Michael Saunders sparks Mariners ninth-inning rally
Seattle bats come alive just in time for a 4-3 victory
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle @ Texas, 11:05 a.m., ROOT
ARLINGTON, Texas — Michael Saunders wasn't thinking about moral victories when he decided to show off the many dimensions of his talent.
His Mariners had already won one of those moral victories merely by scoring a run in the eighth inning of a Wednesday night game that seemed all but over. That run snapped a scoreless streak of 23 innings for the Mariners before Saunders took over with his bat and legs to deliver a dramatic 4-3 victory over the Texas Rangers with a furious rally in the ninth.
Saunders tied the score with a hit to right center, then positioned himself to score the eventual go-ahead run by legging out a surprise double on the play.
"At that point of the game, it was tied and I felt that, with one out, at that point if I could get to second base it could be big for us," Saunders said. "So, I just took a chance on it."
The gamble paid off as Saunders arrived at the bag just ahead of the throw. He later broke for third base and slid in safely with a steal.
Brendan Ryan struck out at that point, but John Jaso delivered the go-ahead single to center to help secure Seattle's first victory here in three attempts. The crowd of 32,342 at Rangers Ballpark looked on stunned as Brandon League closed out the ninth, getting Elvis Andrus to line a ball right at first baseman Justin Smoak with a runner on second and two out.
Texas native Lucas Luetge, who pitched 1-1/3 innings of scoreless relief, came away with his first major-league victory. For a while, the Mariners seemed headed for a third consecutive defeat, trailing 3-0 after Ian Kinsler and Andrus tagged Steve Delabar for back-to-back home runs in the seventh.
Mariners starter Kevin Millwood, returning to face the team he spent four seasons with, had overcome a 35-pitch first inning and left trailing just 1-0 after six frames. But the Mariners had failed to score since the second inning of the series opener Monday night and couldn't get much of anything going against Rangers starter Colby Lewis.
It wasn't until Jaso opened the eighth with a triple off Rangers reliever Alexi Ogando and finally snapped the scoreless drought by scoring on a Dustin Ackley single that Seattle showed signs of life. Then, Smoak led off the ninth with a single off Rangers closer Joe Nathan, followed by a Kyle Seager double.
Jesus Montero, down 0-2 in the count, lifted a sacrifice fly deep enough to make it 3-2 and move pinch-runner Munenori Kawasaki to third base for Saunders.
"When we play our game, we can hang with anybody," Saunders said.
And Saunders certainly showed off his game once he got on after his tying hit. He'd seen Nathan displaying a high leg kick and decided to gamble even more with his steal of third base.
"He's a total player," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said of Saunders. "He's not somebody who's going to just do it in one area of the game. He's a complete baseball player and he's really started to establish himself. He's had some big hits for us and he's been aggressive on the basepaths.
"But what I think we're seeing, the more he's out there, is he's a heady baseball player too. He has a pretty good feel for situations."
Jaso had been struggling just to stay under control in his first game action this season. His early at-bats saw some rushed swings, but he calmed himself down before the eighth.
"I really had some adrenaline going and was pretty tense with the bat," said Jaso, who was the designated hitter. "I had to come in here and go in the (indoor) batting cage a little bit and make myself loosen up a little bit. It slowed the game down a bit."
Millwood also tried to slow things down and make some mechanical adjustments after struggling with pitches that kept missing high and outside early. The Rangers loaded the bases in the first inning, scored a run on a Michael Young single and looked poised for more before David Murphy swung at some bad pitches and stuck out.
Kinsler then made it to third base with one out in the fifth but Millwood got Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre to pop out to shallow center to keep it a one-run game. Millwood then worked through a 1-2-3 sixth and finished on 103 pitches, striking out seven.
But it looked like the 37-year-old's efforts would be for not until the much younger players came through.
"It's huge to come back and score four runs in the eighth and ninth," he said. "It's huge, especially with the young club that we have. It gives those guys a little bit of confidence and reassures them that it's possible."
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @gbakermariners.
Read his daily blog at seattletimes.com/Mariners
|All or nothing|
|The Mariners' offense has been hit or miss in the first three games of this Texas series:|
|Innings 1,27||Innings 2-26|
|* Batting average with runners in scoring position|