Endy Chavez has played ninth-inning hero before, as a Met | Mariners notebook
Chavez, who isn't known for hitting homers, went deep in the bottom of the ninth with New York in 2008 to tie the score against the Marlins.
Seattle Times staff reporter
ANAHEIM, Calif. — As impressive as Endy Chavez looked hitting that ninth-inning, pinch-hit home run for the Mariners in Cleveland on Monday, he's done it all before.
Chavez became the first Mariners player in 23 years to hit a go-ahead homer in the ninth inning or later. Ken Griffey Jr. did it in 1990. But on Tuesday, Chavez, who weighs all of 170 pounds and isn't known for home runs, said it's not his first dabble in ninth-inning, pinch-hit long balls.
"I never did it in the minor leagues but I did it in the majors once with the Mets," Chavez said. "It was the same situation. I was leading off an inning, the game was close and I hit a home run to keep the game going."
That was on May 28, 2008, when Chavez went deep off Florida Marlins closer Kevin Gregg at Shea Stadium in the bottom of the ninth to erase a 5-4 deficit. The Mets went on to win 7-6, in the bottom of the 12th.
Seattle's game didn't end quite so well after Chavez went deep off Indians closer Chris Perez to give the Mariners a ninth-inning lead. The Indians tied it in the bottom of the ninth, fell behind again in the 10th, then scored three more times for the win.
Perez took so much heat from fans for the Chavez homer and two other ninth-inning blasts yielded on Saturday that he decided Tuesday to deactivate his Twitter account.
Chavez said he was merely trying to make solid contact to lead the inning off and had no idea the ball was going to go out.
"I was pretty sure that I'd hit some balls harder than that in that stadium and they stayed in," he said. "Plus, the wind was blowing in the whole series and keeping balls from going out."
New Mariners hitting coach Dave Hansen made a living out of coming up big off the bench for years as a pinch-hitter with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Hansen was asked whether there was anything that goes into such late heroics, given the Mariners hit four home runs against the Indians to help tie or give them a lead in the ninth inning or later.
"It's certainly a mentality," Hansen said. "It just happened to show up late in the games there, but every at-bat is always unique and so we have to take it as such. So, mentally preparing for those late innings is part of our overall approach. We're not trying to hit homers. We did come up with some big homers there, but we're really trying to square-up on the ball."
The Mariners had struck out 11 times or more in four of the first seven games of this road trip before Tuesday night's game and had averaged 9.3 strikeouts during that stretch. Nonetheless, they posted an impressive .348 on-base percentage and a .474 slugging mark while scoring 4.7 runs per game despite the 2-5 record overall. Part of the on-base success is that the Mariners have been drawing more walks as a team.
Hansen said cutting down on the strikeouts is still a work in progress, but that the Mariners have made strides at "refining" their strike zone and swinging at more hittable pitches.
"We're still working on it," Hansen said. "We're still getting our strikeouts. But when you're consistent with your approach, you refine your strike zone. It's a byproduct, I think. You just don't chase as many.
"We still chase," he added. "But we don't chase as many pitches. We're looking for more specific pitches and that's real important that we do that — stay focused that way.
"You will see the walks. We're still working on the other part, but I do see that we're in it every pitch. And that's real important."
• Mariners manager Eric Wedge reiterated that he is not yet ready to bring closer Tom Wilhelmsen into a multi-inning save opportunity, especially if he throws 22 pitches in his first inning as he did Monday. Wedge took some criticism for not sticking with Wilhelmsen, going instead with Charlie Furbush, who yielded a three-run homer.
"Once you get into the season and you get a bit deeper, I think you can be a one-plus guy," Wedge said. "I've had guys that had to be one-inning guys. Even the Borowskis and the Wickmans back in the day, they weren't capable of doing one-plus. It was tough enough in the ninth ... but they both saved 45 games for teams that won 90-plus games."