DETROIT – Franklin Gutierrez knows he is no longer the same player from the 2009 season, his first with the Mariners. Injuries, illness, multiple trips to the disabled list and a diagnosed arthritic condition have robbed him of that graceful athleticism that tantalized fans with possibility.
But there are moments in his now-limited playing time when his body feels strong and healthy that offers happy, yet sad, reminders of what he once was and could have been.
It happened again Tuesday night in the Mariners’ 11-9 victory over the Tigers – an ugly war of bullpen attrition and failure.
With the Mariners seeming destined to lose their third straight game on what has been a miserable trip to start the second half of the season, manager Lloyd McClendon called on Gutierrez to pinch-hit with two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the eighth and the Mariners trailing 8-7.
“In that situation, I wanted the veteran up there,” McClendon said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen, but you know he’s going to give you a quality at-bat.”
Gutierrez changed the entire game with one simple but powerful swing of the bat, sending a 95 mph fastball from Neftali Feliz over the wall in right field for his second career grand slam.
“As a pinch-hitter, it’s tough when you go up there,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how much you warm up. This guy can throw 96-97. I was looking for his fastball, and I hit it good. As soon I saw the right fielder run back, I knew it was out.”
It was just the second pinch-hit grand slam in Mariners history. The first came off the bat of Ben Broussard on April 21, 2007, against the Angels. Gutierrez’s homer capped a five-run top of the eighth inning against Feliz.
“I know what my role is right now,” Gutierrez said. “I’m going to take advantage when I’m out there. Today was one of those days.”
Of course, the Mariners bullpen being what it has been this season, the 11-8 lead wasn’t certain to hold up.
Fernando Rodney gave up a one-out double to Ian Kinsler and then wild-pitched him to third and home to make it 11-9. After Victor Martinez reached with a two-out single, McClendon had seen enough of Rodney and went to closer Carson Smith, who retired J.D. Martinez with a ground ball.
Smith worked a run-free ninth inning to notch his eighth save of the season. Joe Beimel (1-1) got the win in relief.
It capped an odd game that started with the Mariners scoring four runs in the first inning and then needing to rally in the last three innings.
Seattle rolled up the four runs in the first inning off Tigers starter Shane Greene. Robinson Cano started the flurry, bouncing an RBI single up the middle. Seth Smith followed with an RBI double over the head of Anthony Gose in center. Dustin Ackley added a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0. Brad Miller rounded out the scoring with a single up the middle to drive home Smith.
Starter Taijuan Walker couldn’t make it hold up, posting his shortest outing since May 19, a span of 10 games. Walker worked 4 1/3 innings, giving up six runs (five earned) on seven hits with four strikeouts.
“It was frustrating,” he said. “The offense gave me a huge lead, and I gave it up. I felt pretty good, I just missed with two pitches.”
The Mariners provided some unnecessary help for Detroit on a couple of errors and fielding mistakes that led to an Alex Avila RBI single in the second to make it 4-1.
Nelson Cruz pushed Seattle’s lead to 5-1 in the third inning, crushing a fastball off Greene for his 23rd homer of the season. J.D. Martinez managed to one-up Cruz in the bottom of the third. With two outs, Walker hit Victor Martinez with a pitch, and J.D. Martinez destroyed a 95-mph fastball, sending it over the wall in center and off the camera well about 40 feet behind and above it for a 466-foot homer.
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