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Meche pilots Mariners to narrow win over Tigers

SEATTLE (AP) -- In recent years, Gil Meche had little chance of
winning if he didn't have command of his fastball or curve.

Now, the Seattle Mariners' oft-criticized, No. 1 pick from 1996
has a Plan C: a sharp, new slider, thanks to first-year pitching
coach Rafael Chaves. And he's mastered it just in time, during the
final year of Meche's contract.

The Detroit Tigers would have rather hit against the old Meche
on Sunday. With little zip on his fastball and no break to his
curve, a resourceful Meche relied on the slider to hold baseball's
best team to four hits in seven innings of Seattle's 3-2 comeback
victory that snapped the Mariners' six-game losing streak.

"In the past, it would have been a disaster, because I wasn't
throwing a slider last year," Meche said of not having his top two
pitches.

Meche (8-4) has become what Seattle has been waiting years for --
a consistent, dependable, almost ace-like starter. He hasn't lost
since May 30, eight starts ago. The only time he allowed more than
two runs in that span was July 4 against the Los Angeles Angels,
when he left in the sixth inning leading 5-2 and saw the bullpen
allow all three of his runners to score.

Meche's status has risen enough that Seattle will restructure
its rotation for the second half and give him the first start after
the All-Star break, Friday at Toronto.

"Yeah, consistency is the key," Meche said. "That's what
makes a pitcher."

Sunday, he walked two and struck out eight. He was helped by a
two-run homer by seldom-used catcher Rene Rivera, and by Eduardo Perez, who had two hits and scored the go-ahead run in his first
start since coming to Seattle from Cleveland on June 30.

Perez scored with two outs in the bottom of the seventh when
Yuniesky Betancourt's elusive single bounded under the glove of
third baseman Brandon Inge, after Nate Robertson walked Perez.

J.J. Putz finished the ninth for his 16th save in 18 chances as
the Mariners ended their longest home losing streak in six years.

"We've still got a lot of baseball left," manager Mike
Hargrove said of his team that is 2½ games behind Oakland and Texas
in the AL West despite being three games under .500.

Robertson (8-5) lost for the third time in four starts. He
allowed nine hits and a walk, and struck out five in his first
complete game of the season.

Robertson breezed into the fifth inning having allowed just two
singles before Willie Bloomquist doubled over the head of center
fielder Curtis Granderson. Granderson has yet to commit an error in
his first 139 major league games, a record among Tigers
outfielders, but he first ran in on Bloomquist's line drive before
it sailed over his head and over the wall on one bounce.

Two pitches later, Rivera -- a .163-hitter -- made the Tigers pay
for the misplay by tying the game 2-2 with a stunning home run.
Rivera got the start while regular catcher Kenji Johjima began his
break a day early and flew to his native Japan to be with his wife
and newborn son.

"It's unfortunate. I gave up the two-run homer to a guy that
obviously doesn't hit that well," Robertson said.

Meche was as good as Robertson was frustrated. Again.

"Gil was absolutely outstanding," Hargrove said. "The one
thing about Gil that has been consistent this season is his
consistency. And that's good to see."

Meche would have allowed only one run had he not blundered in
the fourth inning. Placido Polanco grounded to Richie Sexson wide
of first base. Meche covered the base and caught Sexson's short
throw. But he failed to step on the bag before Polanco arrived. The
infield single was Detroit's first hit.

Two batters later, All-Star injury replacement Magglio Ordonez
golfed Meche's 1-2 slider into the Mariners' bullpen for his 16th
home run and a 2-0 Tigers lead.

Meche escaped the inning without further scoring when he struck
out Chris Shelton on a better slider with two Tigers on. Detroit
didn't get a runner past first against Meche after that

Detroit manager Jim Leyland said the Tigers helped Meche by
being "lazy" offensively.

"A lot of lazy fly balls, balls in the air -- a little bit
tired," Leyland said. "The break is certainly coming at a good
time. They are ready for a well-deserved break."

How deserved? Detroit (59-29) lost for the sixth time in 27
games but entered the All-Star break with baseball's best record.
The Tigers are in first place at the unofficial midpoint of the
season for the first time since 1988.

Game notes
The teams played in uniforms from 1969. That meant Seattle
was wearing the blue and gold of the Pilots -- complete with blue
caps, gold 'S' and funky, gold pilot's wings on the bill. The
Pilots left Seattle after one season to become the Milwaukee Brewers. ... Detroit fell short of becoming the 10th team since
1960 to win 60 games before the break. The last was Atlanta in
2003. ... Seattle OF Ichiro Suzuki went 0-for-4. He is 1-for-18,
dating to July 3.