It's a testament to how well the Mariners have played over the last few weeks that the "one of those days" game they endured on Sunday doesn't seem to be all that common anymore.

Yes, the Mariners dropped a 7-1 decision to the Yankees at Safeco Field, and yes, they scratched out only five hits during New York starter CC Sabathia's eight innings and watched their own left-hander, Jason Vargas, get knocked all over the yard in the shortest outing -- three innings -- of his career as a starter.

But a lackluster effort in a day game against a consensus postseason contender following a draining, four-plus-hour, 12-inning victory on Saturday that gave the Mariners the series wasn't much of a statistical setback. Bottom line: Even after a game in which none of their cylinders clicked, the Mariners found themselves with a .500 record heading into Memorial Day, a deficit of only 1 1/2 games in the American League West and every bit of the desire to prove they're for real.

"Everybody's excited to show up every day to play," said Seattle first baseman Justin Smoak, who accounted for the Mariners' lone run with a home run to left-center field off Sabathia in the sixth inning.

"We have that mentality of knowing that we're going to win before we step on the field. It's something you want to have."

That's why as they returned to the clubhouse to begin preparing for Monday's series opener against Baltimore, the Mariners could reflect on an inspiring run of baseball: Even with Sunday's defeat, they have won nine of their last 11 and 10 of their last 13, and they're 18-11 over their last 29 games. They have won four consecutive series.

"We've got individuals here that need to be doing better, that need to get better, but you've got to be pleased with the way these guys are playing," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "They're competing. There's a lot of energy. ... They show up expecting good things to happen, and that's what we want to see."

Then again, Sunday wasn't pretty for the home team.

Vargas walked the first batter of the game, gave up a solo home run to Nick Swisher in the second inning and exited after allowing the Yankees to bat around in a five-run, four-hit, two-walk third inning that was punctuated by a bases-clearing Andruw Jones double.

Vargas and his manager agreed that the left-hander came very close to getting out of the inning, but Vargas also understood the dangers of throwing 82 pitches in three innings against a powerhouse lineup from the AL East.

"You can't let those type of hitters see that many pitches in that short a time," Vargas said. "They're a good team. They've got a lot of the best players in the game. So when you give them an opportunity to see that many pitches, they're going to be patient, they're going to wait for you to make mistakes, and when you get behind them, they get runners on base and make you pay."

The Mariners, meanwhile, couldn't make Sabathia pay.

Not that this is anything unusual against one of the best starters in baseball, of course. Sabathia now leads the Major Leagues in wins since his debut in 2001 with 163. He pitched eight innings for the fourth time this season.

Sabathia gave up only a Brendan Ryan double and a Jack Wilson single in the first five innings, and in the bottom of the fifth, after Wilson's hit and two walks loaded the bases with one out for leadoff man Ichiro Suzuki, Sabathia made the play of the game in the form of a comeback ground ball that he fielded and threw to catcher Francisco Cervelli, who relayed to first baseman Mark Teixeira for a rare 1-2-3 double play.

Ichiro Suzuki went 0-for-4 a day after going 0-for-6 and saw his batting average drop to .272, and Smoak's homer was the only hiccup for Sabathia, who won his sixth game, lowered his ERA to 2.98 and struck out five.