Taylor Motter crushed his second career grand slam to propel the Mariners to an easy 12-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Taylor Motter flashed an impish grin. Just thinking about the possibility that the pregame premise offered, he couldn’t help but enjoy those mental images for a second.
In just a few hours, Motter was going to start at shortstop against his former team, the Tampa Bay Rays, the organization that drafted, developed and then traded him to the Mariners in the offseason.
So when asked how much he’d enjoy putting up some numbers against his old team in the three-game series at Safeco Field this weekend, Motter gave that little smirk and replied: “Tremendously.”
He delivered that tremendous enjoyment for his team and the 27,933 fans in attendance in the first inning, crushing his second career grand slam to propel the Mariners to an easy 12-4 win.
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“That was definitely something to remember, especially against them,” he said.
Why does it make it so much more special?
“There’s a lot of things that run through my head, to answer that question,” he said. “Specifically, they got rid of me to come here. To do it against them means more than anything. They gave me my chance in baseball, but I’m going to succeed somewhere else. I’m glad to show them that.”
Seattle has now won five of six games and improved to 26-30.
“Outstanding offensive night,” manager Scott Servais said. “We got a big hit out of Motter, which we needed there.”
On a gorgeous Friday night, the Mariners jumped on Rays starter Jake Odorizzi in an interminable bottom of the first aided by a mistake from an old friend.
After Ben Gamel led off with a single up the middle, Guillermo Heredia hit an easy ground ball to second base. It probably wouldn’t have resulted in a double play. But former Seattle shortstop Brad Miller, now the Rays’ starting second baseman, couldn’t make the play on the in-between hop to get even one out. That missed out loomed large after Odorizzi loaded the bases, but struck out Nelson Cruz and got Kyle Seager to line out to first base.
Instead of the inning being over, Odorizzi still had to get the third out. When he finally did, the Mariners had a five-run lead and he’d thrown an eye-popping, pitch-count-destroying 48 pitches. It started with Danny Valencia working a walk to force in a run.
That brought up Motter, now the starting shortstop for what could be at least the next month if not longer, to the plate. It’s a job that he was promoted to when the club announced starting shortstop Jean Segura had been placed on the 10-day disabled list with a high right-ankle sprain.
“The biggest thing with him down is just go out and do the best I can to help the team win ballgames,” Motter said. “It’s not how I wanted it to happen.”
It’s an opportunity Motter wouldn’t have likely had with the Rays, given their roster set-up. There’s a good chance that had he remained with the Rays, he’d have spent much of the season in Class AAA Durham.
“I knew what I was going to be there, and I know what I’m going to be here,” he said.
But with the Mariners, he’s played in 46 games coming into Friday. And it was a torrid stretch in mid-April as the starting shortstop with Segura on the DL with a strained hamstring that earned him the extended playing time. He had six doubles, five homers and 12 runs batted in in that 12-game fill-in. But since then, he was hitting just .181 (15 for 83) with four doubles and three RBI in 29 games.
“The biggest thing is I’m missing pitches I should be hitting,” he said. “Earlier in the season, I wasn’t missing those pitches. Now the season has moved on and I’m fouling them back or missing them.”
Motter offered a reminder of that hot run of hitting early in the season and the reasons for it cooling off of late all in the one at-bat for the grand slam. After fouling off and just missing some hittable pitches on the inner half of the plate — his sweet spot — Motter jumped on a hanging curveball, yanking it over the wall in left field.
“I keep missing some pitches that I’m not happy about, but I didn’t miss that one,” he said.
All five of the runs in the first inning were unearned because of the Miller error.
The Mariners pushed the lead to 8-0 in the third inning when Valencia ended Odorizzi’s outing, smashing a line drive over the wall in left for a three-run homer — his fifth of the season.
The gaudy run support was plenty good for Mariners starter Christian Bergman, who worked six innings, giving up two runs on seven hits with two walks and six strikeouts.
The Rays tried to make it interesting when Kevin Kiermaier hit a two-run homer off James Pazos in the seventh inning to trim the lead to 8-4. But the Mariners answered with four runs in the bottom of the inning, all of them off former teammate Danny Farquhar and aided by another miscue by Miller.
Valencia finished with a career-high five RBI.
“I’m just trying to have good quality at-bats and drive guys in,” Valencia said. “I’ve struggled to do that this year and help the team win. Tonight it worked in my favor.”