BALTIMORE – Michael Saunders made sure everyone could breathe a little easier.
After what’s transpired on this road trip and for much of the season, a four-run lead far was from safe, but it was certainly better than the alternative – a two-run lead going into the bottom of the ninth.
Saunders hit his second home run of the game – a two-run blast – in the top of the ninth inning to give the Mariners’ wounded psyche some much-needed reinforcement and Danny Farquhar got his first big league save to secure an 8-4 win over the Orioles on Saturday at Camden Yards.
So that home run from Saunders, it was kind of big for the Mariners’ mindset?
“Huge, bigger than big, just huge,” acting manager Robby Thompson said.
Farquhar came on the in the eighth inning to pitch the Mariners out of a minor jam with two outs. With runners on first and second, the dangerous Adam Jones at the plate and the Mariners hanging on to a 6-4 lead, Farquhar got him to pop out to center to end the threat.
In the top of the ninth, Justin Smoak reached base for the fifth time in the night, doubling to right off Darren O’Day. With a 1-2 count, Saunders stayed on a sinker and drove it over the wall in left field.
“It was awesome,” Smoak said. “I was excited he hit it over the fence so I didn’t have to run hard to home plate. We knew going into the top of the ninth, we needed to get at least one more and to get two there, it was big for us.”
It was big for Farquhar, who was going to pitch the ninth in a situation he hadn’t been in as a big leaguer.
Nothing about the ninth inning has been easy for the Mariners bullpen for much of this season, but Farquhar made it look that way. The diminutive right-hander with the big fastball struck out Matt Wieters and Henry Urrutia and got Jones to line out to end the game. Because of the out in the eighth, Farquhar was credited with his first save. It came complete with the customary beer shower postgame.
“It was a big deal to me,” Farquhar said of his save. “I was really excited about the beer shower. I’ve done a ton of them in the three months I’ve been here. I just wanted to get a stupid beer shower. And I got it.”
For a good chunk of the season, hitting wasn’t much fun for Saunders. After a solid start was sidetracked by a stint on the disabled list, Saunders sunk into a cavernous slump. He hit a combined .203 for May and June with 53 strikeouts. There was talk he would be sent to Triple A to figure it out. Instead, he had to do it at the big league level.
“I know I’ve dug myself quite a hole early in the season,” he said. “But I feel like I’ve been working myself out of it.”
• Boxscore, Page C8