By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — General manager Jack Zduriencik knows all the reasons why he would like to have Kendrys Morales play for the Seattle Mariners beyond this season.
And if any doubts were starting to creep into his mind, Morales served up a nice refresher for him on Wednesday night against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
With two outs in the top of the ninth, Franklin Gutierrez on first base and the score tied at 4-4, Morales fell behind in the count 1-2 to Royals hard-throwing reliever Aaron Crow.
But with one swing, Morales changed the entire game and the road trip.
Crow tried to blow a 97 mph fastball by Morales. Only the pitch was on the plate, and Morales was on top of it, blasting it over the wall in center field for a two-run homer and ultimately giving the Mariners a 6-4 victory.
“You have to open up your zone with two strikes,” Morales said through teammate and translator Raul Ibanez. “He tried to throw a pitch away, but he left it out of over the plate for me to hit it.”
Morales hit it and then some. The ball easily carried over the 410 mark on the center field wall. It was his 18th homer of the season and first long ball since August 2nd.
“He hit that one really well,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “It’s the best one he’s hit in a while. It was big for us. He needed that and we really needed that.”
The Mariners need Morales, who also doubled in the game, for more than just this season. If you look at their current roster set-up and what’s available in the minor leagues, they simply don’t have a traditional middle of the order hitter, who is comfortable in that role.
Morales has no problem with hitting in the No. 3 or 4 spot.
“I have over 500 at-bats in the middle of the line-up,” he said. “There is no reason to feel any pressure or feel any different.”
But how he feels about coming back to Seattle for another year or beyond is an unknown. Morales is a free agent after this season, and his agent Scott Boras is notorious for taking his clients to free agency instead of signing contract extensions. With a lack of power hitters in this free agent class, Morales could make more on the open market than an extension from the Mariners or the one-year qualifying offer of around $14 million for the 2014 season.
Morales’ homer bailed out the Mariners on another night of not doing much with runners in scoring position.
Seattle was just 2-for-12 with men in scoring position, stranding eight runners. In the sixth, the Mariners had runners on first and second with no outs and came up with nothing. In the eighth, Justin Smoak doubled to lead off the inning. And with pinch runner Abe Almonte on second and then third after a passed ball, the Mariners struck out three times to leave him there.
“We’re missing opportunities,” Wedge said. “It’s obvious. That’s going to be the difference for us as we move on to next year and the future.”
The two hits with runners in scoring position came early in the game.
In the third inning, Brad Miller gave the Mariners a 1-0 lead, scoring Mike Zunino with a sacrifice fly. Franklin Gutierrez later got the first of those two hits with runners in scoring position, singling home Nick Franklin from third for a 2-0 lead.