By Todd Dybas The News Tribune
SEATTLE — The Safeco Field roof closed about an hour before first pitch as a thunderstorm headed toward Seattle. Not long after, the Pirates provided another round of thunder.
Mariners starter Joe Saunders had earned the nickname “Safeco Joe” for his ongoing success at home. The visiting Pittsburgh Pirates scoffed at that moniker Tuesday night during a 9-4 bludgeoning of Saunders and the Mariners.
Pittsburgh, winners of five consecutive games, hit five homers against the Mariners. Saunders allowed three in an abbreviated evening on the mound. Carter Capps allowed two. They combined for more homers (5) than innings pitched (32/3).
Saunders lasted juat 12/3 innings, allowing six earned runs. He is first Mariners pitcher to allow three home runs in an inning since Hector Noesi pulled the grisly trifecta June 29, 2012, against the Red Sox.
Saunders was 10-2 with a 2.31 ERA in 16 Safeco starts coming into Tuesday. Beyond his run at Safeco, Saunders also had been in command of late no matter the mound location. Coming into the game, he had an 1.82 ERA over his prior fives starts.
“It’s an easy fix,” Saunders said. “This is almost easier than giving up one run in eight innings. Those ones hurt a little bit more. These ones are few and far between.”
Saunders’ derailment came in the second. A lead-off home run by Russell Martin started the carnage.
A single by Tony Sanchez — it was the rookie’s fourth career at-bat — came two batters later. Neil Walker’s walk preceded a three-run homer to left by Brandon Inge.
Starling Marte hit the next pitch out. Pitching coach Carl Willis sauntered to the mound for a chat. Blake Beavan scrambled to the bullpen mound.
Once Willis departed, Jordy Mercer flew out to the warning track. Andrew McCutchen, whose jersey was on the back of numerous fans, hammered a double to left.
That was it for Saunders after a mere 51, often hard-hit, pitches thrown.
“Falling behind hitters, balls up in the zone, balls down the middle of the plate,” Saunders said. “I could go on and on.”
Justin Smoak hit his fifth homer of the season, a two-run shot in the bottom of the ninth. Kyle Seager also homered for the Mariners. However, the Pirates carried a substantial lead most of the evening.
Blake Beavan gobbled up 41/3 innings in solid relief of Saunders.
Former closer Tom Wilhelmsen had his best outing in almost a month. He struck out the side in the seventh. Two of those strikeouts were the result of Pirates hitters watching curveballs. It was Wilhelmsen’s first clean inning since May 31.
“I told him for the last few outings that his stuff’s been great,” catcher Mike Zunino said of Wilhelmsen. “He’s made a couple mistakes, missed on some pitches, but his stuff’s there. I think it’s just a matter of getting his confidence back.”