Tuesday, August 21, 2012
SEATTLE — There was a time not long ago when the Mariners would have lost a game like this.
A time when they lacked the firepower to alter the course of an evening with one swing, as they did a couple of times in a 5-3 win on Monday night over the Cleveland Indians. It was ultimately the second home run of the game by Michael Saunders that snapped a seventh-inning tie and propelled his club to a sixth consecutive victory.
But the Mariners also needed a sixth-inning homer by Eric Thames to tie the type of one-run contest they used to lose back when they'd hope for a bucketload of singles and walks to do all their scoring.
“Baseball's a grind and it's a process,” Saunders said. “I'm just going to believe in my process. I know I'm going to go through ups and downs obviously and try to weather them. But baseball's a grind.”
Saunders had been in an 0-for-17 slump before the start of the previous series against Minnesota. He has hits in all four games since, including three homers the past two contests to help the Mariners move a game over .500 at home for the first time since they were 3-2 back on April 18.
“The slump was long and everybody's going to go through them during the season,” Saunders said. “Like I said, it's a grind. You've just got to have a good attitude and know you're going to get through it.”
A crowd of 14,687 at Safeco Field saw the Mariners win for the 13th time in their last 14 games at home. They are now just five games under .500 and finding ways to win, even on nights like these when the opposing team is ahead or tied a good part of the way.
The Mariners lacked big bat power throughout 2010 and 2011 and lost plenty of games in which they fell behind early and could not amass enough hits to catch up. Saunders and Thames are two players whose longball ability interests the Mariners because it can help win games when they aren't compiling double-digit hit totals.
Cleveland nearly tied the game in the ninth, but didn't because — unlike Saunders — they could not get a late blast to leave the park. Onetime Mariners farmhand Eziquiel Carrera hit a double off the right-field wall off Tom Wilhelmsen in the ninth that would have been a two-run, tying homer had his bat not been broken in half by the pitch.
Instead, the double left runners on second and third, and a walk to former Mariners infielder Jack Hannahan left the bases loaded with one out. But Wilhelmsen got Jason Kipnis to ground into a 4-6-3 double play to end the game and secure the win for relief pitcher Charlie Furbush.
Kipnis had led the game off with a solo homer off Kevin Millwood, setting the tone for a night when the Mariners could not get comfortable. Saunders put Seattle ahead 2-1 in the third with a two-run homer to center off Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez.
But run-scoring singles by Kipnis and former Mariners infield prospect Asdrubal Cabrera put Cleveland ahead 3-2 in the fifth. Things stayed that way until the sixth, when Thames launched a two-out rocket over the wall in right-center off Jimenez to tie it.
“It obviously was a separator for us tonight,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said of the home-run power his team displayed. “When you have the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark, you can do some things in the middle and late in the ballgame that can really help you separate.
“But you have to hit first, that's the bottom line,” he said. “You've got to put yourself in a position to hit first and then if you get more than that, that's a bonus.”
The Mariners had only five other hits besides the home runs, one a late triple by Thames. But the rest of the team kept things close both on the mound and in the field.
Trayvon Robinson set a club record by a left fielder with 10 putouts, including a leaping catch in which he collided with the wall in foul territory down the left field line.
“I've got a glove on, so I've got to contribute that way,” Robinson said. “I'm not going to get a hit every at-bat or score a run all the time. But whenever I get a chance to help the team win, I've got to take advantage.”
Furbush tossed two scoreless frames with two strikeouts after replacing Millwood in the seventh. It was his first multi-inning effort since going on the disabled list a month ago with triceps tightness.
“As you (media) guys know, we've had some struggles here,” Furbush said. “But everyone's pulling together now. We're playing some pretty good baseball and it's one of those things where we know what we have to do every day and we're going to go out there and give it the best we've got.”