ARLINGTON, Texas – A couple of hours before game time, Justin Smoak sat on the dugout bench and stared out quietly at his former baseball home.
Fewer than three months since being traded to the Mariners from Texas in the Cliff Lee deal, Smoak talked about “bad habits” he picked up at Rangers Ballpark in trying to pull every pitch over the right-field fence as a left-handed hitter.
Interestingly enough, it was as a right-handed hitter on Monday night that Smoak pulled a three-run homer over the left-field wall off C.J. Wilson to secure a 7-5 win for the Mariners over the Rangers.
The Mariners don’t really care which fence the switch-hitter uses, as long as he continues to display the stroke they hope can carry them for years to come.
“For me, the power, I think young kids learn how to hit first and if they’ve got power, then we’ll see that,” Mariners manager Daren Brown said of Smoak before the game. “I don’t think it’s something where you can teach young kids to have power. They’ve got to learn how to hit first.
“He’s had some good numbers in the minor leagues, he got up here pretty quick and he probably tried to press a little bit and got away from some of the things that made him successful as a hitter. And it took him a month or two to figure that out and get back to who he is.”
Smoak’s third home run as a Mariner gave them a 6-1 lead that was barely enough in the final few innings. Starter David Pauley left after six innings, two runs allowed, but Anthony Varvaro yielded a three-run homer to Nelson Cruz that got the Rangers back to 6-5.
But Smoak contributed his third hit of the night in an eighth inning rally that resulted in Franklin Gutierrez scoring a huge insurance run on a wild pitch. Smoak finished 3 for 5 with the homer, two singles and two runs scored.
Smoak now has five hits his last two games after getting what Brown termed as a “mental break” when he was given Saturday off against Tampa Bay. He had been just 4 for 23 (.174) before that since being recalled from Triple-A Tacoma earlier this month.
The Mariners have won three of their last four against the Rangers, the new American League West champions, who unfurled a banner before the game celebrating their recent clinch.
Seattle never trailed, grabbing a 2-0 lead off Wilson in the second inning when Smoak singled and scored all the way from first base on a double off the wall in right-center by Adam Moore.
Greg Halman later got his first big-league hit, a double to left field, scoring Moore with the second run.