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Justin Smoak wasn’t sure what happened. One second he saw the ball come screaming off the bat of Adrian Beltre, the next he was airborne and then it all got a little fuzzy.
With a leap and a grab, Smoak ripped looming defeat out of the air and secured victory for the Mariners, making a brilliant diving catch of Beltre’s rocket line drive and then scrambling to his feet and touching first base to double off Elvis Andrus and complete a game-ending double play. It secured a wild 6-5 win on Friday night at Safeco Field.
Beltre just stood in the base lines. He’d barely gotten out of the batters box.
“It’s a little surreal,” he said. “When I hit it, I thought he had no chance. Somehow he reacted really fast and made a hell of a play.”
Smoak couldn’t really describe the game-saving play.
“I don’t know,” Smoak said. “I kind of blacked out there for a second.”
The crowd of 31,145 was almost at black-out level as the ninth inning spiraled out of control in the midst of The Fernando Rodney Experience: “Buy the ticket, take the ride”
Fernando Rodney has yet to make any save situation simple this season. He took an interesting route to notch his fourth save of the season.
Coming in with a 6-3 lead, Rodney gave up a lead-off single to pinch hitter Mitch Moreland. It looked like that runner would be erased when pinchi hitter Luis Sardinas hit a ground ball to third base for a liekly double play ball. However, Smoak couldn’t quite handle the relay throw from Robinson Cano, dropping the second out.
“Normally, I don’t drop those balls,” Smoak said. “It was one of those tweeners. Do I stretch out and get it, or is going to bounce? I just kind of botched it there.”
Smoak may have botched that play, but Rodney didn’t make things easy for himself. He gave up a single to Leonys Martin and hit Josh Wilson to load the bases. Rodney then issued back-to-back walks as the lead shrunk to 6-5 to bring Beltre to the plate.
Rodney wasn’t concerned when the ball came off Beltre’s bat.
“In that situation, I was looking for a ground ball for a double play to end the game,” Rodney said. “I made a good pitch, line drive to first and game over.”
Sure … it was that simple.
Rodney said his command was a product of the role.
“When you pitch every four days, sometimes you bring too much energy there,” he said. “That’s how I felt tonight.”
There was energy alright – nervous energy. The last time the Mariners lost a game like this, they lost seven more after that. But McClendon just chuckled at Rodney’s wild ride.
“That’s Fernando,” he said. “Most of the time, he’s going to have you on the top step. Most of the time, he gets it done. It probably wasn’t all his doing. We could have made it easier if we turn the double play.”
While Smoak’s glove helped save the game, his bat sparked the Mariners rally in the eighth inning.
Trailing 3-2, Smoak stepped to the plate with bases loaded and no outs against reliever Neal Cotts.
In the past, Smoak might have panicked when he fell behind in the count. In the past, he might have swung over the 2-2 slider that was an inside by a few inches. In the past, the moment might have been too big for him.
But not this time.
Smoak coolly worked a 3-2 count and jumped on a cut fastball from Neal Cotts hammering a two-run double into left field.
“I was able to fight it out there,” Smoak said. “I didn’t really barrel it up. I was just trying to put it in play.”
Smoak now leads the team with 14 RBI. More importantly, he’s become a viable hitter from the right-side, something he wasn’t last season.
“It feels really good,” he said. “My first couple of at-bats were terrible. But I feel great over there. I need to start doing the same from the left side. I think I’m in a better position to hit. My bat is staying in the zone longer than it was in the past. I’m really not trying to pull the ball. I’m trying to hit everything up the middle and the other way and if you do that the barrel is going to stay in the zone a long time.”
The Mariners were down 2-0 and still hadn’t quite figured out the riddle of Robbie Ross Jr. But Cano came up big in the fifth inning.
After failing to come through in a similar situation two innings before, he delivered. With two outs and runners on first and second, Cano scorched a double to left-center scoring Abraham Almonte and Willie Bloomquist to tie the game at 2-2.
“This is a game of adjustments,” Cano said. “My first two at-bats, everything was middle-away, middle-away so I’m going to for something away. You can’t look for something inside if you haven’t seen anything inside.”
Cano hopes the last few games will start a little run of winning and run scoring.
“Lately we’ve been struggling with men in scoring position,” he said. “Coming through in that situation,
The biggest win was the one on Wednesday because we didn’t have to go back to our houses and spend the off day thinking about what we have to do to win a game,” Cano said. “We were able to go home and not think about anything – just clear your mind and clear your head and be ready to play today. No one said this game is going to be easy. I said in the beginning to the guys, that sometimes it’s good to lose these games now so we know what it takes to win these kind of games later in the season. We will know what we have to do in that situation because we’ve already been through it. We’ve got guys here with one or two or three years of experience and they haven’t been in that situation where they have to make a big play or get a big hit.”