The Mariners avoided the dubious feat of losing every game of their season-opening six-game homestand.
Hello Dae-Ho, goodbye losing streak.
With a mammoth swing of the bat in the 10th inning Wednesday afternoon, Mariner first baseman Dae-Ho Lee not only gave the most vivid evidence yet of why the team decided to keep him on the roster, but also presented Seattle with its first home win of the season, 4-2 over the Texas Rangers.
And as Lee’s rocket shot sailed over the left-field fence, the pent-up frustration of the futile first five games of the homestand morphed into happy relief as the Mariner players poured out of the dugout to greet him.
Mariners @ N.Y. Yankees, 4:05 p.m., ROOT Sports
The ninth game of any baseball season is too early to declare a must-win. But Wednesday felt about as close as one can maybe get, especially with the Mariners now headed out for a nine-game trip to the New York Yankees, Cleveland and the Los Angeles Angels.
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“We really, really needed it,’’ said manager Scott Servais of a Mariner team that held a players-only meeting after an 8-0 loss to Texas on Tuesday night. “It was an important game. The guys got together after the game (Tuesday night) and talked about some things and they really wanted to get out and get it done today.’’
Still, given the way the homestand had gone, impending doom was undoubtedly the prevailing emotion among the 15,075 in the Safeco Field stands when Texas reliever Jake Diekman jumped ahead of Lee 0-2 with two outs in the bottom of the 10th.
The 33-year-old Lee, signed to a $4 million contract in February as a free agent after playing since 2001 in professional leagues in his native Korea and Japan, had homered on opening night against the A’s.
But that was one of just two hits in 12 previous at-bats this season, the question of just how consistently he could turn on high-90 mph fastballs still lingering.
It’ll still take a while to get the answer in full.
But Servais liked what he saw next as Lee — who was pinch-hitting for lefty Adam Lind — turned on a 97 mph heater from Diekman, a swing he also hopes will turn the Mariner season in the right direction.
“I don’t know how he got on top of that pitch, but that says a lot about his ability,’’ Servais said of Lee, who became the oldest rookie to hit a walkoff home run since 35-year-old Luke Easter in 1950.
Through an interpreter, Lee said he anticipated Diekman was going to continue to throw fastballs his way. Diekman had given him nothing but fastballs during a nine-pitch at-bat Monday, which ended with Lee hitting a hard ground out to second to end the game.
“I knew he was going to throw a fastball so I was expecting that pitch,’’ Lee said.
Said Texas manager Jeff Banister: “Looked like he was trying to go up for a chase pitch, probably set up a slider and then the next pitch didn’t get it where they wanted to and left it up and over the plate.’’
The acquisition of Lee helped make Jesus Montero expendable, the team hoping he could add right-handed power as long as he could adjust to the major leagues.
“I think for him, when we first got to spring training (the question) was how was he going to handle the velocity,’’ Servais said. “There were concerns there. But the thing that we kept seeing is that he is able to make adjustments, he cuts down his leg kick, he cuts down his swing to make contact and he’s plenty strong enough that if he does square it up he’s got enough power.’’
The game got off to a halting start with the first inning featuring 61 pitches. A Texas error and a Seattle fielding misplay led to a run for each team in the third. Robinson Cano gave Seattle a 2-1 lead with a solo homer in the fifth inning, his fifth of the season but first in Seattle, snapping a 2-for-22 skid at home.
Texas tied it with a Delino DeShields solo homer in the eighth off Joel Peralta, which prevented Taijuan Walker — who settled himself after a rocky beginning to go six innings — from getting the win. It was the fourth home run allowed by the bullpen during the homestand.
But the rest of the game turned into a happy footnote for the Mariners after Lee’s home run.
He was maybe inevitably greeted in the Mariner clubhouse afterward by the popular Korean song of a few years ago, Gangnam Style.
Asked what he thought, Lee smiled and referred to the Harry Belafonte Day-O chant that accompanies his at-bats.
“I’d rather have the Day-O song,’’ he said.
|The Mariners start a nine-game road trip Friday in New York. Maybe that’s a good thing — home has not been kind to them thus far in 2016:|
|Runs per game||1.8||7.0|
|HRs per game||0.8||3.0|