His right arm extended, Jesse Winker held his bat high over his head as he leaned back and admired his deep drive toward the right-field foul pole.
Would it stay fair?
In what has been a disappointing first season in Seattle, Winker gave an emphatic answer Sunday afternoon with a third-inning grand slam off Angels left-hander Tucker Davidson that helped the Mariners salvage a series split with a 6-3 victory before a crowd of 34,837 at T-Mobile Park.
Could that portend a long-awaited breakthrough for Winker?
“That,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said, “would be pretty interesting, wouldn’t it?”
That’s the Mariners’ hope, anyway, as Winker continued his productive start in August. In seven games since July 31, the left-handed-hitting left fielder has six hits in 20 at-bats, with three home runs, eight RBIs, nine walks and three strikeouts.
The M’s lineup is starting to get healthier, and at just the right time. The Mariners (59-51) moved back into a tie with Tampa Bay for the second wild-card berth, and the Yankees arrive in town Monday for the start of a three-game series.
All-Star Ty France returned Friday after sitting out the Yankees series in New York last week because of a sore wrist. Mitch Haniger was back Saturday night for the first time in more than three months. And rookie sensation Julio Rodriguez (hand contusion) is on track to return by the end of this week.
Winker’s return to his 2021 All-Star form with Cincinnati – or something even close to it – would be a boon for an M’s lineup that ranks 10th in the American League in runs scored.
Overall, Winker is hitting .230 with a .714 OPS in 101 games. But he’s been hot to open August with six hits in 20 at-bats in seven games since. He has three home runs, eight RBIs, nine walks and three strikeouts with an OPS of 1.267 during that stretch.
Does he feel like he’s finally turned a corner?
“Early on, I may have been maybe trying to force the issue a little bit,” Winker said. “This was the first time I was traded. Not that that’s an excuse, but it was the first time I got traded and had an expectation – on myself. …
“Now it’s just baseball. And it’s being a part of a winning atmosphere and a winning culture that all the guys that have been here have set. So when you come into something like that, I think early on you just really want to show why you were acquired, right? And once I got through that, now it’s just playing – trying to just play winning baseball and do what you can to help the team win.”
On a 2-0 count, Winker turned on Davidson’s 92 mph fastball in the third inning. His left hand had came off the bat as he finished this swing, and the ball sailed just inside the right-field pole to give the Mariners a 5-0 lead. France, Haniger and Eugenio Suarez scored on the grand slam, the third of Winker’s career (and first as a Mariner).
“I had a feeling it was gonna stay fair,” Winker said. “I’ve had a few go foul – actually a lot go foul up until this point. But I had a good feeling about that one.”
It was Winker’s 11th home run of the season and fifth against a left-handed pitcher. It was Winker, remember, who was at the center of the Mariners-Angels brawl in Anaheim on June 26.
A day after a tiring doubleheader – in which the Mariners managed to score just three total runs in a Saturday split – Servais encouraged Winker before Sunday’s game to turn his “energy” up to full blast.
“The thing about Wink is, he’s a talker,” Servais said. “He likes to get everybody going, and you need that on days like today. I talked to him about it a little bit before the game like, ‘I need your energy today. Go ahead and talk smack; get your teammates fired up.’ And he was. As soon as you give him the key he takes it and runs with it. And then he backed it up with a big swing and the ball game.”
The Mariners got a quality start from left-hander Marco Gonzales, who allowed three runs on eight hits in six innings. He walked one and struck out seven.
On two occasions, Gonzales had to have his left foot checked by the team trainer. During a play at the plate – a 7-5-2 relay to throw out Phil Gosselin at home – Gonzales was backing up the plate when he collided with Angels star Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani had a noticeable limp the rest of the game.
“I had turned around and started backpedaling to watch the play … and I just stepped on his foot,” Gonzales said. “I felt bad. I crushed his foot. Luckily, I didn’t roll my ankle too bad.”
A couple innings later, Jo Adell hit a 106-mph comebacker that ricocheted off Gonzales’ left foot. Gonzales stayed in the game.
“Marco is tough,” Servais said. “That’s the best way to put it.”
Suarez doubled to drive in Adam Frazier for the Mariners’ first run in the first inning.
Sam Haggerty drove in Suarez with a two-out double in the fifth, but Winker missed a stop sign at third base and was thrown out on a relay throw at home to end the inning.
Andres Munoz, Penn Murfee and Paul Sewald were perfect out of the bullpen to close things out over the final three innings. Sewald earned his 14th save of the season.
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