The doors to the Mariners’ bullpen opened. And there was a momentary pause from fans as a gangly figure appeared and began loping his way to the pitcher’s mound and it wasn’t Fernando Rodney.
The doors to the Mariners’ bullpen opened. And there was a momentary pause from fans as a gangly figure appeared and began loping his way to the pitcher’s mound. It wasn’t Fernando Rodney.
Heck, the entrance music wasn’t even ready for the change. Finally, “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses blared through the stadium and public-address announcer Tom Huytler bellowed, “Now pitching for the Mariners, No. 39 Carson Smith.”
And before even throwing a pitch, Smith received a standing ovation from the 31,106 fans packed into Safeco on a perfect Saturday night.
Tampa Bay @ Mariners, 1:10 p.m., ROOT Sports
But the next ovation for Smith was five times louder when he got Steven Souza Jr. to fly out to left field, ending a non-dramatic, stress-free, 1-2-3 ninth inning to close the door on a 2-1 win for the Mariners over the Rays.
Smith picked up his first career save and the Mariners snapped a seven-game losing streak to improve to 25-31.
“It was much different than the minor-league level when I did it,” he said. “Coming out of the gates, it was a little different feeling. The crowd was a little louder.”
With the struggles of closer Rodney becoming too much to endure late in games, manager Lloyd McClendon decided for a change.
“I think it’s an opportunity to clean Fernando up and get some things straightened out from a mechanical standpoint,” McClendon said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
McClendon talked about it with Rodney pregame. But didn’t with Smith, presumably to keep the rookie right-hander from over-thinking the situation leading up to the ninth inning.
“I’d heard in the middle of the game that Rodney was unavailable tonight,” Smith said. “I knew it was possible. I wasn’t informed in any way. But I knew it was possible.”
Will Smith be going for save No. 2 on Sunday or in the future?
“We’ll see,” McClendon said. “We’ll see what the situation calls for. It could be (Charlie) Furbush, it could (Mark) Lowe, it could be Smith.”
Rodney wasn’t angry postgame, saying he’s been through this situation before in his career.
“I’m fine,” he said. “Sometimes you are trying at something you’ve been doing and it’s not working right now. You just keep working and get back to the spot you’d like to be.”
While Rodney watched Smith’s outing from the bullpen, Felix Hernandez, perched on the top step of the dugout, raised his arms in celebration for the final out. He’d helped put an end to the losing streak with yet another solid outing — throwing seven innings, allowing one run on two hits with three walks and six strikeouts to improve to 9-2. He’d already stopped a three-game and four-game losing streak with wins this season.
“That’s my job,” he said. “I’m the ace and when we need a win, it’s my job to go out there and get it done.”
After suffering a loss in his previous outing, Hernandez looked more like himself. It helped he was facing the Rays — a team he has dominated in his career. He improved to 6-0 with a 1.58 earned-run average in 10 home starts against the Rays. The Mariners have prevailed in every one of those games.
After 16 consecutive innings of run-less misery, the Mariners finally put something on the scoreboard other than a zero in the fourth inning. For the second straight inning, Seattle led off with a double with Seth Smith dumping one down the left-field line. But unlike the third inning when Austin Jackson made it as far as third, Seattle actually pushed Smith across home plate. Logan Morrison lined a single into left field to move Smith to third and Willie Bloomquist, who got the start over a slumping shortstop Brad Miller, singled to center to make it 1-0.
“He’s a veteran and he knows what he’s doing,” McClendon said. “That was a big hit for us tonight.”
It should have led to more. But the Mariners’ struggles weren’t going to suddenly be remedied by one solitary run. Mike Zunino walked to load the bases. But Jackson popped out in foul territory and Robinson Cano grounded into an inning-ending double play. Cano’s miseries with runners in scoring position have gone from concerning to irritating for Mariners fans and the result was met with a smattering of boos from the relatively full stadium. It was the fourth time this season Cano has grounded into a double play with the bases loaded.
Tampa answered with a run in the sixth inning. And in the seventh, Jackson hammered a 3-2 fastball from reliever Steve Geltz into the visitor’s bullpen for a solo homer — his third of the season to make it 2-1.
“Whatever I’m doing, it’s just working,” Jackson said. “You get a couple hits and you get some good pitches to hit and you start getting the barrel to them.”
Jackson is hitting .390 (16 for 41) in his past 10 games.
“That’s the player I thought he could be coming in after the trade,” McClendon said. “He’s just getting better and better.”