April 27, 2012 in Sports

Saunders’ slam wins it for Mariners

Associated Press
Frank Gunn photo

Seattle Mariners’ Michael Saunders, right, celebrates his game-winning grand slam with teammate Jesus Montero in the 10th inning of a baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto on Friday, April 27, 2012.
(Full-size photo)

TORONTO – A winter spent working on adjustments, both mental and mechanical, is starting to pay off for Seattle outfielder Michael Saunders.

Saunders hit two home runs, including a grand slam in the 10th inning, and the Mariners rallied to beat the Toronto Blue Jays 9-5 on Friday night, extending their winning streak to a season-high four games.

“He’s a completely different hitter this year,” Seattle manager Eric Wedge said of Saunders. “It’s to his credit with the work he did this winter and how he came in and made this ballclub this spring. He’s always been a complete ballplayer, but the hitting had always been a little bit short. This year it hasn’t been.”

After struggling at the plate in 2011, hitting just .149 in 58 games, Saunders decided to work with a private hitting coach over the winter to retool his swing and his attitude.

“I was all ears,” Saunders said. “I was desperate at that point.”

Now those long hours of offseason effort are bearing fruit: Friday was Saunders’ first multihomer game of the year and his fourth multihit game in the past five.

“I still have a long way to go, but I’m seeing results and I’m feeling a lot more comfortable in the box,” he said.

Saunders started a two-run rally in the ninth with a shot to center, then hit the tiebreaking homer to right off Luis Perez (2-1) in the 10th, his first career slam and third homer of the season.

Charlie Furbush (2-1) got two outs for the win and Jesus Montero also homered for the Mariners, who had lost eight of their past nine games in Toronto.

Edwin Encarnacion and Eric Thames hit solo homers for the Blue Jays, undone by three errors  as their losing streak reached four games.

Trailing 5-3 to begin the ninth, the Mariners cut it to one when Saunders connected off Francisco Cordero. Clinging to the lead, Toronto was twice let down by its defense. M’s pinch hitter Kyle Seager reached on a throwing error by Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie, and pinch runner Munenori Kawasaki went to third on catcher J.P. Arencibia’s errant pickoff throw that ended up in right field.

Blue Jays manager John Farrell didn’t think much of Arencibia’s throw.

“I thought J.P. tried to force some things defensively,” Farrell said. “Errors are going to be made, but when you can make a decision to prevent that, that’s where we’ve got to be a little bit smarter.”

Arencibia wasn’t questioning his decision.

“I don’t play scared, I play aggressive,” he said. “It’s a high-risk play, but I’d do it again.”

Dustin Ackley was intentionally walked to bring up pinch hitter John Jaso, who tied it with a single that dropped just in front of a diving Colby Rasmus in center. With Toronto slow to react to the loose ball, Ackley tried to score from first but was thrown out at the plate.

The blown save, Toronto’s fifth in nine chances this season, canceled a two-run Blue Jays rally in the eighth. Thames broke a 3-3 tie with a homer to center, his second. Lawrie singled and went to third on a throwing error by pitcher Tom Wilhelmsen before scoring on Arencibia’s sacrifice fly.

Mariners starter Blake Beavan, who was on the losing end of Phil Humber’s perfect game last week, saw Ricky Romero hold Seattle hitless through five innings in this one, although the visitors scraped out a run in the third thanks to a pair of walks and a fielding error by Lawrie.

Beavan gave up three runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings.

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