ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Mariners rookie Brad Miller figured the big memory of his homecoming night would be his pregame chance to reunite here with dozens of well-wishers from his hometown.
That would prove one huge miscalculation once the native of the Orlando, Fla., suburb of Windemere drilled the third pitch of Tuesday night’s game over the wall in right-center field.
His section of family and friends had barely calmed down after that when Miller hit another homer in the fifth inning of what became a 5-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Dustin Ackley brought home the tiebreaking run with a sixth-inning triple, providing the storybook conclusion for a night Miller could not have dreamed up any better.
“It was awesome,’’ he said. “Just before the game, getting to see every coach I’ve ever had since I was like, 5. My best friends and my parents. And then to go out there and get things going and finish it off with a win, that was perfect. It was a lot of fun.’’
Miller nearly clubbed a third homer before Wil Myers ran down his eighth-inning drive to the warning track in left-center.
Danny Farquhar closed out the ninth inning for his fifth save, enabling Erasmo Ramirez to improve to 4-0 while handing the Rays a sixth straight defeat.
It took several additional minutes for Miller to leave the field postgame. He chatted with a remaining crowd of well-wishers he estimated at between 40 and 60 people.
Their noise was easily heard above the Tropicana Field crowd of 13,294 when Miller took Rays rookie starter Chris Archer deep to lead off the game.
Some would succumb to the pressure of playing in front of such a crowd, but Miller said it never crossed his mind.
“I mean, it’s just so cool,’’ he said. “Having my family and everybody there just supporting me. I wanted to go out there and have fun and just keep playing the way they’ve seen me play.’’
And that he did. So did leadoff counterpart Ben Zobrist of the Rays, who matched Miller’s effort with two home runs off Ramirez to help set some baseball history.
It was only the third time – the others being in 1994 and 1965 – that two leadoff hitters had hit multiple homers in the same game.
Their first-inning blasts also marked the first time since Aug. 17, 2006 that opposing hitters in an American League game had clubbed leadoff homers.
Miller, interestingly enough, had made the two-hour drive here from Windemere with his father back on Aug. 6, 2006 and watched from the stands as Zobrist hit his first career homer, against the Red Sox. Zobrist’s first shot off Ramirez on Tuesday was the 100th of his career.
“I just remembered he came up as a left-handed hitting shortstop and I said, ‘Hey, I’ll remember that guy’,’’ Miller said. “And he hit a home run.’’
As for his own leadoff homer, Miller said he was “flying around the bases’’ with excitement.
But Zobrist’s second homer off Ramirez tied the game 4-4. It took Ackley’s first triple of the season – part of a three-hit night – to bring home Justin Smoak from first base and restore Seattle’s advantage.
“I was kind of scared after I got around second,’’ Ackley joked of the slow-moving Smoak. “He kind of slowed up there a little bit and I was like, ‘Hopefully, he goes home, because I’m going to third no matter what.’ ’’
Ackley had only 17 at-bats this month before Tuesday’s game.
He said he focused on having good batting practice daily in order to keep the timing of his swing from faltering.
Ramirez left with the one-run lead and a runner on with one out in the sixth.
Reliever Oliver Perez yielded a single that put two on, but then notched a pair of strikeouts to carry the game to the seventh.
Danny Farquhar struck out his first two hitters in the ninth before a fly out ended the game.
He said his confidence level has been building since even before he assumed the closer’s role from Tom Wilhelmsen nearly two weeks ago.
“I would say my confidence really started getting going when I threw against the Twins way back,’’ he said of some shutout frames in a 13-inning loss on July 26. “I was throwing the ball real well there.’’
Interim Mariners manager Robby Thompson has gained quite a bit of confidence in Farquhar.
“We went to him with the hot arm and he has continued to do so,’’ he said. “We will continue to go to him in that inning right now. He has proven that he’s the guy right now and we’ll stick with him.’’
But on this night, Miller truly was “The Guy’’ for his team.
“It’s a great feeling,’’ Thompson said. “I remember that many years ago. It looked like there was quite a few Miller fans. You couldn’t see them, but you could hear them. It was a good experience for these (young) guys once again.’’