The mood around the Mariners is not nearly as sour as it was when they returned home from a miserable road trip to Texas, which ended with Eric Wedge chewing them out behind closed doors after an embarrassing loss to the Astros.
They started the homestand by winning three out of four against the Angels, and tonight they defeated a good Orioles team, 6-2, on a complete-game four-hitter by Joe Saunders. Jason Bay has been reluctant to say that the Mariners are gaining momentum — he used the old line about momentum in baseball being that day’s starting pitcher — but noted that everyone is feeling better about things.
“The feel’s a lot different than when we left Houston,” said Bay, who turned in his first three-hit game since Aug. 31, 2011 with the Mets. “It was a very blah roadtrip, very uninspiring. We come here and beat Anaheim, win this game, the feel is definitely different. I don’t know if it’s momentum, but the feel is definitely different.”
Added Robert Andino, who drove in the go-ahead run in the fourth, “Everyone is pitching in, doing their part, passing the baton. We have a good flow going now.”
It helps, of course, when you get pitching like they got from Saunders. He was in a great groove all night, getting 19 ground-ball outs and not allowing a hit after the fourth inning. That was welcome coming after what he called a “piss-poor” effort in his last start (11 hits and eight runs allowed in a 10-3 loss to Houston — the one that got Wedge so worked up). Saunders, of course, pitched for the Orioles last season after coming over in a trade with Arizona.
“He pitched well, obviously,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “It’s not any big secret about what Joe is going to do. You’ve just got to make the adjustment a little bit. He mixed in a lot of pitches like he does. The reason he has been pitching for a long time. We just didn’t make the adjustment to what he was doing. You keep putting the ball on the ground over there, you’re going to get a lot of outs.”
Saunders is now 8-0 with a 1.75 earned-run average in 12 career starts at Safeco, and 2-0, 0.81 in three starts there since joining the Mariners. He said the statistic merely motivates him to improve his 0-3 record with a 12.51 ERA on the road this season.
“Notoriously, I’m better on the road, so I don’t know what’s going on,’’ he said. “I have to figure that out a little bit. I need to be better on the road. I pride myself on being a good road pitcher, and I haven’t done that well this year. I need to be a lot more consistent. We’ll work on that in Toronto.”
One of the weirder moments of the season occurred in the sixth, after a single by Justin Smoak. Home-plate umpire Alan Porter had tossed a new ball to Britton – who was already holding a ball and wasn’t looking. The ball nailed him on his pitching shoulder, requiring a visit from the trainer and a few practice pitches. He stayed in the game.
“Yeah, the umpire smoked me,’’ Britton said. “I had no idea, I was looking down at the ball and all of a sudden another ball hit me. I had no idea what was going on, but it didn’t feel great. … Just (hit me) right on top of the shoulder, kind of hit a nerve so it kind of tingled for a second.”
Michael Saunders had a nice return to the lineup, homering on his first swing, driving in a run with a force out, and walking. Oh, and the game drew a crowd of 9,818, the third time this year they’ve set an attendance low at Safeco and the first time ever under 10,000.