Catcher Mike Zunino has two homers in his return to big leagues
An already good homestand can become great for the Mariners with a victory Sunday. They limped back to Seattle nine days ago, having lost six in a row and falling into third place in the American League West.
And while their place in the standings hasn’t changed, the outlook surrounding the team certainly has with a run of good baseball at Safeco Field.
Seattle belted five homers, collected 16 hits (nine of them for extra bases) and rolled to a relatively easy 12-6 victory Saturday over Baltimore.
Baltimore @ Mariners, 1:10 p.m., ROOT Sports
The Mariners improved to 42-39 and have won six of eight on the homestand. In six games against the AL East-leading Orioles this season, the Mariners are 5-1. And a victory Sunday would give them a four-game sweep before they head to Houston to start the last trip before the All-Star break.
“It was a really big night for our offense,” manager Scott Servais said. “Guys really swung the bat great, from top to bottom of our lineup, especially the bottom of the lineup. It was a big night for our offense. We needed it.”
Seattle outslugged one of the more prolific offenses and roughed up Orioles starter Tyler Wilson.
The Mariners racked up eight runs and crushed three homers off Wilson, sending him to the showers in the fourth inning.
The first long ball off Wilson, the longest of the three, came from Nelson Cruz in the first. Seth Smith and Robinson Cano came up with back-to-back singles and Cruz jumped on the first pitch he saw from Wilson. The sound off the bat drew gasps as Cruz sent a rocket that landed just above the electronic scoreboard above the bullpen. MLB Statcast measure the blast at 459 feet. It was his team-high 21st homer of the season. The three-run blast also gave him the team lead in RBI with 56, moving past Cano’s 54.
The lead increased to 5-0 in the first at-bat back in the big leagues for Mike Zunino. Beaten down and battered mentally last season from baseball’s unrelenting difficulty and cruelty, Zunino returned to the big leagues for the first time since August. As his name was announced, he received a loud and warm ovation from the 29,362 spectators, applauding his perseverance.
“They’ve always treated me great,” Zunino said.
The ovation went from warm to wild in just a few minutes as Zunino yanked a hard line drive over the wall in left for a two-run homer.
“He was trying to move the guy over and ended up pulling the ball out of the park,” Servais said.
“I knew I had to just battle and luckily he left a slider over the plate and I was able to recognize and put a barrel on it,” Zunino said.
Seattle’s lead ballooned to 8-0 thanks to the hottest power hitter on the Mariners — Seth Smith. Wait, Seth Smith? Yes, the guy who some Mariners’ fans have dubbed “Dad” now has homered in three consecutive games and has nine this year.
“I don’t swing 3-0 very often, but sometimes you want to take a chance and see what happens,” he said.
An 8-0 lead was plenty for Seattle starter James Paxton, who had cruised through the first three innings in just 38 pitches. But the hard-hitting Orioles made Paxton work, scoring a run in the fourth, another in the fifth and two more the sixth.
Still, Paxton (2-3) got the victory, pitching 52/3 innings, giving up four runs on nine hits with two walks and nine strikeouts.
“I was just getting on the side of the ball a little and it was running over the plate,” he said. “I just need to stay on top and drive the ball.”
Seattle got those runs back to keep the nice cushion, scoring three runs in the bottom of the sixth. Kyle Seager doubled and scored on Dae-Ho Lee’s almost double. The big first baseman was called out after being unable to maintain his balance as he tried to stand up from his slide into second.
The Mariners forgot about the out when Adam Lind and Zunino went deep.
“Happy for Mike,” Servais said. “He’s had his struggles here. It was a big night. I wasn’t expecting two homers but we’ll take it.”