By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
SEATTLE — There were a few cynics standing around Michael Saunders on Sunday, when he said the Seattle Mariners werent going to be satisfied with a .500 season.
That was the talk. On Monday, Saunders did the walk.
Against the Cleveland Indians, Saunders pulled his team from behind with one two-run home run, then broke a late tie with another as the Mariners won, 5-3 their sixth consecutive victory.
Home runs by Saunders and Eric Thames put up the runs, but the game came down to the ninth inning, when closer Tom Wilhelmsen loaded the bases with one out and got a Dustin Ackley-to-Brendan Ryan-to-Justin Smoak double play to end it.
Tommys done such a wonderful job for us the past few months, hes been unbelievable, manager Eric Wedge said. Thats not the way you draw it up, but he executed pitches when he had to.
That left Seattle five games under .500 (59-64, the closest theyve been since May 26 when they were 21-25.
Saunders was changing his tune after hitting homes No. 12 and 13.
Were not satisfied to have a nice run, get near or to .500, he said. We want to be a winning team.
Wedge has said for weeks now that his young team hasnt just been learning how to win at the big-league level but learning how to win different kinds of games.
At this level, to win consistently you have to be able to come from behind, win games late that have been close all night, win with pitching, with hitting, Wedge said.
This one had a little of everything.
Seattle trailed when Cleveland leadoff hitter Jason Kipnis hit the right field foul pole with Kevin Millwoods fourth pitch.
That started a night of comebacks, by both teams, that turned into a battle of the bullpens late. The Mariners had more comebacks and the better bullpen.
This was just a dog fight all night, Saunders said.
Saunders put the Mariners ahead in the third inning after Dustin Ackleys two-out infield single, hitting an Ubaldo Jimenez fastball high and deep over the center field wall for a 2-1 lead.
A three-hits-and-a-walk Indians rally in the fifth inning let Cleveland leap frog to a 3-2 lead, and a small Safeco Field crowd of 14,687 grew restless.
Good as he was, Saunders wasnt working alone Monday.
Eric Thames has settled in nicely with this team, gotten comfortable with his role, comfortable with his teammates, Wedge said. You have to let players play, then have conversations. You have to see them first.
Two outs into the sixth inning, right fielder Thames obtained from Toronto in the July Steve Delabar traded homered to center field to even it up again.
Since joining the Mariners last month, Thames has batted .286 with two home runs and seven RBI.
By the time the Mariners tied it, both Millwood and Jimenez were gone.
In the seventh inning, shortstop and No. 9 hitter Ryan opened with a walk, Ackley bunted him to second base and Saunders fell behind in the count, 0-2.
In the first inning, I was ahead in the count, 3-1, and looked fastball, Saunders said. I got it. The past few weeks, I might have rolled over that pitch. I stayed through it, didnt try to pull it.
And in the seventh?
Hanging slider, he said.
Saunders hit that second home run his third in two days into the right field seats, and the Mariners led 5-3.
Game over? That would have been too easy, and if these young Mariners have learned anything in 2012, its that winning isnt easy.
Wilhelmsen got into big trouble with one out, got a visit from pitching coach Carl Willis, then got a ground-ball double play and his 18th save.
Left fielder Trayvon Robinson had the busiest night in franchise history, catching 10 fly balls to set a
team record for put outs at the position.
One of those catches was a foul ball headed into the stands along the foul line. On the dead run, Robinson went up and over the wall and snatched the ball several seats deep.
Hes one hell of an outfielder, Saunders said. You have no idea how tough that play is.