Lost in all the celebrating after John Jaso’s sac fly in the ninth to win this game, 3-2 over the Minnesota Twins, was Justin Smoak hitting that tying homer in the seventh. This was another one of those games in which the Mariners kept pounding out single after single, walk after walk, with little to show for it on the scoreboard.
It was a 2-1 game in the seventh, the Twins ahead, and frankly, it seemed like the M’s were going to ifnd a way to lose to the worst team in the AL (this week’s version, anyway). But one power swing can sometimes make up for three or four lighter ones and Smoak tonight hit that tying homer in the seventh off a pretty good-looking Scott Diamond.
The Mariners hadn’t seen Smoak collect two extra-base hits in nearly three months. He hadn’t gone deep in a month. They need Smoak to show some power while he’s wearing the uniform. It’s what is supposed to help make this team go.
“That’s the ability he has,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “That’s the impact he can have from both sides of the plate. He’s obviously had better AB’s since he’s been back here.”
When Smoak had multiple extra-base hits in a May 30 rout of the Texas Rangers, it helped propel him to AL Player of the Week honors. The Mariners on that road trip destroyed the Rangers 21-8 and averaged seven runs per game in three cities.
Smoak hasn’t been the same since and Seattle’s offense has largely cooled off as well, though it’s in better shape overall than last season.
I asked Smoak post-game whether he feels a similar confidence now, since his return from Class AAA, to that week he spent in late May and early June terrorizing opposing pitchers.
“That’s the confidence you need to have day in and day out and that’s something I’ve learned,” Smoak said. “You struggle and you try to learn from it. That’s something I think I’ve learned from. No matter what happens out there, you’ve got to stay positive and that’s where I’m at right now.”
Jason Vargas wasn’t at his absolute best tonght but manager Wedge praised his ability to contain the damage. That’s one thing I have to agree with Wedge on about Vargas: he’s become a better pitcher this year when it comes to that. Even on nights when he’s clearly getting knocked around a bit, he holds the score down like he did tonight.
The biggest at-bat of the night faced by Seattle pitchers did not involve Vargas. Instead, it came down to Tom Wilhelmsen facing Josh Willingham with the bases loaded in a 2-2 game in the top of the ninth.
Willingham flied out softly to right.
“I knew he was going to come in hacking,” Wilhelmsen said. “They were, even yesterday. He was looking for a fastball, swinging on a fastball. So, I figured I’d start him off with a curveball and sure enough, he hacked. Both pitches. Just got under that fastball a bit and it was enough to get the third out.”
For the second time this homestand, the M’s were helped in a winning ninth inning rally by a first baseman messing up routine bunt coverage. Carlos Pena of the Rays did it last Tuesday, then Justin Morneau helped big last night by failing to get Brendna Ryan out at first base on a bunt that moved Michal Saunders to second.
Morneau hestiated just a tad before making his throw and that was enough. Changed the entire complexon of the inning as an ensuing walk loaded the bases with none out and then you knew the Mariners had it wrapped up.
“That was a gift,” Ryan said of Morneau’s non-play.
But Ryan summed it all up with this:
“It’s nice to win a close game,” he said. “As a young team, we should be learning how to win these games.”
They have been winning them. Can’t argue with that.