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Monday, June 18, 2012 - Page updated at 09:30 p.m.
Mariners take series with Giants after Smoak's walk-off
By Larry Stone
Seattle Times staff reporter
Tom Wilhelmsen didn't even wait for a question before issuing a statement that neatly summed up the Mariners' 2-1 win at Safeco Field Sunday.
"Well, that was fun," he said with a smile. "Holy cow, it got pretty intense there for a little bit, huh?"
The game was intense indeed, particularly in a heart-stopping ninth inning in which Wilhelmsen wriggled out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the top of the inning before the Mariners got a one-out single from Justin Smoak in the bottom of the inning to drive in the winning run.
That's when the fun part came, as the entire Mariners team chased Smoak into right field to pummel him in traditional baseball congratulatory fashion. For Smoak, it was the first walkoff hit of his career.
"It was awesome," he said. "I think it was the fastest I've run all year."
The largest crowd since opening day — 40,603 — watched the Mariners finish their homestand with a 3-6 record.
Kyle Seager, hitless through eight innings against dominant Giants starter Madison Bumgarner, dropping his average on the homestand to .103 (3 for 29), opened the ninth with a single off reliever Sergio Romo.
Romo had not given up a hit in his previous 10 appearances (0 for 22), and right-handers were hitting .128 off him this season. But Jesus Montero, a right-handed hitter, delivered another single, and the Mariners had runners at first and second in the 1-1 tie.
Manager Eric Wedge called for a bunt, and sent up pinch-hitter Michael Saunders to deliver it. But Saunders' attempt was fielded by Romo, who turned it into a force out at third.
Up came Smoak, struggling heavily himself this homestand (.125, 4 for 32). Facing reliever Javier Lopez, he drove a 1-1 changeup into left field to score pinch-runner Musenori Kawasaki from second base.
"I kept battling today and finally put a good swing on one," Smoak said. "I tried to get a pitch to hit and not do too much with it."
Earlier, with Giants runners on first and second in the eighth inning, Smoak made a diving play on a would-be single by Hector Sanchez to get Brandon League out of a jam.
"That first baseman won the game for them," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
But hardly single-handedly. For starters, Felix Hernandez reversed a troubling wave of sub-par starts (1-4, 6.37 earned-run average in his last six outings) with a strong seven-inning effort, giving up just a first-inning run while striking out seven.
Hernandez said the key to the turnaround was the ability to command his fastball. With that pitch under control, his breaking balls fell into place as well.
And then Wilhelmsen artfully escaped major trouble in the ninth. After the Giants loaded the bases with one out on a single and two walks, he struck out the National League's No. 2 hitter, Melky Cabrera, on three pitches. Wilhelmsen then went to 3-2 on pinch-hitter Nate Schierholtz before a ground out ended the threat.
The Mariners had tied the game in the second inning on a sacrifice fly by Dustin Ackley to score Casper Wells, who avoided Giants catcher Buster Posey with a nifty slide.
"It looked like an old-school hook slide," Wedge said. "It was good to see. We did some of the little things you need to do to win those type of ballgames."
After winning the first game of the homestand against the Dodgers on a no-hitter and then losing six in a row, the Mariners closed strongly with two straight wins.
"It was big for us last night to put some runs on the board (in a 7-4 victory), and today we kept grinding all day and fought until the end," Smoak said. "It's always good to win at home, especially when you have a good crowd like today. Hopefully, we'll see more of that."
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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