the feat was Hernandez, who trumped Pujols on Sept. 26.

In five of his six frames of work, Iwakuma allowed a runner to reach scoring position. On three separate occasions, Iwakuma stranded a Halo on third. But he pitched his best when in trouble and the Angels were 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position.

"That really could've changed the complexion of the game early and we just didn't get that hit early that would've helped [starter] Dan [Haren] relax and maybe make some pitches," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "On the defensive side, we cracked the door open for them too often and we couldn't absorb it with some clutch hits."

"He's really made that transition back to starting about as good as you can," Wedge said of Iwakuma, who started the season in the bullpen. "Especially when runners get on base, the way the guy executes pitches, the way he's able to slow the game down, just work to the situation."

Kyle Seager's first-inning home run gave the Mariners a lead they wouldn't relinquish on the third baseman's 20th blast of the year. The solo shot gives him 44 two-out RBIs on the season, tied for third most in the Majors.

He is the fifth Seattle player to hit at least 20 homers in either of his first two seasons. Additionally, it is the first time a Mariner has achieved the mark since 2009, when Russell Branyan (31) and Jose Lopez (25) both crossed the plateau.

"It's exciting but something to build off for next year," said Seager, who is finishing his first full season in the Majors. "It's a nice personal accomplishment, but in the end, it's kind of our whole team starting to really start to swing it better. You're seeing real hard contact from everybody, so it's exciting moving forward."

The big blow came in the fourth, as Michael Saunders crushed a Haren offering off the middle of the fence in center field. John Jaso and Justin Smoak, who had reached on an error and double, respectively, scored on the two-out double to give the Mariners a 3-0 lead.

The Mariners tacked on a couple insurance runs in the sixth. Seager doubled and scored on a base hit by Jaso to right that Mark Trumbo bobbled. After a double play erased Jaso, Jesus Montero singled and scored on another error by Trumbo. This time, it was an errant throw after fielding a double by Saunders.

The six-run cushion was more than enough to avoid worry when the Angels ended the shutout bid in the ninth inning.

"The way these guys have been fighting through this tough schedule here this last three weeks ... I've been proud of the fact that they haven't given in to anybody, they haven't backed down from anybody," Wedge said. "When you talk about playing in a playoff atmosphere that we've been playing in the last two and a half, three weeks, it's invaluable experience for them, and I think they've handled it well.

"As they continue to get better and continue to mature, there's a lot of games in there that we'll win because we're that close with so many of them. That's going to have great value to us next year."

Josh Liebeskind is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.