SEATTLE – Waiting for Justin Smoak to show off his bat power has become a seasonlong preoccupation for a Mariners team needing offense on nights like these.
And for a rare occasion, Smoak delivered multiple extra-base hits for the Mariners on Saturday night in a game in which neither team was pushing many runs across. Smoak hit a tying home run in the seventh inning, then watched John Jaso deliver a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the ninth for a 3-2 walkoff win over the visiting Minnesota Twins.
This fourth consecutive win by the Mariners, in front of 21,154 fans at Safeco Field, saw Smoak deliver multiple extra-base hits for only the second time all season. The only time he’d managed that feat before came at Texas on May 30 in a 21-8 rout by Seattle in which he hit two home runs and also doubled.
This time, he doubled in the fifth, then came through big with the tying shot in the seventh. The Mariners pushed the winning run across in the ninth after Michael Saunders had opened the inning with a single off Tyler Robertson.
Brendan Ryan tried to bunt Saunders to second, and first baseman Justin Morneau was a little too casual in picking the ball up. Morneau threw late to first, everybody was safe, and then a walk to Dustin Ackley loaded the bases.
The Twins brought Casey Fien in to face pinch-hitter Jaso, who worked the count full, then drove a ball to left field. Saunders easily beat the throw and the Mariners had their 11th win at home in the last 12 tries.
Minnesota had a chance to take the lead in the top of the ninth, loading the bases with two out on a single and two walks. But Mariners closer Tom Wilhelmsen came on and got the dangerous Josh Willingham to fly out to right field to end the frame.
Jason Vargas was coming off another strong outing against the Angels in Anaheim, Calif., and had the benefit of an extra day’s rest. He wasn’t overpowering, striking out only two batters over 6-2/3 innings of work, but overcame some early problems and was tied 1-1 heading into the seventh.
But Vargas saw three of the first four hitters line singles to left field that frame to load the bases with one out. Joe Mauer came up next and grounded into a fielder’s choice in which the Mariners got the out at second but could not complete the double play, allowing the go-ahead run to score.
Vargas exited at that point, his pitch count at 113. Josh Kinney came on and ended the inning with a ground out.
But Smoak quickly tied it up in the bottom of the inning, getting all of a Scott Diamond offering with the count full and putting the ball over the wall in left center.
The solo homer was the first long ball for Smoak since July 17 in Kansas City, a monthlong drought that saw him dispatched to Triple-A to work on his swing.
Ackley had three hits on the night.