SEATTLE — Tigers manager Jim Leyland has said Daniel Nava was one of his toughest omissions from the American League All-Star team.
Leyland appreciates what Nava has done for the Red Sox this season, especially given that he had no guarantees of even making the team out of spring training.
On Thursday, Seattle manager Eric Wedge learned that, too. He ordered Jacoby Ellsbury intentionally walked in the top of the 10th inning to get to Nava with two outs.
Some players would draw motivation from such strategy. But Nava was more focused on the job at hand. The Sox had two runners on and needed a win to get out of Safeco Field with a series victory.
Seattle reliever Tom Wilhelmsen was a tough puzzle to solve. He can throw a fastball in the upper 90s or drop a slow curveball in for a strike.
“I was trying to get on top of something and just go up the middle,” Nava said.
That’s what happened. Nava hit a two-strike curveball well, driving it into center field and giving the Sox an 8-7 victory.
Nava may not be going to New York next week. But the Red Sox appreciate his value more every day. He is hitting .293 and has 53 RBIs, fourth on the team.
“He’s been in the mix of everything,” manager John Farrell said. “He’s gotten big hits for us. He’s one of the many guys you can point to as a reason we’ve won a good number of games.
“He’s exceeded our expectations that were set coming into spring training. Largely in part because of the work he’s done. It’s to his credit. Once he got off to a good start he’s been able to get regular at-bats. He’s grown in confidence and you never see him give an at-bat away. He’s got a very disciplined approach.”
The 57-37 Red Sox have won 19 series, one fewer than all last season. They are 4-3 on a West Coast trip that continues in Oakland on Friday night.
“What a great win,” said Ryan Dempster, who lasted only 3⅓ innings in one of his poorest starts of the season. “That’s why we’re in first place, we’ve been able to win games like this.”
Rookie Steven Wright pitched 5⅔ innings of scoreless relief of Dempster to earn his first major league victory. He allowed three hits, walked two, and struck out three.
“This was a hard-fought win. This is going to be a great plane ride because we’re feeling pretty good about ourselves. Everybody contributed. Wrighty came in and did a great job,” catcher Ryan Lavarnway said. “That was a [gutsy] outing for him.’’
Koji Uehara got the final three outs for his seventh save.
It was the second time in the four-game series the Sox came back from a 5-1 deficit to win.
The winning rally started when Lavarnway drew a walk after a 10-pitch at-bat off Wilhelmsen (0-3). Rookie Brock Holt then bunted pinch runner Jackie Bradley Jr. to second base.
Jose Iglesias struck out, which led to Ellsbury being walked.
It made sense given that Ellsbury was 2 for 4 with a home run. Nava certainly took no offense.
“Some people would really change their approach. I try not to change,” Nava said.
The winning run was the first one the Sox scored since the fifth inning.
The Mariners called up 23-year-old Erasmo Ramirez from Triple A Tacoma to make the start. Ellsbury started the game by driving Ramirez’s third pitch — a changeup over the middle of the plate — deep into the stands in right field.
Ellsbury’s third home run of the season extended his hit streak to 19 games. That’s the longest active streak in the majors and tied for the longest of the season in the American League.
Dempster gave up the lead in the second inning as Seattle scored four runs. Three were unearned because of an error by Holt at third base.
The Seattle lead grew to 5-1 in the third inning on a two-out RBI single by Michael Saunders.
The Sox got back in the game in the fourth inning when they scored three runs.
David Ortiz walked before Mike Carp was hit by a pitch. Two-out singles by Holt, Iglesias, and Ellsbury each drove in a run.
Dempster gave up two more runs. Singles by Brad Miller, Endy Chavez, and Kendrys Morales scored a run and ended the outing for Dempster after 91 pitches.
Wright, who was called up from Triple A Pawtucket on Wednesday, allowed an RBI single by Seager.
Wright held the Mariners down from there.
“That’s my goal, keep going until they tell me I’m done,” said Wright, who got the ball from Uehara after the game.
The Sox tied the game with three runs in the fifth inning.
Dustin Pedroia singled, Ortiz walked, and Jonny Gomes singled to load the bases. A sacrifice fly by Carp scored a run.
With two outs, Charlie Furbush replaced Ramirez. Farrell let Holt bat against the lefthander and was rewarded with an RBI single. Iglesias also singled in a run and the game was tied, 7-7.
After losing, 11-4, on Monday, the Sox scored 30 runs in the next three games.
“We continue to grind away and play it right to the last out,” Farrell said.