SEATTLE – Don’t look now, but one of the hottest teams in baseball resides at Safeco Field.
Ariel Miranda was dominant in a complete game, the offense generated double-digit hits once again and the Seattle Mariners won their seventh in eight games, completing a three-game sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays, 7-1, before an adoring crowd of youngsters (and presumably, their parents) on Little League Day at Safeco on Sunday.
The win lets the club feel good about Monday’s day off, and allowed manager Scott Servais to celebrate the rest of his 50th birthday without any guilt.
“From where we were seven or eight games ago, it says a lot about our team and the makeup of the guys in that room,” Servais said about his suddenly hot club.
It’s the third straight season the Mariners have swept the Rays. The M’s outscored Tampa Bay 28-7 in the three-game set and outhit them 38-19.
The bottom third of the batting order – including Danny Valencia, Jarrod Dyson and Mike Zunino – drove in 24 of 28 runs over the weekend. “The guys at the bottom, we all see the potential that they have,” Servais said. “When they put consistent at-bats together, and literally keep the line moving, it’s a lot of fun to watch.”
Valencia singled in his first two plate appearances and tied a club record by extending his streak of consecutive at-bats with a hit to nine, tying Raul Ibanez’s streak in 2004. Zunino followed Saturday’s grand slam with a 2-for-4 performance, including a bases-loaded, two-run single.
The Mariners picked up right where they left off after Saturday’s offensive explosion. With one down in the first inning, former Rays property Boog Powell smacked a soft liner the opposite way past a lunging Tim Beckham at short. Two batters later, Nelson Cruz tattooed a 2-2 fastball over the 401-foot mark in straight center and into the service area in front of the batter’s eye, estimated at 437 feet, for his 14th home run of the season.
Meanwhile, Miranda (6-2) struck out two in the first and the side in the second to give him five in the first two frames. Overall, the Cuban lefty allowed one run on four hits and one walk, striking out a season-high-tying nine in the first complete game of his major league career.
“Miranda was on top of his game,” Servais said. “Today was really fun to watch. His command in the strike zone, he was really aggressive with the fastball and enough off-speed pitches to keep them honest. He really wanted to finish that ballgame. I’m all in on that.”
Valencia led off the second with a ground ball that sneaked between Evan Longoria at third and Beckham at short, with both diving in vain to keep the ball in the infield. It was his eighth consecutive at-bat with a hit over three games. He was wiped out on a double play though and the inning ended when Dyson struck out.
With one down in the third, Steven Souza, Jr. hit a towering fly ball down the left-field line that was initially ruled to have drifted just foul. A crew chief review was initiated, and after a quick consultation the call was upheld. Television replays showed the ball clearly passing in front of the mesh of the foul pole. Souza eventually struck out looking on a curveball and had a word for home plate umpire Lance Barksdale on his way out of the box.
There was a strange play in the third. With two down and a runner at first, Robinson Cano blistered a ball off the body of first baseman Rickie Weeks Jr. The ball was headed for the corner for extra bases, but hit first base umpire Gerry Davis squarely and fell right back to Weeks, who picked it up and stepped on the bag for the third out.
Powell took extra bases away from Longoria in the fourth the old fashioned way. With one down, Longoria ripped one toward the corner in left, but Powell made a half-slide, half-dive on the track to snare the sinking liner. Miranda then got Beckham to chase a slider for his seventh strikeout of the day.
Valencia tied the club record for consecutive at-bats with a hit at nine in the fourth. With one down and Cruz at first via a single up the middle, Valencia dribbled one to the left side of the infield that Longoria got a hand on – but couldn’t come up with cleanly – and it went in the books as a single. Both runners moved up on a wild pitch, but Taylor Motter swung wildly at a cutter for the second out, then Dyson drew a walk to load the bases for Zunino.
Looking for a grand slam in consecutive games, Zunino worked the count to 2-2, then stayed back on an outside fastball and smacked it through the open hole on the right side for a two-run single to make it 4-0.
Was he thinking about another slam?
“I gave myself the first pitch to really try to drive,” Zunino said. “After that I just tried to shift the field and tried to get a run in any way I could.”
Before Sunday’s game, Servais discussed Zunino’s approach – and positive results – since returning from Triple-A exile.
“He’s not trying to do too much,” Servais explained, sounding part evaluator and part soothsayer. “The hit (on Saturday) that excited us the most was the double to right-center. On top of that ball, (he was) aggressive, not trying to pull the ball out of the ballpark. He just put a good swing on it and that’s the type of things we’re seeing out of him recently that we haven’t always seen before.”
Zunino had three RBIs in his first 31 games this year. He has driven in 11 in last four games and has focused on driving the ball the other way.
“That’s the new approach,” Zunino said. “With what I’ve been working on, that clears out my path to go that way. With two strikes if I have to go that way it’s nice that I have the swing now I can put the ball over in that direction.”
Miranda gave up his first hit of the game in the fifth. With one down, Kevin Keirmaier’s tapper was fielded by Valencia but Miranda couldn’t get to the bag before the speedy outfielder, and he fumbled the exchange to boot. Miranda got Daniel Robertson to foul out to first and Brad Miller lined out to short to avoid any damage.
Miranda then picked up his eighth strikeout, getting Dickerson to swing through a 95 mph fastball, to end a scoreless sixth inning.
“He was focused the whole day,” said Zunino of his starter. “Day games are tough for everybody, especially after a game like last night. But he came out focused, he was ready to go. He had a great bullpen session before the game and it just showed.”
Kyle Seager led off the sixth with a single off the glove of Dickerson in left. Valencia’s base-hit streak then ended at nine when he fouled out to first after taking a couple of strikes he thought were inside. Motter shot one through the hole in the right side of the infield to put runners at the corners, then he stole second. Dyson then put one past a diving Weeks at first, inside the first base bag and down the right field line for a two-run double.
Zunino singled again, this time a soft liner up the middle for his 11th hit in his last six games, to put runners on the corners again, still with one out. Gamel grounded to first and, with Powell batting, Dyson scored on a wild pitch to make it 7-0. Powell then struck out looking.
Miranda picked up his season-high tying ninth strikeout of the game in the seventh, getting Longoria to chase a slider. He lost the shutout in the eighth, when Dyson lost Daniel Robertson’s routine fly ball and it hit him on the shoulder and fell away for a triple. Robertson scored two batters later on a groundout to short. All that was left was an easy, 1-2-3 ninth inning to finish off his dominant performance.
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