The Mariners also got a clutch performance from reliever James Pazos, who entered the game with the bases loaded in the sixth inning, then struck out two to end the frame.
Another two resounding cracks off the bat of Mike Zunino might have resonated most loudly for those watching at Safeco Field in Monday night, but it was the manner in which he helped James Pazos silence the Detroit Tigers in a pivotal sixth inning that may linger longer for manager Scott Servais.
Zunino’s two home runs — two-run blasts in the sixth and eighth innings — were the obvious keys to Seattle’s 6-2 win over the Tigers in front of 21,517 at Safeco Field, a victory that the Mariners hope foreshadows what looms as a critical stretch of home games.
The contest is the first of 16 of 19 at Safeco Field for the Mariners, who are now 21-13 at home this season and have won two in a row to improve to 35-37.
But the game was teetering precariously in the top of the sixth, which began in a 2-2 tie
A walk and a hit gave Detroit two on with one out when Nicholas Castellanos hit a grounder off reliever Steve Cishek to Mariner shortstop Taylor Motter, an inning-ending double-play written all over it.
Instead, the ball glanced off Motter’s glove and everyone was safe.
Pazos relieved Cishek, who TV replays showed angrily pounding his glove on the bench in the dugout while a foreboding air fell over Safeco.
“Huge moment in the game,’’ Servais said later.
And as Servais said, Pazos “stepped up’’ with a healthy assist from Zunino
First, he froze pinch-hitter Mikie Mahtook with an 85 mph breaking ball on a 2-2 count that just grazed the outside corner of the strike zone for the second out.
Then Pazos struck out Andrew Romine swinging at a 99 mph high fastball, which came after a quick visit to the mound from Zunino when it was 0-2.
“I just saw an opening there and he made a good pitch,’’ Zunino said.
To Servais, that was as big as any moment in the game.
“I thought he did a great job with Pazos in the sixth inning,’’ Servais said. “We love home runs, believe me. But taking that next step as far as leading our pitching staff was huge tonight and he really came through.’’
Pazos had a rough outing the day before in Texas. He was glad he not only rebounded from that but also that he was trusted to get two right-handers out.
“I was really just in attack mode,’’ Pazos said. “There was nowhere to put them. Had a conversation with Mike, just let’s go get these guys. We knew what we wanted to do and we went out and did it.’’
The game turned for good in the bottom of the inning.
With one out, Jarrod Dyson singled.
That brought up Zunino, who had grounded out with two on to end the second and struck out with two on to end the fourth.
But this has been a different Mike Zunino since his recall from Tacoma on May 22. He entered the game having already set a team record for RBI in a month by a catcher with 22 (Dan Wilson had held the record with 21 in April 1996).
Zunino made Detroit reliever Alex Wilson work to a full count, Dyson stealing second along the way.
Then on the eighth pitch, Zunino clubbed it over the wall in left field, giving the Mariners a 4-2 lead they wouldn’t give up.
Zunino said staying alive and fouling off two pitches with two strikes helped him see all that Wilson had.
“I saw what he was throwing and was just able to get a cutter (in the) middle and throw my hands through the barrel of the bat,’’ he said.
As if to try to further prove his resurgence is lasting, Zunino then hit another two-run homer — again scoring Dyson — off Francisco Rodriguez to make it 6-2 in the eighth inning.
Zunino has eight home runs and 27 RBI since May 29, with 26 hits in his last 65 at-bats.
“Just trusting the routine, trusting the process,’’ said Zunino, aware of how quickly the game can turn in either direction.
Seattle stayed in it early due to some gutty pitching from starter Sam Gaviglio, who battled some wildness to get the key outs he needed to keep Seattle in it early. Gaviglio walked four, and he threw 84 pitches in five innings in what was his latest solid start. He induced double plays in the third and fourth innings to limit the damage.
Gaviglio, who hadn’t appeared in a big-league game before May 11 but was forced into the rotation due to injuries, has pitched at least five innings in all seven of his starts and allowed two or fewer runs in five.
“He did what he does, hangs in there and gives us a chance,’’ Servais said.
Guillermo Heredia then hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth to set up the pivotal sixth.