And it was Montero who, on Tuesday afternoon, produced the game’s turning point with a two-run homer in the second inning that erased an early deficit and started the Mariners toward a 6-1 victory over the San Diego Padres at Safeco Field.
“Today was a fun day,” Montero admitted. “I saw that pitch he (Padres starter Eric Stults) was going to throw me, and I hit it really (well). I was using a big bat, too. I put a good swing on the ball, and I got to help the team.”
It was Montero’s first big-league homer in more than a year and ... OK, that’s deceptive; the drought was just 31 at-bats because he spent most of the past 13 months either in the minors, learning a new position or serving a drug-related suspension.
Tuesday also marked the first time Montero, a former catcher, played first base in the big leagues. That he remains a defensive work-in-progress was a point manager Lloyd McClendon hammered home in his pre-game remarks.
But that bat ... yes, that bat, potentially, can erase a scads of shortcomings in other areas.
“He’s had some obstacles along the way,” McClendon said. “We all know about those. He’s making amends, and he’s trying to come back, and he’s trying to do the right thing.”
The Mariners also got a two-run homer from Robinson Cano in support of a strong bounce-back effort by rookie lefty Roenis Elias, who improved to 6-5 by limiting the Padres to one run and three hits in seven innings.
Elias lasted a season-low 31⁄3 innings while giving up a season-high six runs in his previous start, a 6-3 loss to the New York Yankees.
“I had my control,” he said through an interpreter. “I went out and did what I was capable of doing and, thank God, it worked out well for us.”
Dominic Leone and Danny Farquhar closed out the Mariners’ third consecutive victory, which concluded an eight-game homestand that started with five losses.
“The Yankees beat us three games,” McClendon said. “We had an opportunity to win (the first two games) against Texas, and we didn’t take advantage of it. The Yankees just kicked our butt. It’s just that simple.”
Stults (2-9) lasted just five innings but threw 102 pitches before exiting in a 4-1 hole. He gave up six hits, including the homers to Montero and Cano.
“I thought his stuff was fine,” Padres manager Buddy Black said. “They stressed him a little bit, and his pitch count was elevated, but he battled and competed like he always does.”
The Mariners (37-34) got their final two runs on Kyle Seager’s two-out, bases-loaded bloop double in the seventh against reliever Tim Stauffer.
Elias retired the first five Padres before teeing up a 1-1 fastball for Rene Rivera, who rocked it into the left-field seats for a two-out homer and a 1-0 lead.
It was, pretty much, the only mistake that Elias made in an 87-pitch performance. He struck out six and walked none. And the Padres’ 1-0 lead didn’t survive the inning.
The Mariners cashed a sloppy error by first baseman Tommy Medica, who couldn’t handle a routine throw from third baseman Chase Headley on Cole Gillespie’s one-out grounder.
Montero followed by yanking a two-run homer to left for a 2-1 lead. It was Montero’s first big-league homer since May 8, 2013, at Pittsburgh. (He did have eight this season in 59 games for Class AAA Tacoma prior to his June 12 recall.)
“He’s strong,” McClendon said. “No question about it. It was actually a hit-and-run, and the ball was up in the zone. He’s so strong he was able to muscle it out.”
The ball seemed to float toward left field, but it found sufficient carry.
“I just ran hard,” Montero said. “I didn’t know if it was gone or not. When I looked, it was over the wall.”
It was still 2-1 when James Jones opened the fifth inning with a single, his third hit, and stole second — even though Stults guessed correctly with a pickoff throw. Jones simply beat Medica’s high throw to second.
After struggling Stefen Romero failed to advance the runner, Jones went to third on a pitch in the dirt to Cano. The Padres then shortened their infield ... and it didn’t matter.
Cano golfed a 3-1 slider into the right-field seats for a 4-1 lead.
“It was good contact,” Cano said, “but in that situation, I just wanted to put the ball in play. I didn’t want a ground ball. I just wanted to hit the ball out of the infield. With Jones on, anything (out of the infield), he can score.”
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