SEATTLE — A year ago, the Seattle Mariners probably don’t win Wednesday’s game.
Trailing Toronto 7-2 in the third inning, last season’s team probably would have eventually succumbed 8-2 or 9-3 or something like that. Back then, there simply wasn’t the offensive potential to make up a five-run deficit no matter how many innings were left to play.
It’s a little different now.
The Seattle offense is far from a perfect entity, but it has shown the ability to score runs in bunches, usually via the home run. The Mariners displayed it again on Wednesday, erasing that five-run deficit in two innings, highlighted by a six-run fifth inning in their 9-7 win over the Blue Jays.
“We had our backs against the wall,” acting manager Robby Thompson said. “But there was a lot a game to play. They kept their heads up. We’ve had that happen to us this season. I’d like to think we returned the favor. I’m proud of the guys.”
The come-from-behind win staved off a potential sweep much to the disappointment of a largely pro-Toronto crowd of 34,792 at a sun-drenched Safeco Field.
How did Seattle do it?
“We just told each other it’s early in the ball game and keep putting guys on base,” said first baseman Justin Smoak. “We did that and got the big hits when we needed them.”
The reason they needed all those big hits was another lackluster outing from starting pitcher Aaron Harang. The veteran right-hander pitcher never made it out of the third inning.
Pitching with a 2-0 lead, Harang gave up five runs in the second. He walked the first two batters he faced in the inning and then later gave up a one-out RBI single to Brett Lawrie. Harang then walked Mark DeRosa and gave up a ground-rule double to Josh Thole to score two more runs. He surrendered another run later in the inning. Suddenly, it was 5-2 and the Mariners were reeling.
In the third inning, Harang gave up back-to-back solo home runs to Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind.
Acting manager Robby Thompson had seen enough and called on long reliever Brandon Maurer. Harang was credited with two innings pitched, and charged with allowing seven runs on five hits with three walks and no strikeouts.
“I’m going to sit down with (pitching coach) Carl (Willis) this week and look over some things,” Harang said. “Mechanically, I’ve just been feeling kind of off. Hopefully, it’s just something little and we can get me back on the right track.”
With two consecutive sub-par starts and Harang failing to go more than five innings in four of his past five starts, the question is whether he remains in the Mariners starting rotation. Thompson didn’t have much to say on it.
“I can’t answer that right now,” Thompson said. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s still in the rotation.”
While a five-run deficit isn’t an impossibility to overcome for this Mariners team, how they did it was surprising. They scored a run in the fourth inning off starter J.A. Happ and then changed the entire game in the fifth with six runs.
The fifth inning started off innocently enough when Nick Franklin advanced all the way to second base on a misplayed ground ball by Lawrie at third. From there, Kyle Seager singled and Kendrys Morales hit a ground-rule double to score Franklin. Happ walked Michael Morse and was lifted for fellow lefty Aaron Loup.
Loup couldn’t stop the bleeding. Michael Saunders drove in a run on a fielder’s choice to cut it to 7-5.
Justin Smoak, who was batting right-handed, lashed a double to the gap that missed being a home run by about six inches, slamming off the wall in left-center. Two runs scored to tie it 7-7.
“Off the bat, I thought it was a line drive,” Smoak said. “I didn’t even know it hit the wall. If you hit it out there, you have to hit it.”
The laid-back Smoak exploded with emotion and a fist pump second base.
“I don’t even know what I did, but I was pretty pumped up,” Smoak said.
That Smoak hit the double while batting right-handed was another good sign in his breakout season. He’d been struggling from that side this season. The two runs were just his second and third runs batted in while hitting right-handed.
“It’s been feeling better lately,” he said.
The Mariners took the lead moments later when Humberto Quintero blasted a two-run homer into the visiting bullpen. It was his second homer for the Mariners since being signed on July 27.
“I’d never faced him,” Quintero said of Loup. “He threw a 3-1 pitch in and I hit it good.”
Lost in all of the excitement of the nine runs scored was the redemptive performance of the much-maligned Mariners bullpen.
Thompson used four relievers and they didn’t allow a single run after replacing Harang in the third inning.
Maurer (3-7) came on and pitched three scoreless innings, despite giving up three hits and walking five batters to pick up the victory in relief. He got plenty of help from lefty Charlie Furbush, who cleaned up Maurer’s mess in the sixth. Furbush came in with the bases loaded and struck out Adam Lind and got Colby Rasmus to ground out to end the threat.
“My job is come in there and limit the damage,” Furbush said. “I’m just trying to get that first strike and take it one pitch at a time.”
Seattle worked out of a minor jam in eighth. Yoervis Medina, who’d pitched a scoreless seventh, found himself with runners on first and second and two outs. But Oliver Perez came on to get a broken-bat, ground-ball out from Rasmus.
Danny Farquhar pitched a scoreless ninth inning to get his third save in as many opportunities.
“Great job by the bullpen,” Thompson said. “That’s a huge pick me up for the whole ball club and Aaron Harang.”