Activated from the disabled list that morning and inserted into the starting lineup that night, Haniger singled in his first at-bat and then crushed a third-inning grand slam to ignite the Mariners to a 7-6 victory.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There were no major remnants of his once mangled lip. No bruising around his mouth or nose. No signs he was seriously hurt.
A person unfamiliar with what happened to Mitch Haniger wouldn’t know that he was force-fed a 96 mph fastball from the Mets’ Jacob deGrom in a scary moment that landed him on the disabled list with a severely lacerated upper lip, a small nasal fracture and a concussion.
There was no mental scarring either. Haniger swore that the memory of that scary moment never once bothered him after he was cleared to play baseball again. No fear, no flashbacks, no anxiety.
“Zero, to be honest with you,” he said. “It’s a fluke thing. It wasn’t the easiest thing to get over. But as soon as I got back into the batter’s box, I felt fine. I’m not timid. I’m not scared of anything up and in, just like I was before.”
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Then he went out and proved it Saturday. Activated from the disabled list that morning and inserted into the starting lineup that night, Haniger singled in his first at-bat and then crushed a third-inning grand slam to ignite the Mariners to a 7-6 victory.
“It’s great to have Hanny back,” manager Scott Servais said. “It’s hard to come back from that. He was really on top of everything tonight. Huge home run for us tonight.”
With their fourth straight win, the Mariners improved to 63-61 and 21-9 in their last 30 road games. It’s the eighth time this season they’ve put together a streak of four or more wins.
“That’s the 2017 Mariners,” Servais said. “We go in ebb and flows of really, really good and not so good. But I think every team in that wild card hunt has had its hot streaks and cold streaks. We are no different than anybody else, hopefully we can ride this hot streak a little bit longer.”
Of course, there had to be some late-inning drama. Closer Edwin Diaz, who struggled badly in his previous outing, was brought in to close out the game with a two-run lead. But former teammate Logan Morrison got him for a pinch-hit solo homer with one out. Diaz coolly retired the next two batters to notch his 27th save.
“I thought that Diaz threw the ball very well tonight,” Servais said. “He made the one mistake to Morrison that he hit out. But that’s a good sign, a bounce back after his last outing.”
Clad in a modified batting helmet with an extended flap to protect his cheek and jaw, Haniger looked a little like a gladiator in the batter’s box.
“As far as vision goes, it’s been fine,” he said. “It was weird getting used to swinging because it will hit your arm when you swing and miss. And it feels heavier; here’s a whole piece of the helmet that weighs down one side. Running is weird with it.”
But he felt no weirdness driving a 1-0 cutter that was up in the zone over the wall in left off Rays starter Jake Odorizzi for his first career grand slam.
“I was just looking for a pitch I could drive and get the run in from third,” Haniger said.
Seattle added to its lead an inning later. Yonder Alonso scored Jean Segura from second with a single to center. And Nelson Cruz continued his torrid run, launching a two-run homer to right field. While it seemed like an obvious homer, the umpires initially ruled it a double as the ball hit off a railing behind the fence and bounced back into play. But after a 45 second review, the umpires reversed the call and Cruz had his 31st homer of the season, giving the Mariners a 7-2 lead.
“We are riding the boomstick right now,” Servais said. “Nellie is hot and swinging the bat great.”
It gave Cruz 100 runs batted in — the most in the AL — with 38 games left to play. He shrugged off the milestone.
“It means I’ve got a lot of runners on base,” he said. “To drive in 100, you have to have traffic on base. I’ve got better hitters in front of me and faster runners too.”
Starter Ariel Miranda gave the Mariners a decent outing, using the ample run support to his advantage. Over the first five innings, he allowed just two runs, earning him a chance to start the sixth inning with a 7-2 lead and get a quality start. But it didn’t happen. After not allowing a homer for five innings, he served up a solo smash to left-center to Steven Souza Jr. For the Cascade standout, it was his 26th homer of the season and it ended Miranda’s outing.
“He hung in there,” Servais said. “He was more aggressive tonight with his fastball. He kind of ran out of gas in the sixth and we had work our way around it.”
But his replacement, Emilio Pagan, wasn’t much better. Pagan gave up a single and then served up a two-run homer to Lucas Duda to right-center that cut the lead to 7-5. Pagan was able to get two outs and Marc Rzepczynski came in and ended the inning with a strikeout of Kevin Kiermaier.