Michael Saunders homers twice and Hisashi Iwakuma pitches out of early trouble to pace Seattle.
TORONTO — The Mariners and the Toronto Blue Jays each had their chance with the bases loaded Saturday.
The Mariners got the most out of their big chance and the Blue Jays came up empty in their opportunity, and that turned the game.
Bolstered by Dustin Ackley’s grand slam in the fourth inning against knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey, the Mariners defeated the Blue Jays 8-1 before a crowd of 35,754 at Rogers Centre.
The Blue Jays’ big chance came in the first when they loaded the bases with one out but Hisashi Iwakuma (3-1) struck out Colby Rasmus and Rajai Davis to keep the Mariners’ 1-0 lead intact.
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Michael Saunders led off the game with a home run, his first of two on the day to go with a run-scoring double in the ninth, on a 1-0 fastball from Dickey (2-5).
Iwakuma said he was determined to shut down Toronto in the first to retain that lead. But he nearly didn’t after giving up a leadoff walk to Brett Lawrie and a single to Melky Cabrera. The Blue Jays loaded the bases when Ackley lost Edwin Encarnacion’s pop-up to second in the sun and it dropped for a single.
“After we got a run in the first inning, I know I had to put up a zero in the first and that’s what I felt mentally,” Iwakuma said through an interpreter. “I was very happy to get out of the jam. I was making good pitches in tough situations. The second strikeout was big. I was able to locate that split-fingered pitch down in the zone.”
“I was as impressed as anything with that first inning,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “You talk about big-league pitching, that’s big-league pitching right there.
“To get out of that the way he did, especially early in the game, it helps to, not necessarily set the tone, but push your squad in the right direction early.”
Iwakuma, who has been dealing with a blister on a finger, said he had a good feel for his fastball as he allowed five hits, three walks and one run while striking out five in seven innings. He lowered his earned-run average to 1.61 to give the Mariners a dynamic 1-2 top of the rotation with Felix Hernandez.
“He has been so consistent for us this year, and again he was today,” Wedge said. “Encouraging for the fact that we could extend him with his pitch count (108 pitches) a little today and he came out of there with no issues with his finger.”
The Mariners still led 1-0 when they loaded the bases in the fourth. Kendrys Morales singled with one out, and Raul Ibanez and Kelly Shoppach walked with two out.
Ackley hit his first home run of the season and the first grand slam of his career on a 3-2 knuckler.
“The at-bat before I was not swinging the bat and struck out,” Ackley said. “I told myself I was going to be aggressive that at-bat. I missed the first two I swung at, and fortunately I think he threw maybe a get-me-over knuckleball because at 3-2 with the bases loaded he tried not to walk me. I put a good swing on it.”
It put the Mariners up, 5-0.
“That’s one of the curses about throwing the pitch that I do, if you leave it up, it’s going to get hit out of the park,” said Dickey. “Traditionally knuckleballers give up a few long balls every year and it just came at some crucial times today, especially that 3-2 one to Ackley.”
“It was a good pitch to hit,” Ackley said. “It wasn’t one of his best knuckleballs, I don’t think. He’s definitely tough, you never know what the knuckleball is going to do. That one for me didn’t do a whole lot. I was just trying to barrel it. I just said he’s going to throw a strike, he’s not going to try to walk me.”