SEATTLE -- It wasn't hard to notice Eric Wedge in the top of the sixth inning of Sunday's game. The Mariners manager was on the top step, embroiled in a heated conversation with home-plate umpire Eric Cooper.
Wedge was fighting for a call while his team was fighting for a 5-3 victory over the Oakland A's.
Even though the 2012 season is far from being defined, this outward display of single-minded resolve on the field and from the dugout speaks to the mold that the fiery skipper is shaping.
Throughout Sunday's win, which came in front of a sunny Jackie Robinson Day crowd of 19,650, the Mariners showed that they refuse to succumb quietly to the many challenges ahead of them. The numbers say they're still struggling at the plate, with a .232 team batting average and 40 runs scored in 11 games. But their pitchers have put up a collective ERA of 3.80, and the most important column -- the standings -- say they're 6-5.
"It's coming," Wedge said. "I still feel like we're going to be a lot better offensively than what you're seeing right now. I know enough about these guys individually, as well as collectively, to understand what it means to put up tough [at-bats] and have the type of focus and discipline that you need to have up there. It's been inconsistent early, but you've seen signs of it. And we're going to work to make sure you see a lot more of it."
It might have started on Sunday. Shortstop Brendan Ryan, for example, had never conquered the outfield walls at Safeco Field for a true home run -- all three of his 2011 long balls came on the road. But he got the scoring started in the second inning, drilling a Graham Godfrey offering over the left-field scoreboard for a two-run homer that gave Seattle starter Blake Beavan a 2-0 lead.
In fact, when asked if he had thought that the ball, which traveled 370 feet, was out as soon as he hit it, he smiled and shook his head.
"Never here," Ryan said. "No. Not ever. Not even from second base. No. Just ... no."
In the following inning, first baseman Justin Smoak battled through his own adversity, snapping an 0-for-11 drought by hitting his first regular-season homer in North America this year by launching a solo shot over the right-field wall. Smoak went deep in the Mariners' second game of 2012 in Japan, but hadn't hit one in eight games until Sunday.
Smoak said he has been "grinding through every at-bat" lately but got a pitch to hit and didn't miss it, inspiring confidence in his skipper that similar swings are coming.
"He's working to find his swing and be more consistent with it," Wedge said. "He's so big and strong. We just have to help him do a better job of utilizing the skill set that he has."
Meanwhile, Beavan defined the age-old pitching term of "battling." The right-hander was in command of the Oakland lineup from the get-go, and surrendered only three bloop singles before running into trouble in the fifth inning, when he gave up a single to Kila Ka'aihue, hit Anthony Recker with a pitch, and watched Eric Sogard tie the game with a three-run bolt to right.
Like his manager preaches on a daily basis, however, Beavan got tough. He struck out the next batter, Jemile Weeks, and escaped that inning with two more quick outs, allowing his offense to go back to work for him right away in the bottom of the fifth.
Chone Figgins worked a one-out walk, Dustin Ackley reached first base on an error by Weeks, and Ichiro Suzuki gave Seattle the lead by lashing an RBI double down the right-field line. Smoak was up next, and his comebacker to Godfrey was bobbled a bit by the pitcher, allowing Ackley to scamper home with an insurance run.
"A lot of times games will have momentum shifts, and there were a couple today," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "We're getting close offensively. It looks like our bats are getting better."
But this day was Beavan's, and he made sure of it.
"You have to have a short-term memory," said Beavan, who has pitched into the seventh inning in both of his 2012 starts. "You give up a couple runs and start thinking about it and not going after the guys the way you were before that, you end up getting hurt and you end up giving up more runs. So once I gave up the home run, I just had to stop the damage right there and keep trying to battle and make pitches."
Smoak said it was emblematic of the team's attitude of being relentless and always trying to fight right back.
"It's big," Smoak said. "Whenever somebody puts up runs, you answer. That's big for your confidence. And it's not just for Beavan or for the guy that got the hit, but as a team. That's the job. They put up runs, we have to come back and put up just as many."
Mariners reliever Tom Wilhelmsen pitched a scoreless eighth, while closer Brandon League held the A's off the scoreboard in the ninth for the save, allowing the Mariners to leave Safeco Field looking forward to a rare off-day. They'll be back in action on Tuesday night against Cleveland at Safeco Field.
"It's much needed," Wedge said of the day off. "These guys will get a chance to spend some time with their families tonight and [on Monday], get settled into their houses or their apartments, whatever it may be, and then hopefully we can get back into the normal grind, if you will, once we come back on Tuesday."