OAKLAND, Calif. – Justin Smoak could not have picked a better time to break out of his worst slump of the season.
His seventh-inning double to the right-field corner Monday afternoon put Seattle ahead for good in a 2-1 win over the Oakland Athletics and helped Smoak’s offensively challenged team end quite a slump of its own. This comeback victory to support more stellar pitching by Michael Pineda gave the Mariners consecutive wins for the first time in more than a month.
And that kept the Mariners within striking distance of first place as they began a crucial seven-game trip that could very well determine their 2011 season.
“I haven’t felt terribly bad, I just haven’t been on the fastball,” said Smoak, in a 1-for-32 slump before a pair of late hits.
And a fastball is exactly what A’s starter Brandon McCarthy opted to throw Smoak at the same time Brendan Ryan took off from first base looking to make something happen. That fastball happened to be right down the middle – one of the few mistakes McCarthy made – and Smoak didn’t miss.
“It was good,” Smoak said. “Especially with Brendan on first and him taking off right there and me hitting that ball down the line. I was able to get that run across.”
A run that was all the Mariners needed against a team almost as bad at scoring as they are. Seattle entered this Fourth of July contest, played in front of 15,566 fans at the Coliseum, with the lowest-scoring offense in baseball and Oakland came in at third-worst.
And things looked bleak indeed as the first nine Mariners hitters failed to reach base. Seattle was held scoreless by McCarthy until Josh Bard turned the tide with two out in the sixth, hitting his first home run since August.
“That was big for us because McCarthy was really throwing the ball well,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “There wasn’t a whole lot happening, so for him to hit the ball out of the ballpark and tie the ballgame up, it gave us a breath of fresh air and we were able to build from there.”
Mariners starter Pineda had already made quick work of his opponents, allowing just two singles through six innings of one-run ball that might have been shutout ball had Adam Kennedy not lost a foul pop-up in the sun at third base. That missed chance for an out in the second inning kept Hideki Matsui alive long enough to notch a leadoff single and score from second on a two-out hit to left by Kurt Suzuki.
Mariners left fielder Carlos Peguero had a shot at Matsui but his throw was offline and enabled Matsui to barely make it in safely. It looked like that run might hold up the way McCarthy – making his first start since May 19 after a stint on the disabled list – kept tying the Mariners in knots.
Aaron Laffey pitched a perfect seventh, David Pauley allowed a single in a scoreless eighth and Brandon League survived a one-out walk in the ninth. That capped the first back-to-back wins by the Mariners since June 2-3 after a month of struggles to generate offense.