St. Petersburg, FL – Jason Vargas pitched into the seventh inning and was charged with an unearned run as the Mariners downed the Rays, 2-1, in the middle test of a three-game set Saturday at Tropicana Field.
Vargas (10-7) scattered seven hits and walked three while striking out five over six-plus frames to improve to 3-0 in July and drop his earned run average to 1.72 in four starts this month.
"It starts with Jason Vargas," Seattle manager Eric Wedge said. "He didn't have the command he normally does, but he didn't give into it either in a tight ballgame."
Tom Wilhelmsen recorded a perfect ninth to nail down his ninth save of the season, while Michael Saunders smacked a two-out, two-run single in the first inning to provide the offense for the Mariners, who snapped a nine-game losing streak against the Rays.
Alex Cobb (4-7) earned the loss after giving up both runs on three hits and two walks over just two frames before a right leg contusion and a pitch count of 52 forced the 24-year-old right-hander to an early shower.
Jeff Keppinger clubbed three hits in the setback, which snapped Tampa Bay's two-game winning streak.
Seattle scored the only two runs it would need in the first inning as Casper Wells kept the frame alive with a two-out walk before going first-to-third on a single to right from John Jaso.
Kyle Seager then walked to load the bases for Saunders, who slapped a single the other way into left to plate Wells and Jaso for a 2-0 lead.
Carlos Peguero singled to start the second, moved to second on a bunt and then found third on a wild pitch from Cobb. Ichiro Suzuki followed two batters later and ripped a liner back up the middle that drilled Cobb in the right shin and rolled toward the plate.
Cobb retrieved the ball and alertly flipped to catcher Jose Lobaton to catch Peguero at the plate before remaining on the ground in obvious pain.
"Hard groundball up the middle, I stopped it with my foot, my leg, and luckily made the play at home," said Cobb after the game. "I should be fine."
Cesar Ramos entered for Cobb to start the third and kept it a two-run game with four scoreless innings of two-hit ball with six strikeouts, but the Rays offense couldn't string together anything against Vargas until they finally broke through in the seventh.
Desmond Jennings singled to start the frame and Lobaton followed with a flare into shallow right. Jennings went first-to-third on the play and Suzuki's throw to third skipped past Seager, allowing Jennings to score and bring the Rays within a run.
Vargas' day was done, but Shawn Kelley and Oliver Perez combined to retire the next three Rays in order to maintain Seattle's one-run advantage.
Perez then fanned Ben Zobrist to start the eighth and Brandon League induced back-to-back groundouts to get the ball to Wilhelmsen, who fanned to the first two hitters in the ninth before getting Lobaton to fly out to complete the victory.
The Rays placed designated hitter Luke Scott on the 15-day disabled list with a mild strain of his right external oblique and recalled Ramos from Triple-A Durham before the game. Ramos' four innings and six strikeouts are both career highs...Zobrist's game-winning double in Friday's 4-3, 14-inning victory was officially changed to a triple...Cobb was diagnosed with a lower right leg contusion and x-rays came back negative.