Perhaps it was fitting that Kyle Seager’s milestone home run came after Angels manager Joe Maddon went to a left-handed reliever just before he was going to come to the plate in the third inning.
For the better part of his career with the Mariners, even over the past three seasons when he’s battled injuries and suboptimal production, Seager could still hit homers off left-handed pitchers better than just about any left-handed hitter in baseball.
So with runners on first and second and just one out and starter Julio Teheran, who was making his first start of the season due to COVID-19, having already thrown 52 pitches, Maddon decided to play the left-on-left matchup and turn to lefty Ryan Buchter out of the bullpen to face Seager.
When a 1-1 fastball stayed on the inner half of the plate, Seager did what he’s done to so many other lefty pitchers brought in to face him — damage.
Seager crushed a towering three-run homer into the empty outdoor seating of the Hit It Here Cafe, changing a one-run deficit into a lead the Mariners would never quite relinquish — despite Mike Trout’s continued herculean efforts against them — in a 7-6 win over the Angels.
“They bring in the lefty to face him and he hits a bomb,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Kyle has a really good approach against lefties. He’s got a good idea of what they are trying to do to him. He laid off a couple of breaking balls to get to the fastball and he didn’t miss it.”
The three-run blast — his second homer of the season — was 200th home run of Seager’s career, which has been spent entirely in a Mariners’ uniform.
Only Ken Griffey Jr. (417), Edgar Martinez (309) and Jay Buhner (307) have hit more homers in a Mariners uniform.
“I’m still a few behind them,” Seager joked. “I appreciate the company. But I still got a little while to go to catch those guys. But, no, 200 is definitely something I’m very proud of. It’s not something that I necessarily thought was was gonna be part of my game growing up or anything like that, or even when you break in, so it’s something I’m extremely proud of.”
It was his 71st home run off a left-handed pitcher. In an era where left-handed hitters wilt at the sight of a left-handed pitcher on the mound, Seager has flourished.
“That’s something I’ve prided myself on,” he said of his numbers vs. left-handed pitchers. “Something that put in some energy and put in work on that.”
He credited one-time assistant hitting coach Dave Hansen with his approach when facing left-handed hitters.
“This was years ago,” he said. “It’s about shifting the field a little bit. You look like you are opening up, but you aren’t, you are just squaring up to the release point.”
A third-round pick in the 2009 draft out of North Carolina, where his much ballyhooed teammate Dustin Ackley was the Mariners’ first-round pick and No. 2 overall, Seager was viewed as a second baseman or utility and gap-to-gap hitter in his first years of professional baseball. But when he was handed the third-base job on a full-time basis in 2012. He tried to implement some power into his approach at the plate. He hit 20 homers or more in eight consecutive seasons (2012-2019).
Servais said he doesn’t remember Seager ever hitting a homer that far in T-Mobile since he’s been manager. Admittedly, Seager has never been about distance on his homers.
“I don’t go up there too often,” he said. “I figured out that the home runs that land in the third row count just as much. That’s been more of my approach. I’ll leave that area up there for the big boys.”
The exact distance wasn’t known since MLB Statcast didn’t register the distance or exit velocity of the milestone homer. Did his homer break the system?
“You know what, I’m going to use that line (in the clubhouse),” he said. “I’ll take it.”
While Seager has 200 homers in his career, it only feels like Trout has 200 career homers against the Mariners.
Officially, he has 44 homers vs. Seattle in 159 career games, including 27 at T-Mobile Park after hitting two more long balls on Wednesday night. After returning from a four-day absence following the birth of his first child on Tuesday, Trout homered in his first at-bat. He has three dingers in his first two games as a father.
“I don’t think when I got back from paternity leave I did that,” Seager said.
Both of his homers narrowed the Mariners’ lead to one run.
The first came off Marco Gonzales in the sixth inning. The Mariners came into the inning with a 4-1 lead thanks to Seager’s third-inning homer and an RBI single from Kyle Lewis in the fifth inning.
With two outs, David Fletcher hit a solo homer down the left field line and Trout made it back-to-back homers, smashing a 0-2 sinker that stayed up in the zone.
With only a one-run lead and Gonzales done after seven innings, the Mariners tried to make things easier for a bullpen that’s been wildly erratic and far from lockdown. The Mariners took advantage of an Angels’ bullpen that has also been shaky early in the season. Austin Nola came up big with two outs, smashing a two-run double to right-center while Evan White snapped an 0-for-17 streak with an RBI double to right field that made it 7-3.
Four runs had to be enough, right?
Well, it proved to be just enough.
Right-hander Taylor Williams, who had been one of the Mariners’ better relievers this season, didn’t pitch like it. He gave up a single to Jo Adell and hit Max Stassi with a pitch to start the inning. He came back to retire David Fletcher. When Williams tossed a wild pitch to put runners on second and third and leave first base open, it seemed like a walk to Trout would be coming.
“You have to look at the game and the score of the game,” Servais said. “And I said after he hit that homer, we’ve seen him do that a lot where we’re up in games against them, four or five runs and you’re saying, ‘Ah, we’re still up if he hits a home run,’ and sure enough, he hits a homer.”
Williams went after Trout and even appeared to have him struck out with a fastball at the top of the strike zone on a 2-2 pitch. But home plate umpire Cory Blaser called it a ball. And, of course, Trout hit the next pitch into the upper deck of left for a three-run homer to make it 7-6.
“He was really rushing,” Servais said. “Executing the pitch, (Williams) had room for error. It just got too much of the plate.”
Veteran right-hander Carl Edwards Jr. made the one-run lead hold up, working a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his first save of the season.
Gonzales gave the Mariners just their second seven-inning start of the season to pick up the win and improve to 2-1. He pitched seven complete innings, allowing three runs on three hits — all solo homers — with no walks and seven strikeouts.