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April 12, 2011 at 11:20 PM

Justin Smoak reflects on a play in which his much-vaunted defense finally rose to forefront for Mariners

NOTE: If you missed Geoff Baker Live! at FX McRory’s pre-game, right before airtime, we got the news that Adam Moore would be out four to six months after undergoing knee surgery. We showed you what manager Eric Wedge thought his players learned from last night’s thrilling comeback win. A viewer wanted to know who will win and who will lose out in the playing time shuffle between Milton Bradley and Michael Saunders once Franklin Gutierrez is healthy.
On to the post…
Michael Pineda was obviously the post-game story tonight. But as with last night’s miraculous comeback by Seattle, a whole lot of what was written the first seven-plus innings tonight nearly went up in smoke.
That is, until they went up in Smoak.
As in Justin Smoak. The first baseman reputed to have a Mark Teixeria kind of Gold Glove-like future in store both at the plate and in the field. Those were some pretty lofty targets for Smoak when he first arrived here last year and, to be honest, at first his defense did not seem to be anything better than average at first base.
It’s been a bit of a different story this season so far.

Smoak has played a very good first base and tonight, he saved the game. With a runner on third and only one out and Pineda’s first career victory about to be made extinct, Smoak raced up the right field line in foul territory behind first base to snag a Jose Bautista pop-up.
Corey Patterson — a late cut by the M’s in spring training last year — tagged up at third and sprinted for home. Smoak turned and fired a one-hopped strike to Miguel Olivo for the out.
Patterson could have tried to bowl Olivo over. But it was a bit like a Ford Pinto going up against a Silverado and, in the end, Patterson made less like a freight train and more like a bumper car at a kids’ park as he “collided” with Olivo for the easy out.
Funny story for you Geoff Baker Live! fans. The spring training condo where we filmed the show in Glendale, Ariz.? Last year, we at the Seattle Times had to raise our monthly rental fee to “outbid” a ballplayer who was going for the same unit. We never found out who the ballplayer was until the very last days of spring training.
Yup, it was the Ford Pinto.
Anyhow, Smoak could have let the Bautista pop-up drop and spared himself all the drama of the throw. Then again, there still would have been only one out, the tying run at third and the reigning AL home run champ at the plate.
“Not with Bautista at the plate,” he said. “He can hit a homer at any time. All I knew is, if I caught it, let it go. It just happened to be on the money and it was a good play.”
Not an easy one, though.

Smoak admitted he’d never had to make a throw that long in a game before. The infield was playing shallow and Smoak had the best shot at the pop-up.
Even the pop-up wasn’t routine, racing back and looking over his shoulder the way Smoak had to. But that was only half the battle.
“The throw was the toughest part,” he said. “You just try to get it right at him and Miggy (Olivo) made a great play on it.”
Olivo didn’t make too many great plays in that eighth inning. He let a Pineda pitch get by him that advanced the runners to second and third in a 3-0 game. Then, after a tying single, Patterson stole second and took third when Olivo’s throw wound up in the outfield.
Expect Olivo to get a rest on Wednesday afternoon in the series finale. Chris Gimenez is here and will likely start behind the plate.
With Adam Moore out for most — if not all — of the season, we’ll see what the team does the rest of the way. Will it get Josh Bard up here to have a more experienced backup catcher, or continue to use Olivo to the extent that he’s been played? Olivo is hitting just .182.
Pineda watched nervously from the dugout before Smoak saved his lead and the game.
“When the double-play happened, I was thinking ‘Yes!’,” Pineda said afterwards. “I’d been working to get a double-play, but had a little trouble. But then, when I saw that double-play, I went ‘Yes!’ It was a pretty good double-play.”
So, Pineda got his post-game beer shower and the M’s have won two in a row. The downside? Well, not to be a wet blanket, but the M’s weren’t exactly a juggernaut offensively.
They did get the third homer of the season from Ryan Langerhans, who said he’s altered his approach lately to be a bit more aggressive along with being selective.
“I’m just trying to be a little calmer and not miss pitches,” he said. “I’m just trying to stay relaxed and have good at-bats. Try to wait for something that I can handle and not miss it.”
Langerhans has been doing a good job of working counts. He drew four walks in last Friday’s game. But sometimes, you have to be aggressive and swing when you get something you can hit.
He didn’t wait around tonight, swinging at Ricky Romero’s first pitch for that home run.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge noted that the M’s again left a lot of runners on base in key situations. He wants to see them capitalize more so that innings like the eighth don’t take on the importance they ultimately did.
Wedge said he didn’t hesitate leaving Pineda in to start the eighth at 88 pitches.
“He was still strong,” Wedge said. “He was commanding the ballgame. You could see with his pitch count that it was going to be tough for him to finish the game, but ultimately, in a tight ballgame like that, that’s secondary to getting outs and keeping the ballgame where it is anyway.
“But he deserved that opportunity to try to get through that eighth inning. And then we had to go get him.”
And Smoak saved him.
So, tomorrow, the M’s go for the sweep. Who would have dreamed that 23 hours ago?



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