Mike Zunino gets Seattle rolling offensively with the first of his two home runs, giving him 23 for the season
ARLINGTON, Texas — Fittingly, the two-step continued in Texas.
The Mariners’ nonstop, second-half dance around the .500 mark has moved two steps forward the past two days for an even 73-73 record after the 8-1 trouncing Wednesday of the Rangers at Globe Life Park.
Seattle’s offense continued to torment Texas pitching for a second consecutive game, banging out 11 hits, including three homers — two by Mike Zunino. Over the past two games, the Mariners have scored 18 runs on 26 hits as they try to hit their way into the wild-card race.
M’s @ Rangers, 5:05 p.m., ROOT
Despite victories the past two nights, the Mariners have not moved any closer to the Twins, who hold the second wild-card spot, and remain 3½ games back. However, the Mariners did move ahead of the Rangers and Royals, who are both 72-73.
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“We’ve got 16 games left, and they are all important,” manager Scott Servais said. “We really have to focus on what we can do and how we compete and how we attack the rest of this road trip. It’s a really, really important time of the year.
“Guys have busted their tail to put themselves in this position to play meaningful games. We are going to enjoy it, stay aggressive and see what happens. I think our urgency is there, and it needs to be there. It’s been a while since the Mariners have been in the playoffs, we are well aware.”
The run support Wednesday was more than enough for the Seattle pitchers. Mike Leake improved to 3-0 in three starts as a Mariner. The veteran right-hander pitched 52/3 innings, giving up one run on five hits with a walk and five strikeouts.
Leake worked out of trouble spots in the first two innings and held Texas scoreless through five. The Rangers put runners on first and third with one out in the second, and Leake wiggled out of the jam with ease.
“Guys are on base and you’ve got to do your job to keep them there,” he said. “It’s definitely a process to learn, especially at this level. If you do start spinning, which has happened to me before, it can catch up with you and you’ll be out of the game.”
Instead, he kept his team in the game with a mix of sinkers and sliders that resulted in ground balls.
“He’s a pro,” Servais said. “He doesn’t really panic. He looks at what things are working for him on that particular night, and he makes adjustments as the game goes along.”
The bullpen didn’t allow a run as four pitchers — James Pazos, Emilio Pagan, Marc Rzepczynski and Edwin Diaz — combined to pitch the final 31/3 innings without allowing a run or much of a scoring threat.
While both of his homers were solo and totaled 872 feet in distance, giving him a career-high 23 on the season, Zunino’s first blast — a prodigious shot even for him — seemed to awaken a Mariners’ offense that had looked tentative in the first four innings against Rangers starter Martin Perez.
With one out in the fifth inning, Zunino made a lunging swing at a 1-0 curveball that was just below the strike zone. In another example of his freakish strength — some players say they believe he’s stronger than Nelson Cruz — Zunino launched the 78-mph pitch beyond left field.
“It’s keeping that bat path through the zone,” Zunino said. “It was a breaking ball. I felt it started up, and I was able to put a good pass on it. And just drive it that way.”
Said Servais: “He’s got big-time power. You see it in batting practice every day. The thing that’s nice is he’s not trying to hit home runs. He’s just trying to make good contact.”
It was a prodigious blast considering the lack of speed on the pitch and the swing Zunino needed to put the barrel on it. MLB statcast measured the blast at 470 feet with an exit velocity of 111.3 mph. It was the longest statcast-measured homer of his career, eclipsing the previous high of 463 feet, which also came off Perez.
“Pure luck, probably,” Zunino said. “You just get some good pitches to hit, and who knows how accurate that thing is too.”
|AL wild-card standings|