By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Mike Zunino knew it the moment he made contact.
As soon as he could put down the bat and start running to first, he raised his right hand into the air in celebration as his hard-hit ground ball went up the middle and into the outfield.
Zunino’s first walk-off hit in his month-long, big-league career gave the Mariners a 5-4, 10-inning win over the Chicago Cubs on Friday night at Safeco Field.
“Yeah, yeah, with the infield playing in I knew I got enough of it to get it through,” an excited Zunino said.
Once Michael Saunders crossed home as the winning run, the Mariners turned their eyes on the prized rookie catcher. They didn’t treat him with kid gloves. He was pummeled in celebration.
“Oh man, there were a couple rib shots and few slaps on the back,” he said. “It was definitely worth it.”
For the Cubs, who just rid themselves of closer Carlos Marmol because of wildness and walks, the bottom of the 10th inning was reminder that their bullpen is a mess.
Reliever Blake Parker walked Michael Saunders and Raul Ibanez to start the inning.
Saunders fell behind a ball and two strikes in the count and had stayed away from Parker’s nasty split-finger fastball. Ibanez did much the same when he next came to bat.
“Those were big league pitches and tough to lay off,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum had seen enough and replaced Parker with Shawn Camp.
With runners on first and second, Jason Bay delivered a perfect sacrifice bunt down the third-base line to advance the runners into scoring position.
Camp then intentionally walked Justin Smoak to load the bases and bring up Zunino.
Camp got ahead of Zunino with a 1-2 count. But Zunino wouldn’t chase two pitches out of the zone, and with the count full, he wasn’t looking for a walk.
“With a 3-2 count, I knew I had to stay aggressive,” Zunino said. “You have to stay within your zone and be aggressive in a spot you are looking.”
Wedge couldn’t ask for more from his catcher.
“It was a good at-bat by Z,” Wedge said. “He did a good job not trying to do too much and staying up the middle.”
The Mariners seemed destined for another loss after Alfonso Soriano and Dioner Navarro both hit solo homers in the seventh inning off Seattle starter Hisashi Iwakuma. The homers put the Cubs up 4-1 and left Seattle fans wondering if the lead was insurmountable for a Mariners’ offense that’s been anemic and has sorely tested the patience of Wedge each game.
But Seattle slowly chipped away at the lead. Brad Miller, playing in his first game of his big-league career, drove in his first run, scoring Jason Bay from third with a fielder’s choice in the seventh inning.
An inning later, the Mariners tied the score 4-4. Franlkin led off with a double to right field and scored on Kendrys Morales’ double to right-center. Moments later, Raul Ibanez dumped a soft line drive into left field that got past Brian Bogusevic for an RBI triple.
Seattle got a decent outing from starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, who threw eight innings. But pitches over the middle of the plate — something that has plagued him in his past few starts — hurt him again.
“Overall, I thought pitched well,” Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. “I was able to get strike one on hitters. The home runs were on pitches to the fat part of the plate.”
The Mariners did little against Cubs starter Travis Wood, who pitched 6-1/3 innings, giving up two runs on three hits with three walks.
Down 2-0 early, Jason Bay cut the lead in half in the fifth inning with a solo homer to left field — his ninth of the season.
Miller had an eventful debut. Besides the RBI, he drew a walk and stole a base. He also handled every ball hit to him, including the first hitter of the game an easy ground ball which he fielded with ease. He also had a diving stop on a ground ball up the middle and made two tough catches on pop-ups.
“I thought he was outstanding,” Wedge said.
Miller got a postgame beer shower with Zunino to celebrate.
“I’m still on cloud nine,” Miller said. “Just getting out there was a big thing and getting some at-bats and getting to play. It was so much fun.”