ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A day after getting shut out and looking quite ineffective, the Mariners’ bats came to life Saturday in sterile Tropicana Field, baseball’s equivalent of a shopping mall.
Dustin Ackley broke open a 3-2 game in the fifth inning, blasting a bases-loaded double off an 0-2 curveball from Rays starter Alex Cobb to deep center that scored all three runners, leading Seattle to a 7-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Mariners moved back to three games over .500 at 32-29.
“On 0-2, I was looking fastball,” he said. “I’m trying to look fastball on every pitch. And when I do that, I’m usually on time for that curveball. Those are the ones you can’t miss. Those are the ones they leave up that you have to hit.”
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It’s a mistake that Cobb regretted.
“That’s a pitch that’s going to haunt for me a while,” he said. “I knew I needed to bear down really hard right there. I tried to bury a curveball, and left it right in his swing path. That’s exactly where he wants to hit the ball. That’s definitely a pitch that’s going to be replayed in my mind over and over.”
Ackley’s hit spurred a four-run fifth inning. Willie Bloomquist drove in the other run in the inning, dumping an RBI double into left field — his second run-scoring hit of the game — to make it 7-2.
“That was a big hit for us,” manager Lloyd McClendon said of Ackley’s double. “And he’s capable of doing that. I tell him every day, ‘I want you to be the best player on the field,’ because he’s capable of doing that.”
But it was Cole Gillespie who snapped Seattle’s 11-inning scoreless streak, crushing a solo homer over the center-field wall off Cobb. It was Gillespie’s first homer of the season.
“That was one of those where you don’t feel the contact,” he said. “It was one of my better swings I’ve had this year, if not the best.”
While there were still seven innings left to play, Gillespie’s homer was certainly a relief for an offense that can go achingly long periods without scoring.
“I think it was big for us,” Gillespie said. “To get on the board early and put some runs up … it was big.”
The lead was short-lived. Mariners’ starter Roenis Elias gave the run right back, giving up a solo homer to James Loney to start the bottom of the inning. He walked Yunel Escobar and then gave up a single to Logan Forsyth. Rays manager Joe Maddon had Ali Solis bunt Escobar home from third to make it 2-1.
The Mariners answered in the fourth inning. Bloomquist delivered an RBI single and Endy Chavez added a sacrifice fly to give Seattle a 3-2 lead. Bloomquist, starting at first base for an ailing Justin Smoak, was 2 for 4 with two runs batted in. In his last three starts, he’s 5 for 11 with three RBI.
Ackley broke it open in the fifth inning, which was more than enough for Elias.
After Forsyth’s single in the second, Elias retired 15 of the next 16 hitters he faced.
But his quest for a second straight complete game came to an end in the eighth inning. He gave up a one-out double to Desmond Jennings. After getting Sean Rodriguez to ground out, McClendon let Elias try to finish the eighth. But he couldn’t do it. Rays All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria hammered a fastball up in the zone over the wall in left-center to cut the lead to 7-4.
“We probably left him in a little too long,” McClendon said. “But he gave us a nice outing.”
McClendon admitted that if the score had been closer, Elias wouldn’t have started the eighth inning.
Elias, never shy or afraid, just shrugged off the two runs in the eighth.
“It’s baseball,” he said through translator Fernando Alcala. “In the end, we still won the game.”
After throwing his first career shutout against the Tigers in his previous outing, Elias was happy to come back with another solid outing to show it wasn’t a fluke.
“I’m very proud of it because I’ve worked really hard to be able to do what I’ve been doing this season,” he said. “I’m doing what I’m capable of doing. I’m working hard towards keeping that going.”
It was a test of sorts that he passed.
“I think the biggest challenge for this young man now is just making sure he brings it from a mental standpoint every day, not just against the ‘elite’ teams,” McClendon said.
Danny Farquhar came on to get the final out of the eighth inning.
Amid more than a few boos, Fernando Rodney came on to pitch a 1-2-3 ninth inning to register his 17th save.
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373
On Twitter: @RyanDivish