Clutch hits lead M’s over Boston in series opener

SEATTLE — The Mariners busted out of their hitting-with-runners-in-scoring-position funk in a big way Monday night, piling up 11 runs thanks to six—count ‘em, six!—hits with runners in scoring position.

That offensive outburst and another solid outing by Felix Hernandez were more than enough to give the Mariners an 11-4 victory over the Red Sox in front of 21,830 at Safeco Field.

Before Justin Smoak drove in the game’s first run with a fourth-inning double, the Mariners had been 0-for-their-last-25 with runners in scoring position, and were 2-for-38 over the last four-plus games.

“Hitting is definitely contagious,” centerfielder Michael Saunders said. ” … We were able to put up good at-bats against (Red Sox starter Jon) Lester, we were drawing walks and tonight we hit the ball in the gap a little bit with runners on. Sometimes all we need is one with the King on the mound, but it’s nice to give him 11 tonight. We’re looking to keep the ball rolling tomorrow.”

After Smoak ended the Mariners’ RISP drought, Seattle made it 2-0 on a bases-loaded walk by Saunders, but the Red Sox answered with two runs of their own in the fifth off of Felix Hernandez.

Raul Ibanez hit his 22nd home run of the season to give Seattle a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fifth, then Seattle broke the game open with three runs in the sixth and four in the seventh.

“It’s not a curse, but we’ve got to get better with it,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said of his team’s struggles with runners in scoring position. “And I think if you look at the quality of at-bats that we’ve had of late, you’re seeing that we’re making the opposition work hard. We’re fighting through at-bats, we’re doing a better job with two strikes, we’re doing a better job with runners in scoring position. … I think we’ve seen a lot of good things from our guys.”

The Mariners enjoyed particularly impressive production from the bottom of their lineup. No. 7 hitter Justin Smoak drove in a pair of runs with doubles in the fourth and seventh innings, and he also singled to start the three-run sixth. He finished the game 3-for-4 with three RBI, and is now hitting .339 since coming off the disabled list on June 18.

Catcher Mike Zunino, who was hitting eighth, went 2 for 4 with a walk, an RBI and a run scored, and struggling No. 9 hitter Saunders had RBI doubles in the sixth and seventh as well as a bases-loaded walk in the fourth.

“As these guys continue to figure it out, we should have that one through nine that we’ve always talked about wanting to have with the way the young kids are playing and of course the way the veterans are playing too,” Wedge said.

No veteran is doing more than Ibanez, who in addition to the home run also had an RBI single in the sixth. The 41-year-old has hit safely in 13 straight games and has eight home runs over that stretch.

“I definitely was not expecting to play this much,” Ibanez said. “I’m trying to enjoy it. At some point late in the season last year, I started just acting like it was my last game. I started asking myself the question, if it was my last game, how would I act, and how would I prepare? I’m trying to enjoy it as much as I can, because I’m 41-years-old, I can’t play forever.”

Hernandez, while not dominant, was good enough to improve to 9-4, holding a potent Boston lineup to two runs and six hits in seven innings of work, striking out six and walking two.

The victory over the Red Sox, owners of the best record in the American League, continues a promising start to July for the Mariners, who won two of three in back-to-back road series against Texas and Cincinnati, two more teams with winning records.

Herald Writer John Boyle:

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