Former Ranger Justin Smoak hit a three-run homer to help the Mariners earn a 7-5 victory over the Texas Rangers.
ARLINGTON, Texas — That sigh of relief after this game didn’t just come from Justin Smoak.
It’s quite possible the entire Mariners organization was breathing a bit easier after Smoak delivered a three-run homer and two key singles in his breakout night with his new team. Mariners manager Daren Brown had said before this 7-5 win Monday night over Smoak’s former Texas Rangers team that he expects his young players to be able to come off one strong night with one equally as good.
And it didn’t take long for Smoak, with two hits his previous game, to deliver just that.
“For me, that’s what we’re looking for,” Brown said after Smoak delivered the margin of victory with his fifth-inning homer off Rangers starter C.J. Wilson. “He had a nice day yesterday, came out and had a great night again tonight. Looking at our kids and going forward, what can we expect out of them? You want to see some consistency and that ‘this is what we’re going to get.’
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“That’s not to say he’s going to have three hits every night. But he’s put together a couple of solid nights and more importantly he’s put up a solid at-bat just about every time he goes up there.”
The crowd of 29,381 at Rangers Ballpark, having celebrated pregame the unfurling of a 2010 American League West championship banner for the newly crowned Rangers, looked on stunned as Smoak took Wilson deep to left to make it a 6-1 game. It was just the third home run for Smoak since the Mariners acquired him from Texas on July 9 as part of the Cliff Lee deal.
Texas countered with a Vladimir Guerrero solo homer off Mariners starter David Pauley, who left with a 6-2 lead after six innings. Several young Seattle prospects had roles in building that lead, with Adam Moore crushing a second-inning double to right-center field to score Smoak, followed by a run-scoring double from Greg Halman for his first major-league hit.
“It helps out a lot,” Pauley said of the huge cushion he had by the fifth after Smoak’s blast. “It gives you the opportunity to sit back a little bit and know you can work the plate a little instead of trying to be too fine.”
The lead almost wasn’t enough, as Nelson Cruz hit a three-run homer in the seventh off relief pitcher Anthony Varvaro to make it 6-5. It was the fifth home run for Cruz off Seattle pitching this year and his 11th long ball against the Mariners since 2007.
But the Mariners scored a big insurance run in the eighth when Franklin Gutierrez and Smoak both singled. Matt Mangini then moved Gutierrez to third with a ground ball and the latter scored on a wild pitch.
Before his five hits the past two games, Smoak had been just 4 for 23 (.174) since being recalled from Class AAA Tacoma earlier this month for a second go-around with the Mariners.
“The better your at-bats are, the more success you’re going to have,” Smoak said. “I’m in a place right now where that’s really all I’m trying to do. Go up there and ground out an at-bat, battle through an at-bat, have a good one and hope for the best. Tonight, I had a couple of hits more.”
Smoak admits he had started pulling the ball too much when first called up by the Rangers to this ballpark in April. He carried those “bad habits” over to the Mariners and then, once demoted to AAA in late July, set about trying to unlearn them.
It’s been a long process with several adjustments. Brown sat Smoak down for a mental rest Saturday against Tampa Bay and said his two hits Sunday marked the first time he had really seen the hitter he’s capable of being.
Smoak spent time chatting with his former Rangers teammates. He was asked whether his 3-for-4 effort was any more satisfying, coming as it did against his former club in his onetime home park.
“It’s always satisfying, it doesn’t matter who it is,” he said. “Yeah, it’s good to get it against them, but it’s baseball and you’ve got to be ready to go tomorrow.”
That is exactly the message the team hopes will rub off on Smoak, a player Seattle needs consistency from if it hopes to succeed in future seasons.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org