BALTIMORE — Michael Saunders made sure everyone could breathe a little easier.
After what’s transpired on this road trip and for much of the season, a four-run lead was far from safe, but it was certainly better than the alternative — a two-run lead going into the bottom of the ninth.
Saunders hit his second home run of the game — a two-run blast — in the top of the ninth inning to give the Mariners’ wounded psyche some much-needed reinforcement and Danny Farquhar worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning to secure an 8-4 win over the Orioles on Saturday at Camden Yards.
So that home run from Saunders, it was kind of big for the Mariners’ mindset?
“Huge, bigger than big, just huge,” acting manager Robby Thompson said.
Farquhar actually came on the in the eighth inning to pitch the Mariners out of a minor jam with two outs. With runners on first and second, with the ultra-dangerous Adam Jones at the plate and the Mariners hanging on to a 6-4 lead, Farquhar got him to pop out to center to end the threat.
In the top of the ninth, Justin Smoak reached base for the fifth time in the night, doubling to right off Darren O’Day. With a 1-2 count, Saunders stayed on a sinker and drove it over the wall in left field.
“It was awesome,” Smoak said. “I was excited he hit it over the fence so I didn’t have to run hard to home plate. We knew going into the top of the ninth, we needed to get at least one more and to get two there, it was big for us.”
It was big for Farquhar, who was going to pitch the ninth in a situation he hadn’t been in as a big leaguer.
“I’m sure it took some pressure off Farquhar,” said Saunders, who drove in five runs on the night.
“Thank God Saunders hit that two-run homer in the ninth,” Farquhar said. “That definitely made it significantly easier.”
Nothing about the ninth inning has been easy for the Mariners bullpen for much of this season, but Farquhar made it look that way. The diminutive right-hander with the big fastball struck out Matt Wieters and Henry Urrutia and got Jones to line out to end the game.
Because of the out in the eighth, Farquhar was credited with his first big league save. It came complete with the customary beer shower postgame.
“It was a big deal to me,” Farquhar said of his save. “I was really excited about the beer shower. I’ve done a ton of them in the three months I’ve been here. I just wanted to get a stupid beer shower. And I got it. It was a lot of fun.”
For a good chunk of the season, hitting wasn’t much fun for Saunders. The lanky Canadian outfielder has as much talent and athleticism as anyone on the team. After a solid start was sidetracked by a stint on the disabled list, Saunders sunk into a cavernous slump at the plate.
He hit a combined .203 for May and June with 53 strikeouts. There was talk he would be sent to Class AAA to figure it out. Instead, he had to do it at the big league level.
“I know I’ve dug myself quite a hole early in the season,” he said. “But I feel like I’ve been working myself out of it.”
He’s found a comfort level at the plate, cutting down on the pre-swing movement with his hands.
“Something wasn’t working for me and I didn’t know what it was,” he said. “It’s a game where you have to adapt to. I was missing balls that I should be driving and that was the tell-tale sign. I was trying to make it a little simpler and get back to basics. It kind of happened naturally.”
On Saturday, he got a little help from Buck Showalter without the Orioles manager realizing it.
Saunders looked out of sorts in his first two at-bats against Baltimore starter Scott Feldman, striking out swinging twice on high fastballs.
The Mariners had just taken a 2-1 lead on Feldman on Michael Morse’s two-out RBI single. Justin Smoak followed with a single and Showalter had seen enough, he pulled Feldman and brought in lefty T.J. McFarland to face Saunders.
“Yes, surprisingly I was kind of excited to see the lefty in that situation and get (Feldman) out of there because he had my number tonight,” Saunders said.
It was evident when Saunders yanked a 2-2 slider over the wall in right field for a three-run homer to push the lead to 5-1.
The 5-1 lead was enough for starter Erasmo Ramirez, who had his best outing since being called up.
Ramirez worked six innings giving up four runs on four hits with no walks and six strikeouts. Over the six innings, he gave up just two runs – solo homers to Manny Machado and Nick Markakis. In the seventh, he gave up a double and a single. Both runners later scored off reliever Charlie Furbush.
