By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Another sign of the Seattle Mariners’ changing times.
For four innings Friday night, they did little against Chicago White Sox lefty Jose Quintana before opportunity beckoned in the fifth in the form of a walk and an error.
Mike Zunino rocked a three-run homer to right field — the opposite field, please note — and the Mariners were on their way to a 4-1 victory at Safeco Field.
“There’s where I really wanted to drive the ball,” he said. “When I’m feeling good, that’s where it’s directed. I was able to get a good fastball in a 2-0 count, and I just tried to barrel it up.”
Hisashi Iwakuma, a 1-0 loser at Baltimore in his previous start, held the White Sox to one run in seven innings — a Dayan Viciedo homer in the fourth — before the bullpen closed out the victory.
“Overall, I’m very happy for the win,” Iwakuma said, “but I didn’t have good stuff today. Not many of my pitches were working today, and I wasn’t able to command. I was able to execute when I needed to.”
So … Iwakuma (10-6), without his best stuff, limited the White Sox to one run and five hits in seven innings while throwing 90 pitches and not walking a batter.
“That’s how good he is,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I think sometimes we take it for granted.”
Charlie Furbush struck out the two hitters in the eighth but departed after yielding an infield single. Yoervis Medina ended the inning by striking out Alexei Ramirez on three pitches.
Medina’s third pitch was a slider that absolutely buckled Ramirez.
“He was waiting, I think, for a fastball,” Medina said. “I threw him a slider, and he was like, `Oh, my gosh! What pitch was that?’”
Fernando Rodney pitched a no-stress ninth for his 32nd save.
The Mariners (61-54) are 4-0 on their current nine-game homestand and, by winning, remained tied with New York at one-half game behind Kansas City in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth.
Rookie shortstop Chris Taylor contributed three singles to the Mariners’ nine-hit attack. He raised his average to .385 and has hits in all 10 of his career starts since arriving July 24 from Class AAA Tacoma.
Robinson Cano extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a single in the seventh, and then set a career high by swiping second for his ninth stolen base of the season.
But the game turned on Zunino’s homer after the walk and error.
“It’s like we’re in a funk,” Chicago manager Robin Ventura said. “If anything can go wrong, it’s going to go wrong right now. Quintana was pitching great, and then a walk, error and homer does him in.”
It was Zunino’s club-leading 18th homer of the season but just his second to the opposite field. He is also now one shy of Miguel Olivo’s 2011 club record for a catcher.
The Mariners have scored at least four runs in four straight games for just the second time this season. They had a nine-game run from April 27 through the first game of a May 7 doubleheader. And they 8-1 in that span.
Overall, they are 45-10 when they score at least four runs.
“Guys are swinging it well for the most part,” first baseman Logan Morrison said. “With the guys we’ve brought in (recently), I feel we’re wearing pitchers down a little more. Taylor, he’s ripping the ball.”
Neither team scored before Viciedo drove a first-pitch fastball from Iwakuma over the right-center wall with two outs in the fourth inning to give Chicago a 1-0 lead.
“I was able to command that pitch,” Iwakuma said, “but he put a good swing on it.”
The decisive fifth started when Quintana (6-8) walked Chris Denorfia before Morrison lofted a pop fly into short left field near the line. Third baseman Conor Gillespie reached the ball easily … and dropped it.
Zunino cranked his three-run homer, and it was 3-1.
Taylor and Austin Jackson followed with singles, which put runners at first and second with no outs. Dustin Ackley’s sacrifice moved them to second and third.
That prompted an intentional walk to Cano, which loaded the bases for Kendrys Morales, who delivered a sacrifice fly for a 4-1 lead. That’s how it ended.
“We have a good feeling now that we’re going to score runs,” Zunino said. “We know if we score a few (runs), we have a good chance of winning with our pitching staff and bullpen.”
All they needed Friday was an opportunity.