By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Suddenly, it seems, the Mariners have a taste for late-inning drama. All sorts of drama. And before we go any further, understand Fernando Rodney never had a doubt Justin Smoak would catch Adrian Beltre’s line drive.
“I’m looking for a ground ball to get out of the inning,” Rodney said. “It was a good pitch, and (Beltre) hit a line drive to first. Game over.”
Well, also understand Smoak wasn’t nearly so positive about his wham-bam web gem, which turned into a double play with the bases loaded and preserved the Mariners’ 6-5 victory over the Texas Rangers at Safeco Field.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I kind of blacked out there for a second. A line drive. I just jumped and stretched as far as I could stretch, and it happened to go in the glove.
“I knew once I caught it, we had him out at first for the double play.”
OK, let’s reset.
The Mariners trailed 3-2 before scoring four runs in the eighth inning against relievers Neal Cotts (1-2) and Alexi Ogando. And it was Smoak who highlighted that rally with a two-run double.
That meant Rodney inherited a 6-3 cushion when he entered for the ninth inning. But two singles and a hit batter, on an 0-2 pitch, loaded the bases with one out and turned over the Texas batting order.
Rodney heightened the tension by walking Michael Choice and Elvis Andrus. That quickly, the Mariners’ lead was down to one run, and the Rangers had the bases loaded with one out.
For Beltre, who hit a screamer that appeared ticketed for the right-field corner, which would have meant at least two runs. Probably three runs. But Smoak made a leaping horizontal catch, got to his feet and tagged first.
“It was so quick,” second baseman Robinson Cano said. “It was like … (Cano swung his head in pantomime) … and, ‘Yes!’ There wasn’t a chance to think about what happened. That was quick. Great play by Smoak.”
The comeback/survival victory came two days after the Mariners broke an eight-game skid when Kyle Seager launched a three-run homer for a 5-3 walk-off victory over Houston.
It means the Mariners have won consecutive games for the first time since opening the season with a three-game sweep of the Angels in Anaheim.
Yoervis Medina (1-1) got the victory after working a scoreless eighth. Cotts got the loss after failing to retire any of five batters he faced in the four-run eighth.
“This is the kind of victory we need to help mentally with all of the young kids we have,” Cano said. “You get in situations like this, even me, we’re thinking we have to figure out something.
“But by winning on Wednesday, we were able to go home Thursday and not have to worry about what we have to do to win a game. We were able to go home, mind clear, and able to come back today.”
Cano was a big part of things before Smoak pulled off his two-run double/double play combo. Cano erased a 2-0 deficit with a two-run double with two outs in the fifth and started the four-run eighth with a single.
Cano went to second on a passed ball before Cotts hit Corey Hart with a full-court slider.
It was the fourth time a Mariner was hit by a pitch, which matched a club record. Texas starter Robbie Ross Jr. hit three batters but yielded just two runs in six innings and was positioned for a victory until the eighth.
With runners on first and second, Stefen Romero’s attempted sacrifice turned into a bunt single when Beltre, charging from third, collided with catcher J.P. Arencibia.
After Michael Saunders replaced Hart as a pinch-runner at second base, the Rangers conceded the tying run by playing their infield at double-play depth.
Smoak worked the count full before yanking a drive into the left-field corner for a two-run double. The Mariners had their first lead at 4-3, and starter Roenis Elias (three runs in 5 2/3 innings) was off the hook for a loss.
“My first two at-bats were terrible,” Smoak said. “I got to 3-2 with the bases loaded, he’s got to come with something. He threw a cutter middle in, and I was able to fight it out there.”
The Rangers shortened their infield with no outs and runners at second and third. It didn’t matter when Seager flicked an RBI single into left for a 5-3 lead.
Ogando replaced Cotts but threw a run-scoring wild pitch that made it 6-3. Then it was up to Rodney to get three outs. And he did, barely, thanks to Smoak’s sparkling defensive play.
“I saw he was going to get it,” Rodney said. “That was a good play, but that’s why we play nine guys in the field.”