SEATTLE – When Alonzo Powell met the media before Sunday’s game against Los Angeles, the Seattle Mariners’ new hitting coach said he wanted his hitters to keep it simple.
He had just driven up from Tacoma, Wash., after he received the news that Alan Cockrell had been relieved of his duties, so it didn’t give Powell much time to work with the team. On Day 1 he simply wanted to encourage Seattle hitters to go out, have fun and enjoy their at-bats.
Well, with Seattle riding an eight-game losing streak, it was a pair of players Powell worked with at Class AAA Tacoma who did just that, providing the spark that carried the Mariners past the Angels, 8-1, in front of an announced crowd of 28,668 on Mother’s Day.
It started with shortstop Josh Wilson, who went 3 for 3 and fell a double short of the cycle. It continued with Michael Saunders, who hit his first major league home run and helped the Mariners hit back-to-back homers for first time this season. It was the first time in nine games Seattle has scored more than three runs and the 12 hits tied a season high.
“I think I’m taking it with me to Baltimore,” Wilson jokingly said when asked about the pink bat he used in support of breast cancer awareness. “That thing’s got some kind of magic in it.”
The duo combined to drive in five of the Mariners’ eight runs – four in the fourth – helping them avoid being swept in a homestand lasting longer than four games for the first time in franchise history.
“To get my first one today is something really special,” said Saunders, who hit the home run with his mother, Jane, in the stands. Jane Saunders has been battling cancer since her son was about 11 years old. He wasn’t able to use a pink bat– they didn’t arrive in time– but he made sure his mother got the home-run ball.
“She’s been through a lot for the last 11 or 12 years, battling cancer and everything,” he said. “Not only was it a special moment for me with my first home run, but more special that she was actually here with a chance to see it.”
The bottom third of the order finished 6 for 11 and the Mariners were 6 for 14 with runners in scoring position. Saunders said the feeling in the dugout seemed more like the upbeat experience of last season than the morose mood that crept in during the losing streak.
“They came out fighting today,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said.
With starter Jason Vargas putting together another solid outing, the Mariners created chances early. Jose Lopez opened the second inning with a double to left field. However, with two outs, Wilson singled to center field and Lopez was thrown out trying to score from second.
Then in the third Ichiro Suzuki singled and stole second with two outs, but Chone Figgins flew out to center field, ending the inning.
After working nine walks on Saturday, the Mariners didn’t draw their first base on balls until Ken Griffey Jr. and Ryan Langerhans drew back-to-back free passes with two outs in the fourth. Seattle finished the game with seven.
With two on and two out, Wilson ignited the spark that carried Seattle’s offense. He smacked a three-run homer to left field, which Saunders followed with a solo shot to center.
“We came out swinging the bats and turned things around a little bit, put some runs on the board,” starter Jason Vargas said. “It’s obvious that we haven’t been scoring as much as we want, but, like I said before, we’re going to score. The hitters were just going through a rough time.”
While the Mariners finally found some power, Vargas put together another impressive outing. He gave up four hits and one unearned run over 71/3 innings, improving to 3-2 on the season. He struck out four and walked two.
“He was calm out there,” Wakamatsu said. “He changed the game plan as the game went on. He used his breaking ball at certain times, used his changeup at certain times. That’s the beautiful thing about a lefty. Obviously he had great control today.”