SEATTLE — Leave it to a most unlikely pair to finally awaken Seattle’s offense from the offensive doldrums.
And for young Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders, his first major league homer came with some extra special meaning.
Josh Wilson and Saunders hit back-to-back home runs in Seattle’s four-run fourth inning, and the bottom of the Mariners lineup helped break out of their offensive doldrums with a 8-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday.
Seattle’s lackluster offense cost hitting coach Alan Cockrell his job Sunday morning. Hours later the bats came alive in time to avoid the first winless homestand of more than four games in team history. Seattle had been swept by Texas and Tampa Bay, and dropped the first two games to the Angels before finally snapping an eight-game losing streak.
Music and a little bit of laughter was finally back in the Seattle clubhouse after its first win since April 28.
“For us to come in joking and not worry about the next day … I think every one is just going to back off a little bit and just play baseball,” Seattle starter Jason Vargas said.
Saunders thought his drive was headed for a double, and instead became a special Mother’s Day moment.
His mother, Jane, is undergoing treatment for cancer that has come and gone for more than a decade. It contributed to some of Saunders’ struggles early in the season at Triple-A Tacoma. He was called up earlier this week when Milton Bradley was placed on the restricted list while dealing with personal issues.
With his mom wearing one of his old jerseys and keep score in her scorebook, Saunders followed up Wilson’s three-run home with a solo drive off Angels starter Ervin Santana that barely cleared the wall in right-center field. While Saunders raced around the bases, his mom was getting a round of high fives from others sitting nearby.
“It wasn’t the biggest thing for me to get my first home run, but to have her in the stands when I did it was the biggest thing for me,” Saunders said.
Saunders later added an RBI single in the eighth, and the bottom three in Seattle’s lineup combined to go 6-for-11 with six RBIs.
Vargas (3-2) continued with his strong performances of late, pitching 7 1-3 innings, scattering four hits and one unearned run and getting backed by an offense that scored just 12 runs in its previous eight games.
Wilson’s homer was the crucial blow for a team desperately seeking a big hit.
With two outs, Santana (1-3) walked Ken Griffey Jr., then walked Ryan Langerhans on a 3-2 pitch. Wilson jumped on a slider over the middle of the plate for his first homer since Aug. 27, 2009 and the sixth of his career. It was the first multihomer game for Seattle this season and the first Seattle homers by someone other than Franklin Gutierrez since April 23 at Chicago.
“Those two walks, that was the game right there,” Santana said. “After that I just kept battling, trying to make my pitches.”
Gutierrez added an RBI double and Seattle scored more than four runs for the first time since April 28 at Kansas City.
The offensive “eruption” was plenty for Vargas. Since his first start of the season at Texas, Vargas has allowed three earned runs or less in his last five starts.
Working quickly and in rhythm, Vargas scattered just singles and let his defense do the work. Vargas struck out four, and got 15 fly ball outs. The Angels threatened in the seventh with runners on first and third and no outs, but Vargas got Howie Kendrick on a pop out, struck out Mike Napoli and saw Brandon Wood fly out to end the threat.
Los Angeles got an unearned run in the eighth on an error and wild pitch.
NOTES: Seattle 1B Casey Kotchman sat Sunday with a sore right ankle after getting hit by a pitch late in Saturday’s loss. … May continues to be Santana’s worst month of his career. He fell to 7-12 all-time and hasn’t won in May since 2008. … Seattle SS Jack Wilson will participate in a simulated game before Tuesday’s series opener in Baltimore and if all goes well will start that night against the Orioles.