This was a bit like a college basketball game in that the first 80 percent of it really didn’t mean much. The Mariners fought back from several deficits, survived a Texas Rangers threat in the ninth, then won it, 9-8, in the 10th inning on a Jack Cust home run.
Prior to that, in the ninth, Steven Baron hit a tying single that brought the M’s back from two runs down. M’s center fielder Michael Saunders then saved it in the bottom of the ninth by cutting off a double in right center and making a perfect throw to the cutoff man to hold the lead runner at third with one out.
M’s reliever Royce Ring then earned his spurs for the day, striking out lefties Doug Deeds and Endy Chavez. if you’re trying to make the team as a lefty reliever, that’s how you finish off an inning. Mariners manager Eric Wedge was raving about the Saunders play afterwards.
“I mean, that’s the game right there,” Wedge said. “He made a great job cutting it off, made a firm throw, got on it quick and then got it back in. You can’t do any better than that relay and really, ultimately, that’s the reason we’re able to still keep playing.”
The Mariners poured on the power the final three innings, getting three straight homers — for the first time since 2004 — from Adam Kennedy, Mike Wilson and Jack Cust. And all off a bona fide MLB reliever as well in Darren O’Day.
The nice thing about both Cust homers is that they were hit to center. He wasn’t just pulling them.
Prior to Cust hitting his second homer of the contest to seal it in the 10th, you had Saunders getting on with a single and then Baron driving the tying run home.
“He’s had a helluva camp,” Wedge said. “He’s made as much improvement as anybody. You look at the confidence level. You look at his at-bats, being more comfortable behind the plate. Just handling late-game situations like that.”
Baron is 6-for-9 (.667) this spring after struggling at the plate in his first season-plus of rookie level and low Class A ball. He’s still only 20 years old after being drafted out of high school.
Anyhow, on to the bullpen battles. Wedge said he wanted to use this day to get a closer look at guys vying for relief jobs.
Among those who distinguished themselves, besides Ring, you had Chris Ray getting in there and tossing a scoreless seventh inning, allowing on hit and a notching a strikeout. Ray had thrown only three innings all spring, so the M’s want him in there since they’re looking to use him as a set-up man.
Tom Wilhelmsen allowed a run the first inning he worked, giving up a two-out RBI double to Nelson Cruz. But then, Wilhelmsen worked through a scoreless fourth inning, giving up a single and hitting a batter.
Wilhelmsen is still a real longshot to make it, but the fact he’s still alive this deep into camp has to be a confidence booster.
Cesar Jimenez struck out two guys in two innings, but allowed three hits — one of them a home run by Kevin Cash, who has zero shot at making the Rangers.
Justin Miller also got two strikeouts in the eighth after a leadoff single, but then gave up a home run to minor leaguer Omar Quintanilla.
And of course, the team’s starter, Fabio Castro, had a very quick first inning before getting blitzed for four runs in the second frame. So, a mixed bag overall, with the exceptions of Ray and maybe Wilhelmsen and Ring (who had to be “saved” by Saunders, let’s not forget).
“I thought everybody battled,” Wedge said. “I think one of the things you want to see is how they work. I thought they, for the most part, were aggressive. I think you want to see how they handle certain situations. And I thought, for the most part, they handled it OK. You’ve got a little bit more to work off of now.”