SEATTLE – Even Justin Smoak seemed somewhat pleased the Seattle Mariners are going to play a team other than the Oakland Athletics in coming days.
Smoak had no reason to complain, given his home run in Sunday’s series finale and the fact that all but one of his team’s wins have come against the A’s. But it’s been a strange start to the schedule for these Mariners and their 5-3 win over Oakland now gives them a needed day off and chance to contemplate some normalcy in their baseball and off-field lives.
“It’s like every day so far,” Smoak said. “We’ve seen those guys a bunch, they’ve seen us a bunch. It will be good to play somebody else Tuesday.”
Good on multiple levels for a team that got away with a few things against the A’s that better clubs in the game won’t allow. The Mariners won five of seven against Oakland here, in California and in Japan, while dropping three of four to a much better Texas squad that left them zero margin for error.
Gauging where the Mariners are at will be easier once they face the Indians and White Sox this week, then head out on the road to Detroit, Toronto and Tampa Bay.
Still, a 6-5 record with all the travel turmoil of the past three weeks is better than alternatives. A crowd of 19,650 at Safeco Field for Jackie Robinson Day saw the Mariners take an early 3-0 lead on home runs by Smoak and Brendan Ryan before the A’s tied it with one swing on a three-run Eric Sogard blast in the fifth.
But the Mariners regained the lead with two unearned runs in the bottom of the inning and starting pitcher Blake Beavan barely broke a sweat the rest of the way in a solid seven-inning effort. Beavan retired eight of his final nine hitters and had little trouble other than that brief, fifth-inning-patch where he yielded a single, hit a batter, then gave up the homer.
“You’ve just got to have a short-term memory,” Beavan said. “You give up a couple of runs and if you stop going after guys the way you were before that, you end up getting hurt and giving up more runs.
“Once I gave up the home run, I just had to stop the damage right there, keep trying to battle and make pitches.”
And once he did that, the game was pretty much over. The A’s weren’t all that competitive before Sogard’s out-of-the-blue homer and barely had time to enjoy being tied before bumbling the game away
Jemile Weeks flubbed a potential double-play grounder in the fifth, then Ichiro Suzuki hit a go-ahead double to right off starter Graham Godfrey to give Seattle the lead for good. Godfrey later bobbled a Smoak comebacker with one out, preventing him from throwing home and forcing him to take the out at first base as a run scored.
Smoak had been 0 for 11 before going deep.
“It always feels good to hit a homer. I just feel like right now I’m just grinding out every at-bat,” said Smoak, hitting .186 this season. “That just comes with being a switch-hitter. Right now, I feel like I’m grinding it out on both sides of the plate. Normally, it’s one side better than the other.”
Smoak says he’s got to “keep doing the little things” and hope it starts to show. He isn’t the only Mariners regular struggling after this bizarre start to the schedule.
Miguel Olivo has a .111 batting average, Michael Saunders is down to .200 while Dustin Ackley has just a .295 on-base-percentage. Take away Ichiro’s four-hit season opener and he had been batting just .194 the rest of the way before getting two hits.
“A big hit for us right there,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said of Ichiro’s double in the fifth. “He has the ability to drive the ball whenever he wants to. He’s in the middle of the lineup, he’s going to be given an opportunity to drive in runs for us and was able to do that.”
Playing the A’s so often and capitalizing on their blunders has enabled the Mariners to keep a winning record despite minimal production from the No. 3 and 4 spots in the order and the slow start by Ackley at No. 2. But now, after the off-day, the Mariners will finally get into a normal routine and face teams they don’t have such a high degree of familiarity with.
The break comes as Ryan finally seems to be upping his level of play after entering with just a .200 batting average. With the count 2-2 against Godfrey in the second inning, Ryan fouled off three straight pitches before launching the next one – the eighth of the at-bat – over the left-field wall with a runner on.
Ryan confessed to reporters that he wasn’t even aware there was an off-day Monday.
“I’ve got to get stuff for the condo,” he quipped.