Mariners closer J.J. Putz has done it so many times to so many others, it seemed only appropriate that his return from a stint on the disabled list was capped by a shaving cream pie to the face.
"Welcome back big guy," fellow Seattle reliever Mark Lowe said as he emerged from behind the shirts in Putz's locker and delivered the goods.
The Mariners got a little of everything Tuesday night: strong starting pitching from Felix Hernandez, late cutch hitting and a dominant ninth inning from Putz to beat the Baltimore Orioles 4-2.
Jose Vidro lined a two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the eighth to snap a 2-all tie, before Seattle turned to Putz in the ninth, who came off the disabled list after missing the previous 18 games with a ribcage injury.
Putz was nervous, having not pitched since April — when he blew a save chance giving up a ninth inning homer to Texas' Josh Hamilton in a 5-4 loss. But manager John McLaren felt just fine seeing 96 mph flash up on the scoreboard after Putz's first pitch.
Even when Aubrey Huff led off with a double, Putz never flinched, rebounding to strike out Adam Jones and Ramon Hernandez, before closing out the win by getting pinch-hitter Jay Payton to ground out.
Then came the celebration, with the skinny Lowe wedging himself into the back of Putz's locker, completely unnoticed.
"That was awesome," Putz said as he wiped shaving cream from his eye. "I can't see, but that was awesome."
Vidro's clutch hit made a winner out of Seattle reliever Arthur Rhodes (1-0), picking up his first victory since May 23, 2005, while with Cleveland. Rhodes, who missed all of last season after having Tommy John surgery, gave up a lead off single in the eighth, but got a double play and strike out to end the inning.
That set the stage for the bottom of the eighth. Yuniesky Betancourt started with a line drive double to right-center off Baltimore starter Jeremy Guthrie, beating Adam Jones' throw with a headfirst slide.
Guthrie, an Ashland native, appeared he was going to escape the jam, fooling Ichiro Suzuki, who weakly fouled out behind the plate on an off-speed pitch for the first out. Jose Lopez followed with a lineout to center.
Guthrie intentionally walked Raul Ibanez, but lost Adrian Beltre on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases. Vidro then lined a 1-1 pitch past second baseman Brian Roberts' diving attempt, scoring Betancourt and Ibanez.
"We didn't have a lot of hits, but the ones we had were big hits," McLaren said.
Guthrie (0-2) went 7 2-3 innings, his longest outing of the season, but got very little offensive support, on a night he kept Seattle guessing until the eighth. Guthrie allowed just five hits and three earned runs, striking out five, but walking four.
Even with his bullpen warming up, Baltimore manager Dave Trembley was going to give Guthrie a chance to get out of the eighth.
"At that point, I created the mess myself," Guthrie said. "It just didn't work out."
Guthrie's defense didn't help, either. With two outs in the fifth and Guthrie cruising, Ramon Hernandez got greedy, trying to pick off Suzuki at first on the first pitch to Lopez. But Hernandez's throw was low and into Suzuki as he slid back into the bag, scooting past Kevin Millar and into right field.
Betancourt, who walked with one-out in the inning, raced around from second, running through the stop sign of third-base coach Sam Perlozzo and scored to give Seattle a 2-1 lead.
"As long as they make it, that's all we care about," McLaren said.
Felix Hernandez settled down after a rocky start to pitch seven strong innings, but missed out on his chance at a third consecutive victory with one pitch to Huff in the sixth.
Leading 2-1, Hernandez missed his spot on a 1-2 pitch to Huff, who golfed the offering out to deep right-center field for his third homer of the season, tying it at 2. It was his second homer this season against the Mariners.
Aside from that mistake, Hernandez retired 11 of the final 13 batters he faced, after giving up one run on two hits in the first inning. Hernandez allowed six hits total and struck out seven, following up on his complete game win over Oakland last Wednesday.
"We let him off the hook in the first and the same in the second," Trembley said. "He came up with big pitches to get guys out."
Suzuki scored Seattle's first run, after leading off the bottom of the first with his second triple of the season.
Seattle RF Brad Wilkerson left after the fourth inning with what the team called a tight right hamstring. He struck out in his only at-bat. ... Seattle honored former C John Marzano with a moment of silence, and his initials and number "JM 17" in dirt behind home plate. Marzano died Saturday after falling down a flight of stairs at his home in Philadelphia. Marzano played for the Mariners from 1996-98.
Guthrie solid, but gets little help in loss to Mariners