It is a constant refrain from manager Scott Servais, almost a mnemonic beat, that all success for the Mariners centers on strong starting pitching.
Hisashi Iwakuma carried a shutout into the seventh inning Tuesday night and, yep, the Mariners responded with a 5-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Safeco Field.
The Mariners built a five-run lead for Iwakuma by scoring single runs in the third and fourth innings against Pittsburgh starter Jonathon Niese before mounting a three-run rally with two outs in the fifth.
Nelson Cruz capped the three-run burst with his 20th homer — a no-doubt, two-run shot to left for a 5-0 lead.
Iwakuma lost his shutout after yielding a leadoff double in the seventh inning to Gregory Polanco, who moved to third on Andrew McCutchen’s fly to center.
Starling Marte then pumped an RBI triple into the right-center gap. Iwakuma retired Matt Joyce on a pop-up, but David Freese lined an RBI single to center. The lead was down to 5-2.
When Adam Frazier followed with a single, the Mariners replaced Iwakuma (7-6) with right-hander Edwin Diaz, who stranded two runners by retiring Jordy Mercer on a fly to short right.
Diaz pitched a one-two-three eighth inning before Steve Cishek closed the victory for his 18th save in 22 chances. The Mariners edged back over .500 at 39-38.
This was a bounce-back effort for the bullpen, too, after letting a possible victory slip away Sunday by permitting six runs over the final four innings in an 11-6 loss to St. Louis.
The Mariners opened the scoring after Leonys Martin started the third inning with a single past third. Shawn O’Malley followed with a bunt single and, when Niese (6-6) threw wildly to first, Martin reached third.
Martin scored on Ketel Marte’s double-play grounder.
Pittsburgh got its first hit when Polanco opened the fourth with a bunt single on a roller up the third-base line that stubbornly stayed fair.
The Mariners extended their lead to 2-0 in their fourth after Robinson Cano’s leadoff with a single. Cano went to second on Dae-Ho Lee’s one-out walk. Kyle Seager lined a ball off the right-field wall but settled for a single when both runners held up to see whether the ball would be caught. Cano scored on Chris Iannetta’s sacrifice fly to center.
Only a fine running catch by Andrew McCutchen prevented Iannetta’s drive from being an extra-base hit and resulting in multiple runs.
Cano’s third single of the game, with two outs in the fifth, made it 3-0. Franklin Gutierrez worked a two-out walk and moved to second on a wild pitch before Cano grounded a single up the middle.
Cruz followed with a booming homer to left and it was 5-0. When Lee and Seager then reached on singles, the Pirates went to the bullpen for Arquimedes Caminero, who struck out Iannetta.