SEATTLE - One of the dominant themes of the second half for these Seattle Mariners will be any signs of progress made by younger players who can contribute to future winning seasons.
And while the past trip saw Nick Franklin and Brad Miller continue to impress, improvements by a couple of more “veteran” talents in Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders could be more telling down the road.
Smoak and Saunders each had a pair of doubles and five hits between them Monday night to pace a 15-hit attack in an 11-4 rout of the Boston Red Sox at Safeco Field.
Raul Ibanez added his 22nd home run of the season and helped chase Jon Lester by the sixth inning of his expected mound duel with Mariners ace Felix Hernandez. A crowd of 21,830 saw the Mariners score five runs off Lester in five-plus innings, then pile it on later against the Boston bullpen.
Smoak finished with three hits, two coming with runners in scoring position – something he’d discussed needing to improve upon. Saunders hadn’t had two extra-base hits in a game since May 15, but came through in some key situations to help Hernandez to a comfortable lead in what had been a 2-2 game in the fifth inning.
Hernandez (9-4) pitched seven innings, allowing just two runs while striking out six. He left with his team up 10-2 before Oliver Perez replaced him to start the eighth and gave up a pair of runs.
The Mariners were mired in an 0-for-25 slump with runners in scoring position when Smoak stepped to the plate in the fourth and lined a double to the left-field corner off Lester to get the Mariners on the board. An encouraging factor for Smoak, a switch hitter, was that the hit came from the right side, where he has been much weaker this season than from the left.
Moments later, Lester walked Mike Zunino to load the bases, then issued another free pass to Saunders to force home a second Seattle run.
Boston scored a pair right away off Hernandez, but then Ibanez stepped to the plate and launched his 22nd home run, a shot over the right-field wall to put Seattle back on top, 3-2.
Hernandez settled down from there and the Mariners put things away in the sixth with three more runs, two on a Saunders double off the center-field wall.
Smoak had gotten the inning started with an infield single and an ensuing hit by Zunino chased Lester. The Red Sox brought in relief pitcher Alex Wilson to face Saunders, who unloaded on an offering and nearly hit it over the fence.
Red Sox outfielder Daniel Nava – making his first major-league start in center and with just 13 minor-league outings at that spot – got all tangled up playing the ball, then made a poor throw. The ball bounced away from the cutoff man and enabled Zunino to score as well.
Moments later, Saunders alertly took third base on a groundout to the right side. He was still there when Ibanez lined a pitch into center field to put the Mariners ahead 6-2.