SEATTLE Only moments after he made his way into the dugout, high-fives coming from everywhere, the 30,373 at Safeco Field began to stand. And then just about all of them were standing, clapping, and waiting for the next unlikely Mariners hero on this homestand to come back out.
For Jeff Clement, the Mariners catcher who might have just blasted himself out of the funk that's shrouded his rookie season, it was a curtain call. His first since high school.
With two swings, two absolute smashes to right field, Clement made up for a night of close calls. With home runs in the sixth and eighth, Clement provided the Mariners their only runs in a 3-2 victory at Safeco Field.
"The night," starter R.A. Dickey said, "belonged to Jeff." Yet a part also belonged to Dickey, who gave the Mariners a quality start even as his knuckleball struggled. And to a defense that dived and leaped for catches and threw a runner out at home. And to Miguel Batista, whose two scoreless innings of relief kept the Mariners just one Clement swing away from the lead.
"It was a heck of a night for a lot of guys," manager Jim Riggleman said.
But on this night, Clement had majority ownership.
The Mariners have stuck with Clement, letting him grow up in front of thousands of eyes each night. Riggleman has continued to plug him in the lineup, even as Clement collected strikeouts and his average fell to .170. And where was that power Clement showed at Tacoma last season on the way to Seattle? On Saturday night, Clement had your power right here.
Both home runs were no-doubters, the kind that had Safeco humming before they even cleared the fence in right. The first came with two outs in the sixth, which cut the lead to 2-1. And just when it appeared like knuckleballer R.A. Dickey might leave with another undeserved loss, Clement hit a Fernando Rodney changeup for a two-run home run with one out in the eighth.
"His history tells you that he's hit the ball out of the ballpark everywhere he's played, and you figure eventually he's going to hit some out of the ballpark here," Riggleman said. "He certainly has the power and bat speed." Clement, who took extra hitting practice early Saturday afternoon, said he made an extra effort to stay back in his stance. It showed in his first two at-bats, which produced well-hit balls to center field.
"I really built off those the next two at-bats and was able to barrel up on them a little better," he said, minutes before reliever J.J. Putz hit him in the face with a shaving cream pie.
Once Clement's second home run cleared the fence, the Mariners fired up reliever Brandon Morrow - who's about as sure as a Jose Guillen outburst these days - for the ninth. He closed it out in nine pitches for his seventh save, which dropped his earned-run average to 0.68.
The Mariners (35-52) moved 17 games below .500 for the first time since June 6, when they were 22-39. They are 10-5 under Riggleman, with a rotation that only partially resembles the one that held so much promise before the season.
R.A. Dickey wasn't even on the big-league roster when the season began, but he's proven to be a valuable innings-eater since his move to the rotation. He provided another quality start Saturday, laboring through six innings while his signature pitch wasn't working.
Dickey realized, as he threw in the bullpen, that his trademark knuckleball wasn't going for strikes. He paused in the bullpen, took a deep breath, and got himself ready to throw more sinkers and fastballs.
Dickey was dented only by a pair of solo home runs by Carlos Guillen and Miguel Cabrera, allowing the Mariners time to figure out Armando Galarraga, a rookie who has one of the best road ERAs in the American League (2.53).
"That guy was pitching well, and I wanted to match him," Dickey said.
Behind Dickey, the Mariners' defense put on one of its most impressive shows of the season. Jeremy Reed made a leaping catch at the track in the first and a diving one in the seventh. Raul Ibanez made a diving catch in the third, and then in the fifth, he threw out Detroit's Dane Sardinha at the plate.
"Ibanez made a wonderful throw, and Jeff blocked it - textbook," Dickey said. "That was the play of the game for me."