ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Mitch Haniger switched from center field to right in the seventh inning in a move designed to strengthen the Seattle Mariners’ defense.
It definitely paid off for the surging M’s.
Haniger threw out Johnny Field at the plate to end the game, and the Mariners held off the Tampa Bay Rays 5-4 Sunday for their 17th win in 22 games.
Waved home by third-base coach Matt Quatraro, Field tried to score from first on a two-out, bloop single by Carlos Gomez. Haniger rushed in, made a sliding attempt at a catch, then scrambled to retrieve the ball, which had squirted away.
Haniger unleashed a one-hop throw home that beat Field by a wide margin. Catcher Mike Zunino applied the tag.
“Crazy play to end the game, you don’t often see it end that way,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Haniger had a nice recovery, made a very accurate throw.”
Quatraro took the blame for the play. “That was completely my decision,” he said.
Rays manager Kevin Cash said it was “over-aggressive.”
“But saying that,” he added, “we’ve got a lot of guys that are trying to do a lot right now to impact us in a positive way.”
James Paxton struck out 10 and Kyle Seager hit a go-ahead home run for Seattle. Nelson Cruz and Zunino also homered for the Mariners, who took three of four from Tampa Bay.
Paxton (6-1) gave up three runs and five hits in seven innings. The left-hander has allowed just 14 earned runs over 63 2/3 innings in going 5-0 over his past nine starts.
“After the third inning, I had a little forearm cramp going on and I went out a little hesitant in the fourth inning and didn’t let it rip because I didn’t want to have something go on me,” Paxton said. “And then I figured out that it was fine and I got back to let it rip again. It happened in the middle of the fourth. It was just easing into and finding out, ‘Am I OK or not?’”
“We checked it all out,” he said. “It’s fine. There are no problems.”
The defensive help from Haniger earned closer Edwin Diaz his 23rd save.
Seager gave Seattle a 5-3 lead in the seventh with his two-run homer off Jose Alvarado (0-3).
Wilson Ramos cut the Rays’ deficit to 5-4 with an RBI single in the eighth off former Tampa Bay closer Alex Colome.
Tampa Bay, which stopped an eight-game losing streak Saturday, got a homer from C.J. Cron.
“The losses are piling up,” Cash said. “We can play better baseball than what we’ve done the past 10 days.”
Seattle is 21-9 in one-run games. Tampa Bay dropped to 9-17.
According to baseballreference.com data dating to 1908, the Mariners are the only team in major-league history with 21 one-run wins through the first 65 games of a season.
Zunino ended Nathan Eovaldi’s day by sending the right-hander’s 102nd pitch into the left-field seats for a two-run homer that made it 3-3 in the sixth.
Eovaldi, making his third start since returning from a second Tommy John surgery in August 2016, allowed three runs and four hits.
“He had really good stuff,” Zunino said of Eovaldi. “I got to a 3-2 count and fouled off a heater and I was able to get a hanging breaking ball and was able to put the barrel on it. I caught it enough and was barely able to get it out, which was nice.”
After Field doubled in the third and later scored on a grounder by Mallex Smith, Cron had a solo drive and Jake Bauers hit an RBI double that put Tampa Bay up 3-1 in the fourth.
Cron has three hits — all homers — in his past 24 at-bats.
Cruz homered for the second consecutive game, a second-inning solo shot.