BALTIMORE – Everyone in the dugout felt the momentum swinging against them with each new pitch thrown.
So when Michael Saunders did what the Mariners do best, it sent palpable waves of relief through the ranks of a squad about to snap a four-game losing streak. Few were more relieved by a two-run Saunders home run in the ninth inning of this 8-4 win over the Baltimore Orioles than the Seattle relief pitcher freshly recruited to close the bottom of the ninth.
Danny Farquhar had secured the final out of an eighth-inning jam, then locked up his first career save with a perfect ninth inning and some huge mental help from Saunders’ second homer of the night.
“They had their big boys coming up, but thank God that Saunders hit that two-run homer in the ninth,’’ Farquhar said. “That definitely made the ninth significantly easier.’’
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Farquhar struck out his first two batters, then got a fly out and the clubhouse beer shower he’d longed for since his arrival from Class AAA.
“It’s a big deal to me,’’ he said. “I was real excited about the beer shower. I’ve done a ton of them (for other players) in the three months since I’ve been here and I just wanted to get a stupid beer shower. And I got it, so it was a lot of fun.’’
The bullpen really shouldn’t be the story on a night Saunders hits two homers and drives in five runs. Nor when Justin Smoak also hits a homer and reaches base five times.
The Mariners are known for scoring via the long ball and got seven of their eight runs with them in this one. For the season, they’ve scored a major-league-leading 48.1 percent of their 451 runs as a result of going deep.
And yet, they’re still eight games under .500 largely because of a bullpen that has blown leads in agonizing fashion and is tied for the league lead with eight walkoff losses. The Mariners have also lost 17 games in the opponent’s final at-bat — third worst in the majors — and the 35,231 fans at Camden Yards sensed that No. 18 might be brewing when Farquhar replaced Charlie Furbush with two on and two out in the eighth and Adam Jones up.
But Farquhar got Jones to fly out to center on his first pitch. Saunders then sent fans scampering for the exits with his drive to left center off relief pitcher Darren O’Day in the ninth.
“We’re always looking to extend the lead, obviously,’’ Saunders said after his first multihomer game in three months. “To get a couple of more cushion runs in the ninth, I’m sure it took some pressure off Farquhar.’’
Saunders has three home runs the past two nights and appears to have pulled out of the slump that derailed the first half of his season.
“I’m just trying not to do too much,’’ he said. “I feel for a little while now that I’ve been swinging it pretty well.’’
Saunders appeared to break the game open in the fifth inning with a three-run homer off left-hander T.J. McFarland, who had just replaced Orioles starter Scott Feldman. Though he’s struggled in the past against left-handers, Saunders welcomed the change after striking out twice against right-hander Feldman.
“He threw really well tonight and yes, surprisingly, I was kind of excited to see a lefty in that situation,’’ Saunders said. “Get him out of there. He had my number tonight.’’
The offense piled it on early while starter Erasmo Ramirez allowed just two hits — solo homers by Matt Wieters and Manny Machado — the first six innings while striking out six.
Lost amid the bullpen collapses is that the Mariners have scored 23 runs their past three games and are averaging 4.13 per contest this season — their highest mark in five years. Their park-weighted on-base-plus-slugging percentage began the night as the highest it has been since 2002.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @gbakermariners.