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M’s climb back to .500

Vargas beneficiary of late Seattle rally

Geoff Baker Seattle Times

SEATTLE – A patient Jason Vargas waited all night long for his team’s offense to avoid tripping over its shoelaces.

The Mariners owned the basepaths for much of Saturday night’s 7-3 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, but had trouble making any of it count on the scoreboard until their final two at-bats. But then, just after Vargas had given up a tying home run in the seventh, his teammates finally cracked the seal and came flooding on through.

After botching a squeeze attempt in the seventh, a Mike Sweeney sacrifice fly and a run-scoring single by Franklin Gutierrez gave Vargas the two runs he needed to collect a victory. It came on a night the left-hander allowed just three hits over seven innings and had retired 17 in a row before Justin Upton’s tying homer in the seventh.

Yuniesky Betancourt then doubled home two runs in a three-run eighth by the Mariners that broke things open for good.

The crowd of 29,525 at Safeco Field stared in puzzled unison in the bottom of that go-ahead seventh inning as, with the bases loaded and none out, Adrian Beltre was lifted in favor of pinch-hitter Ronny Cedeno. At once, Diamondbacks players and coaches hoofed it to the mound, obviously expecting that the .132-hitting Cedeno would try to lay down the squeeze bunt.

That he did and lead runner Betancourt was a dead duck at the plate.

There was no immediate word on any injury to Beltre, who has been the subject of some trade speculation as he plays out the final year of his contract. Beltre had taken some wild swings and misses early in the contest as Arizona starter Billy Buckner managed to keep the game close despite allowing nine base runners over his six-plus innings.

But the Mariners, as is often the case, could not deliver the big hits when needed in the early going.

They did get some needed offense out of Wladimir Balentien, who delivered a pair of hits – including a solo home run off Buckner in the fourth inning that gave Vargas a 2-1 lead at the time. Balentien has been anointed the team’s everyday left fielder in the wake of the season-ending knee injury suffered on Friday by Endy Chavez in a collision with Betancourt.

Seattle tied the score in the third inning when Betancourt attempted to go from first to third on an Ichiro single. Arizona center fielder Gerardo Parra overran the ball and enabled Betancourt to round third and score.

Vargas had little trouble with the Diamondbacks after an unearned first-inning run that scored on a bizarre series of events. With runners at the corners, none out and Mark Reynolds at the plate, Vargas got the Arizona clean-up hitter to swing at a 3-0 pitch and pop it up foul behind the plate.

Mariners catcher Rob Johnson made an off-balance catch for the inning’s second out. But the speedy Upton, on first base at the time, broke for second.

Rather than hold on to the ball, Johnson attempted an ill-advised throw that wound up in center field. Felipe Lopez easily trotted home from third to give Arizona a 1-0 lead.

But that was about it as far as the visiting team’s offense went.

Vargas caught a groove from there.

•Boxscore, C8

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