Kendrys Morales pinch-hits for Raul Ibanez and drives in go-ahead run to back eight strong innings from Felix Hernandez. Jesus Montero also hits a two-run home run.
There’s something about Felix Hernandez on the mound that brings out the best in the bat of the guy catching him.
About the only wood Jesus Montero had gotten on anything lately was the dugout bench on his backside, having sat multiple games after compiling just a .208 batting average. That was before his two-run homer in the sixth inning of a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday night helped turn the tide for a Mariners team desperately seeking a clutch victory.
After stranding 13 runners in a loss Friday, then piling them up the first five innings of this one, Montero’s blast to left off Joe Blanton swung the momentum of another game in which the Mariners seemed headed to defeat. An inning later, manager Eric Wedge pinch-hit for Raul Ibanez, and Kendrys Morales delivered the run-scoring single for his team’s second win in three tries this series.
“I mean, that’s what I wanted,” Montero said. “I wanted Felix to win. I want the team to win. I don’t want us to be like you’re saying — we’ve had a hard time scoring runs. But I gave him a little help.”
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Hernandez needed at least some help, despite dominating the Angels for most of his eight innings of five-hit ball while striking out seven. Chris Iannetta hit a solo homer off Hernandez in the third inning, and then the Angels added an unearned run that frame after a Montero throwing error to take a 2-0 lead.
But then, in the third, Hernandez fielded a squeeze bunt by Brendan Harris and flipped to Montero at the plate in time to nab the burly Mark Trumbo barreling in on the catcher. Hernandez went on to retire 14 in a row, getting through eight frames on just 95 pitches before Tom Wilhelmsen closed out a one-hit ninth.
Montero said he could sense the momentum change in the home dugout after his blast, a line drive that just cleared the wall. The Mariners had stranded eight runners the first five innings on the heels of Friday’s debacle in which the team went 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position.
They had two on with none out in the first and the bases loaded with one out in the fifth only to come away empty in front of the 31,901 — bolstered in part by a bat giveaway to young fans. But then, after Ibanez drew a walk to put the leadoff runner on for the fourth time in six innings, Montero finally delivered.
“I was like ‘Let’s go! Let’s go! We’ve got to win this,’ ” Montero said of his arrival back in the dugout after rounding the bases. “And we finally did it. We finally won. I feel happy because Felix won and we were down … we were like ‘Give us some runs. Let’s do something different.’ Then, I hit the homer. I started to get the guys going and we finally won.”
Wedge had stuck with Ibanez in some key at-bats this season with a left-hander on the mound only to see him strike out. But he opted to pinch-hit for him with Morales — who had gotten a night’s rest — against Angels left-handed reliever Michael Roth in the seventh.
Asked about the different strategy this time, Wedge quipped: “It was a matter of having Kendrys Morales on the bench.”
After that drew some brief laughter by reporters, a more serious Wedge knew he wanted to use the switch-hitting Morales right there rather than keep him for later. Had he gone to right-handed bat Jason Bay, he was worried the Angels would counter with a right-handed reliever.
“I liked the way our guys competed,” Wedge said. “We still need to do a better job of stringing hits together and putting innings together.”
That didn’t happen until Montero came through. Montero’s only other home run this season came in Hernandez’s prior start.
“He came up big,” Hernandez said. “It will give him more confidence to go out there and make good swings. And then Morales came up big, got a big hit.”
Hernandez admitted he was more tired than usual after eight innings despite the modest pitch count. The Angels have had his number, especially at Safeco Field, where he was just 4-7 against them with a 5.02 earned-run average in 15 career starts.
Wilhelmsen gave up a one-out single to Josh Hamilton, but then retired the side with the tying run on second to seal a needed win for a club that’s played much better this series than on its recent 1-5 trip.
“We’ve got to start somewhere,” Wilhelmsen said. “And there’s no better time than the present. So, hopefully, we can keep going, keep building on it. We know what we have here. We know what we’re capable of. It’s just a matter of putting all of those pieces together with a little help and the The King on the mound.”
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @gbakermariners.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/