Zunino’s homer wins it for Mariners
It’s been nearly six weeks.
So, yes, this was a rarity when Mike Zunino and Dustin Ackley each hit two-run homers in helping the Mariners close out July with a 6-5 victory over the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field.
“Luckily, we’re a team that plays a lot of close ballgames,” Zunino said. “So even when the score is up, which isn’t often, when it’s close, I have a lot of confidence in our bullpen.
“I think we feel pretty good turning the ball over to any one of those guys.”
The Indians had just taken a 5-4 lead when Brian Shaw (4-3) started the eighth by walking Kyle Seager, which provided Zunino with an added benefit.
“He had a great at-bat there,” Zunino said, “and I was able to see a lot of pitches in his at-bat. I went up there looking for that cutter, and I was able to get it.”
Zunino drove a 2-0 cutter an estimated 379 feet and with just enough loft to carry the 19-foot mini-Monster for his club-leading 17th homer of the season.
“We all know he swings and misses,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He’s a young kid who’s dangerous. He’s so strong. If you make a mistake, he’ll make you pay for it.”
The Mariners, who once led 4-1, were back on top at 6-5.
Brandon Maurer and Fernando Rodney nursed the one-run lead through the final two innings. Rodney collected his American League-leading 30th save with a scoreless ninth. Joe Beimel (3-1) got the victory.
The Mariners won their first series since the All-Star break by taking two of three at the Pro, where they had lost seven of eight over the past three seasons.
They also reached the two-thirds point in the season at 56-52. By winning, they remained three games behind Toronto in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth.
As for the last time the Mariners won when both teams scored at least five runs? That was June 20 in a 7-5 victory at Kansas City.
This scoring burst came a few hours after the Mariners moved to bolster their attack by acquiring outfielders Austin Jackson from Detroit and Chris Denorfia from San Diego just prior to the non-waiver trade deadline.
“We’ve put ourselves in a position to be in it here at the end,” Ackley said. “To add a couple of right-handed-hitting outfielders who are good hitters and fast guys and can do damage on the bases, that’s going to be big for us.”
Ackley’s two-run homer fueled a three-run third inning against Cleveland starter Zach McAllister, but the Indians struck back with three in their third against Mariners starter Chris Young.
McAllister lasted just 31⁄3 innings before Indians manager Terry Francona went to the bullpen. Young went 51⁄3 innings before McClendon started a similar relay.
Both teams used six relievers.
It was still 4-4 when Charlie Furbush found trouble in the Cleveland seventh. Jose Ramirez reached on a one-out infield single and went to second on a wild pitch.
When Furbush walked Michael Brantley, the Mariners turned to Danny Farquhar to make switch-hitter Carlos Santana hit from the left side. Sound strategy; Santana was a .211 hitter against righties.
But it didn’t work.
Santana grounded an RBI single through the left side, and the Indians led 5-4. Lonnie Chisenhall then hit a liner that struck Farquhar on his right biceps. Farquhar recovered in time to get the out but left the game.
Afterward, Farquhar said he was fine.
Beimel replaced Farquhar and loaded the bases by walking Nick Swisher before retiring David Murphy on a grounder to second.
That set the stage for Zunino, whose homer got the game to Maurer and Rodney.
“After we took the lead and got down again,” Ackley said, “to be able to come back and get that win, I think, was huge. Especially for our offense. We can still score. We can still put some runs up.”
The Mariners are 40-10 when they score four or more runs.
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