SEATTLE — Waiting for Justin Smoak to show off his batting power has become a season-long preoccupation for a Mariners team needing offense on nights like these.
And power was something that came in handy for the Mariners in a game that saw both teams pile up the hits but struggle to push runs across. Smoak took care of that issue on one swing with a tying solo home run in the seventh inning, then watched John Jaso deliver a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the ninth for a 3-2 walkoff win over the visiting Minnesota Twins.
This fourth consecutive win by the Mariners, in front of 21,154 fans at Safeco Field, saw Smoak deliver multiple extra-base hits for only the second time all season. The only time he’d managed that feat before came at Texas back on May 30 in a 21-8 rout by Seattle in which he hit two home runs and also doubled.
“I’ve been here the majority of the year, but it’s just a matter of having confidence up there,” said Smoak, who also doubled in the fifth inning. “I feel like I’m there right now. I’ve just got to stick with what I’ve been doing and stay confident from there.”
The Mariners pushed the winning run across in the ninth after Michael Saunders had opened the inning with a single off relief pitcher Tyler Robertson.
Brendan Ryan tried to bunt Saunders to second and first baseman Justin Morneau was a little too casual in picking the ball up. Morneau threw late to first, everybody was safe, and then a walk to Dustin Ackley loaded the bases with no outs.
“That was a gift,” Ryan said of Morneau’s botch, the second time this homestand an opposing player has mishandled a bunt in the ninth.
The Twins brought Casey Fien in to face pinch-hitter Jaso, who worked the count full, then drove a ball to left field. Saunders easily beat the throw and the Mariners had their 11th win at home in the last 12 tries.
“It’s nice to win a close game,” Ryan said. “As a young team, we should be learning how to win these games.”
Minnesota had a chance to take the lead in the top of the ninth, loading the bases with two outs on a single and two walks. But Mariners closer Tom Wilhelmsen came on and got the dangerous Josh Willingham to fly out to right field to end the frame.
“I knew he was going to come in hacking,” Wilhelmsen said. “They were — even yesterday, he was looking for a fastball, swinging on a fastball. So, I figured I’d start him off with a curveball and sure enough, he hacked. Both pitches. Just got under that fastball a bit and it was enough to get the third out.”