By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
CINCINNATI — The Seattle Mariners’ first game in Great American Ballpark was, well, great.
The Mariners got a quality outing from their starting pitcher, shutout relief from their bullpen and a decent amount of hits and runs from an offense still searching for consistency in a 4-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Friday.
The Mariners simply haven’t had those types of balanced showings this season, which is why their record is 38-48 this season. But Seattle is 3-1 on this road trip and easily could be 4-0. There is a glimmer of progress being made.
“It was very important to get the first win of the series,” said Oliver Perez, who struck out the side in the ninth to pick up his second save of the season. “Now we have three wins on this road trip. We have to go for the series tomorrow.”
The Mariners made themselves at home in the new surroundings on the very first at-bat of the game.
Rookie Brad Miller, who came in with all of 20 major league at-bats of experience, was moved into the lead-off spot by manager Eric Wedge.
It was a big step for a player in his seventh big league game. But Wedge didn’t say a word to him about it pregame.
“I didn’t want to make a bigger deal out of it,” Wedge said. “I’m sure you guys did that well enough on your own. I wanted him to just go out and play. But his personality — he’s pretty even keel. He has a pretty good idea what he’s supposed to do, and how he’s supposed to do it.”
And he did what he was supposed to do.
In the game’s first at-bat, Miller fell behind 0-2 to Reds’ starter Mike Leake and then lashed a fastball into the right-center gap. Right fielder Jay Bruce tried to cut it off, but his sliding attempt came up short and it rolled to the wall. Miller came out of the box sprinting and rolled into third with a triple.
“That felt good,” Miller said. “First at-bat, I just wanted to have a good at-bat and pass it off to Frankie.”
Fellow rookie Nick Franklin one-upped Miller by crushing the first pitch he saw from Leake over the wall in right-center for his fifth home run of the season.
“That was a great way to set the tone,” Franklin said of Miller’s triple. “I was just looking for a pitch to drive. Usually I want to see a pitcher for the first time, but at that point in time, I said, ‘you know what, I’m going to try to jump on anything that looks good.’”
The Mariners pushed the lead to 3-0 in the second inning when Michael Saunders led off the inning with a line-drive homer to right-center off Leake.
Saunders hadn’t started a game since June 26. He suffered a smashed middle finger on his throwing hand in a game on June 28 and has only been available as sub since then. He had just two at-bats in that span. But there was no rust in that home run swing.
“Obviously, it felt good,” Saunders said. “Any time you hit a homer it feels good, especially coming off the first start I got in a while. I wasn’t trying to do too much. I got a couple at-bats in Texas and the ball felt like it was getting on me. But I saw the ball well and put a good swing on it.”
Saunders made it 4-0 in the fourth inning, scoring Kyle Seager on a sacrifice fly to left. The four earned runs allowed by Leake were the most he’d given up in nine starts.
The four runs were also more than enough for Mariners starter Aaron Harang, who felt right at home in Great American Ballpark. He played eight seasons with the Reds and made 112 starts on that mound.
It showed as he went out and tossed six solid innings, giving up two runs on six hits with a walk and four strikeouts.
“I definitely liked my odds here over pitching in Texas at the time,” he said. “I’ve made many a start on that mound. I just got back out there and it felt like old times.”
Harang turned over a 4-2 lead to the Mariners’ bullpen, and it stayed there. Yoervis Medina (two-thirds of an inning) and Charlie Furbush (11/3 inning) didn’t allow a hit and set up Perez for the ninth.
“Great job by all those guys,” Wedge said. “With the left-handers and the way it lined up late, we felt good going to Oliver and he was really good. Charlie bridging that gap was huge as well and Medina did a nice job.”
Offensively, the Mariners had just six hits. Miller tripled again in the fifth inning becoming the Seattle player to triple twice in a game since Carlos Guillen on May 9, 2003. It won’t be a shock to see Miller at the top of the line-up again.
“Energy, aggressiveness. He’s offensive,” Wedge said. “That’s the way he plays the game, whether it be at home plate, in the field or on the base paths. I love the way he comes out of the box. He’s thinking not doubles, he’s thinking triples out of the box. The ball comes off his bat well. It was a big boost for us tonight.”
The only damper on the night was seeing Nick Franklin hobbling in pain. In his at-bat following the home run, Franklin tried a drag bunt and the ball hit of his bat and down onto the inside of his knee cap. He hobbled his way through the rest of the game, admittedly in pain.
“I just didn’t want to give up on it,” he said. “I saw the pitcher well, I felt OK at the time, I felt I didn’t want to hurt the team by any means by taking myself out. After it happened, every AB after that didn’t feel good. I obviously wasn’t comfortable but I tried to do my best.”
The knee was noticeably swollen after the game. But Franklin was optimistic.
“It’s stiff right now,” Franklin said. “I’m going to try to throw a patch on and hopefully I’ll back out there tomorrow.”