SEATTLE -- They were still in the second inning last night when the Red Sox learned there'd be no room left for this game against the Mariners on any future "This Date in Baseball History" calendar. Daisuke Matsuzaka and Ichiro Suzuki could have resorted to jujitsu, kung fu, or a bare-knuckle steel-cage fight and they still had no chance of competing with A-Rod in Gotham or Barry in the House That Larry Built in San Diego.
But even if posterity was taken out of the equation after Alex Rodriguez hit his 500th home run in Yankee Stadium and Barry Bonds tied Hank Aaron with No. 755 in Petco Park before the sun had set here, there were some matters of a clear and present nature for the Sox and Matsuzaka to address. The Sox had lost nine straight times in Safeco Field, and Matsuzaka, in three previous starts, had yet to vanquish the team led by his most vaunted adversary, Ichiro.
There was no faulting the spirited way in which Matsuzaka and the Sox embraced the task at hand, edging the Mariners, 4-3, before 46,313 on a gorgeous night in the Pacific Northwest.
"Wins have been hard here," Sox manager Terry Francona said, stating the obvious.
Matsuzaka (13-8), who came out throwing 95-mile-per-hour BBs, struck out 10 for the third time this season and was at his defiant best when the Mariners were at their most threatening.
The Sox, meanwhile, took their cue from an energized Manny Ramírez, who sprinted from first to home on Jason Varitek's two-out, two-run double in the fourth, and cracked an RBI double when the Sox scored twice more in the sixth.
The Mariners scored a run in the eighth with three straight two-out hits off Eric Gagne. Jonathan Papelbon walked two in the ninth before Adrian Beltre popped to Varitek in foul territory for his 25th save. History may not have been at stake, but there was no shortage of drama.
"As a team, you know we haven't been able to win here," Matsuzaka said. "These couple of games we really want to win, and I'm very happy we were able to win tonight. And one day I hope to have my own moments of history."
This time, the high-fives that greeted Ramírez on his return to the Sox dugout were richly deserved.
"He played with good energy last night, maybe too much," Francona said in a wry allusion to Ramírez and Kevin Youkilis both winding up on third base Friday night. "[Ramírez has] been terrific all year. I've been telling that to everyone who asks."
Matsuzaka, meanwhile, left little doubt about what the stakes meant to him when he pounded his glove with gusto after the Sox turned a double play that took him out of a first-and-third, one-out jam in the fourth. For Matsuzaka, that display of emotion was akin to Papelbon pummeling his mitt in exultation, or Josh Beckett letting out a rebel yell.
After the first, when he disposed of Suzuki on a first-pitch ground ball to second and struck out Jose Vidro and Jose Guillen, Matsuzaka seldom had a moment free of anxiety. Beltre clubbed a 1-and-0 fastball into the right-center-field seats to give the Mariners a 1-0 lead in the second. The Mariners loaded the bases in the third, which featured a 10-pitch at-bat by Ichiro that ended with the Mariner magician bouncing into a force play after fouling off four 3-and-2 pitches. Matsuzaka escaped that one by striking out Guillen again and retiring Raul Ibanez on a fly to left.
"That wasn't the only critical point in the game," Matsuzaka said of retiring Ichiro after the first two batters reached in the third. "Where I really wanted to prevent a run or a hit. But I think when I'm facing Ichiro, of all the batters out there, he's the one I psych myself up most to face, and definitely don't want him to get a hit off me."
Vidro walked with two out in the fifth. Matsuzaka responded by whiffing Guillen for the third time. The punchouts were the least of Guillen's woes last night. In the Sox sixth, which began with a double by Youkilis, Guillen gloved David Ortiz's sinking liner on the short hop and came up throwing. Did he ever. Guillen, who has possibly the strongest arm in the majors, threw it over the head of Beltre at third and skipped on one hop into the box seats. Youkilis scored on the error, and Ortiz wound up on third, from where he scored on Ramírez's double to left-center.
Matsuzaka hit Ibanez and walked Beltre to open the sixth, an aggravating proposition that had Francona calling for Manny Delcarmen to warm up. Undeterred, Matsuzaka whiffed Ben Broussard on three pitches, coaxed a popup out of Kenji Johjima, and whiffed Jose Lopez on three pitches to end the inning.
There was more activity in the Sox bullpen when Betancourt opened the seventh with his second home run in two nights. This time, it was Hideki Okajima loosening. That's all the exercise he got, though, as Matsuzaka retired Ichiro for a fourth straight time, this time a grounder to short, his fourth straight roller, and struck out Vidro and the hapless Guillen for a fourth time.