“He pounded the strike zone much better and his secondary stuff was much better,” Thompson said. “That’s a good sign for him and a good sign for us.”
It wasn’t anything fancy for Ramirez. He had command of his pitches and went after hitters.
“It was way better,” he said. “I was being more aggressive with hitters. They got free swingers. In my mind, I said just keeping throwing strikes. The two homers were on bad pitches with bad location.”
Besides Saunders, Smoak had a big game. He hit his 10th homer of the season in the second inning to give Seattle a 1-0 lead. With a single and a double and two walks, he reached base five times in the game, which tied a career high.
Brad Miller tied his career high with three hits, including an RBI double.
BALTIMORE — Michael Saunders homered twice and drove in five runs, Erasmo Ramirez retired 18 of the first 20 batters he faced and the Seattle Mariners beat the Baltimore Orioles 8-4 Saturday night to end a four-game losing streak.
Saunders hit a three-run drive in the fifth and added a clinching two-run shot in the ninth. It was his fifth career two-homer game, the second this season.
Justin Smoak homered and went 3 for 3 with two walks for the Mariners, who had lost 10 of their previous 12 games against Baltimore. Brad Miller had three hits and Kendrys Morales singled twice in his fifth straight multihit game.
Ramirez (3-0) gave up four runs and four hits in six-plus innings to win his third straight start. The right-hander struck out six and walked none.
Solo home runs by Matt Wieters and Manny Machado were the only flaws in Ramirez’s performance through the sixth. He was lifted after giving up two hits to open the seventh. Both runners ultimately scored to cut the Mariners’ lead to 6-4.
Danny Farquhar got four outs for his first major league save.
Making his sixth start with Baltimore since being traded from the Cubs, Scott Feldman (2-3) allowed five runs, seven hits and four walks in 4 2-3 innings.
Baltimore shortstop J.J. Hardy missed his first game of the year after manager Buck Showalter opted to give him a day off. Hardy and Machado had started 150 consecutive games together on the left side of the infield, the fourth-longest streak since 1946, according to STATS.
Seattle took control with a four-run fifth that made it 6-2. With two outs and a runner on second, Michael Morse hit a broken-bat RBI single. Smoak followed with a single to chase Feldman, and Saunders greeted T.J. McFarland with his ninth home run, the second in two nights.
Showalter was ejected by home plate umpire Larry Vanover in the seventh for arguing a called strike on Nick Markakis. After the ejection, Markakis singled and went to third on a double by Adam Jones before Charlie Furbush gave up a sacrifice fly to Chris Davis and an RBI single to Wieters.
Saunders’ second homer of the game short-circuited the comeback bid.
Feldman got off a shaky start, allowing a leadoff single and a walk before striking out Raul Ibanez with two outs and runners at second and third.
In the second, Smoak drove a hanging curveball over the right-field wall. Wieters answered in the bottom half, ending an 0-for-25 drought with his 15th home run.
Ibanez stranded two more runners in the third, but Seattle went up 2-1 in the fourth. With the bases loaded and one out, Miller hit an opposite-field bloop to left that dropped in front of Nate McLouth. All three runners went halfway down the basepaths, uncertain if the ball would be caught, and Smoak was thrown out on a rare 7-5 force that produced a run.
Machado tied it in the Orioles half with his 10th home run.
NOTES: Machado hit his major league-leading 40th double, his first in 23 games since July 6, in the eighth. … Orioles RHP Jason Hammel, who’s on the DL with a right flexor mass strain, had an MRI that revealed inflammation of the ulnar nerve. “It came back as about as good as it could have been,” he said. … Orioles 2B Brian Roberts became a father Saturday. The couple named the boy Jax, and Showalter says Roberts could return from paternity leave on Sunday. … Former Orioles pitcher Joe Saunders will start the series finale Sunday for the Mariners. Baltimore will counter with LHP Wei-Yin Chen. … Seattle’s Nick Franklin went 0 for 4 and is hitless in his last 21 at-bats. … Kyle Seager walked twice, but his 10-game hitting streak against the Orioles ended.