By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
SEATTLE — The Seattle Mariners are trying to supply some hope for next season on the field. While the bizarre, and at times absurd, soap opera of manager Eric Wedge’s decision to leave the organization and upper management’s decision to keep general manager Jack Zduriencik for another year plays out in media comments and closed door conversation, the players on the field are at least trying to salvage something in the final weekend of the season.
On Saturday, Brad Miller blasted a pair of home runs, including his first career grand slam, Justin Smoak hit his 20th home run of the season and Brandon Maurer picked up his fifth win in Seattle’s 7-5 win over the Oakland Athletics at Safeco Field.
“There are still games to be played,” Miller said. “There is one more tomorrow. We are learning that’s part of being a professional is getting your work done and going out there and trying to win.”
Smoak gave the Mariners a 2-0 lead in the second inning, hammering a 1-0 fastball from A’s starter Jarrod Parker over the wall in right for a two-run homer. The 20 home runs is a career high for Smoak.
“That’s a benchmark, that’s a big deal,” said manager Eric Wedge, who stayed with Smoak during some early struggles this season. “He’s been much more consistent in the second half. I like the way he’s driving the ball.”
Miller was also driving the ball on Saturday, blasting a solo homer off of Parker to right-center to lead off the top of the third inning. It pushed the lead to 3-0.
But that was only a warm-up for his next at-bat.
Parker loaded the bases in the fifth inning, giving up three straight singles to Dustin Ackley, Mike Zunino and Nick Franklin. The A’s had lefty Jerry Blevins warming in the bullpen and pitching coach Curt Young even took a mound visit.
“I wasn’t sure,” Miller said of a possible pitching change. “Parker is one of their guys. They have a lot of good starters so I think they are going to ride those guys. No matter who it was, I was just trying to get the guy on third in.”
Miller brought all the runners in with one swing. Manager Bob Melvin elected to stay with Parker and Miller made him pay, yanking a 2-1 fastball just inside the right field foul pole for his first career grand slam.
“Miller was hunting the heater,” Melvin said.
That’s Miller’s mindset. While some hitters go passive and look for the perfect pitch with bases loaded, Miller stays aggressive on fastballs.
“That’s not his personality,” Wedge said of being over-selective. “You try to be too perfect sometimes. But he’s up there ready to rip.”
It was Seattle’s seventh grand slam of the season, second most in the American League.
It was the third time Miller has hit two home runs in a game this season — a Mariners rookie record.
“I don’t know,” he said chuckling. “But I will take it. I’m glad to drive the ball and drive the ball in.”
Miller’s grand slam gave Maurer enough run support so that the bullpen couldn’t cost him a decision.
Maurer pitched 5 1⁄3 innings, giving up two runs on six hits with a walk and five strikeouts. He gave up a run on a sacrifice fly in the third inning and then was lifted in the sixth inning after giving up an RBI single to Alberto Callaspo. Still, Wedge liked what he saw.
“If you look at his last three outings, he’s been really consistent,” Wedge said. “He’s really making strides in regards to his composure and handling his emotions out there.”
Maurer believes he’s nothing like the over-emotional pitcher that made his big league debut at the start of the season. A season of ups and downs has taught him a few things.
“Early on I was going out there trying to throw the best pitch or trying to throw a little harder, now I just go out there and trust what I got,” he said. “I feel a lot of different. I’m much more confident going into this offseason.”
The Mariners bullpen being the Mariners bullpen, they made the 7-2 lead not look safe.
Chance Ruffin gave up three runs on two hits in 2⁄3 of an inning pitched, including back-to-back homers to Callaspo and Brandon Moss. With the lead only 7-5, Yoervis Medina loaded the bases in the eighth inning, but somehow pitched out of the jam.
Danny Farquhar removed some of the drama working a 1-2-3 ninth inning with two strikeouts to notch his 16th save.