Ain’t It Grand: Saunders Slams Mariners Past Blue Jays 9-5

Here’s hoping this becomes a familiar sight for Seattle fans. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

It’s difficult to describe the feeling of euphoria that followed tonight’s roller coaster win. Thrilling? Of course. Satisfying? Undoubtedly. Orgasmic? Hopefully not…

After looking like the ’27 Yankees in a three game sweep of the Detroit Tigers, the Mariners offense was stymied by Toronto lefty Ricky Romero, failing to record a hit through the game’s first five innings. Here we go again…

It was looking more and more like the last series was an aberration, and Seattle was back to hitting like the team that suffered a perfect game at the hands of the indomitable Philip Humber less than a week earlier. Philip. Humber.

Toronto went ahead 3-1 in the fourth on a double from the perpetually disappointing Colby Rasmus, and with Romero dealing, the game seemed all but over. Oh well…

Then the seventh inning rolled around and the Mariners managed to pull things even on a Jesus Montero home run and a Casper Wells RBI double; maybe Seattle wasn’t going to roll over after all. With top reliever Tom Wilhemsen entering the game in the eighth, the thought of victory crept back into the minds of Mariners fans.

Oh how quickly it would be snatched away. Eric Thames jumped on a Wilhelmsen fastball and deposited the go-ahead run over the centerfield wall. As if the indignity of losing the lead wasn’t enough, the Blue Jays tacked on an insurance run on a sac fly after Wilhelmsen’s throwing error allowed Brett Lawrie to advance to third. There’s always tomorrow

Heading to the ninth, the bottom of the Mariners order was due up, and expectations were understandably low. Seattle had already come back once in the game and this wasn’t exactly an offense built to do it again. Alex Liddi flied out to start the inning, bringing Michael Saunders, who was 0-2 in the game, to the plate. On the ninth pitch of his at-bat against Francisco Cordero, Saunders got a hanging fastball over the plate and tattooed it, sending a rocket off the facade in dead-center field (an estimated distance of 452 feet) for his second home run of the year. The Mariners might not win the game, but seeing one of the M’s young players hit one out is an encouraging sign, so it wasn’t a total loss. That’s life as a Mariners fan.

True to form, Miguel Olivo popped out to shortstop, leaving the Mariners just one out away from defeat. Pinch-hitter Kyle Seager swung at the first pitch he saw from Cordero, hitting a lazy ground ball to Lawrie at third base. Time to flip over to the NFL Draft…

Only the game didn’t end on that lazy ground ball. Lawrie’s throw to first skipped well short of the dirt, and first baseman Adam Lind wasn’t able to pick it; Seager was safe and the Mariners were given a second chance. Would they take advantage of it?

Pinch-runner Munenori Kawasaki got all the way to third on an errant and ill-advised pick off attempt from catcher J.P. Arencibia, and suddenly the tying run was only 90 feet away. Toronto intentionally walked Dustin Ackley to put runners and first and third, and pinch-hitter John Jaso came to the plate with the chance to play hero once again. He was this close.

Jaso lashed a line drive into centerfield that landed just in front of a diving Rasmus. Normally a ball hitting the artificial turf would have ricocheted past Rasmus and gone all the way to the wall allowing the Mariners to take the lead, but the Blue Jays outfielder caught a break when the ball hit his non-gloved hand and stayed within reach. Kawasaki had already scored and the speedy Ackley was close behind, but not close enough, as a strong relay throw from Kelly Johnson cut down Ackley at the plate and kept the game tied. The Mariners had caught their break and come within a few inches of taking the lead. At least they made things interesting…

Seattle held Toronto off the board in the bottom of the 9th, and with the heart of the order due up in the 10th,  the Mariners had another chance to grab control of a game that had so many times felt out of reach. Ichiro lead off the inning with a ground out, but Smoak, Montero, and Liddi singled to load the bases with one out for Saunders (who came into the game 0-11 in his career with the bases loaded). Standing on the mound for the Blue Jays was reliever Luis Perez, who had yet to allow a run on the season and had struck out nearly 50% of the left-handed hitters he had faced. The odds were not stacked in Saunders favor. All we need is a flyball…

Perez quickly ran the count to 1-2, and M’s fans braced themselves for the impending check swing strike three from Saunders that had left them shaking their heads in disgust and pity so many times before. Perez, sensing blood in the water, went with a breaking ball on the inner third of the plate, a pitch that had flummoxed Saunders countless times in the past. The ball seemed destined to find the catchers glove just as Seager’s ground ball in the ninth seemed destined to end the game…only it didn’t.

This happened instead.

It certainly wasn’t the longest or most impressive home run of Saunders career, but is there any doubt that it was the most important? A go-ahead grand slam off a lefty in his native country? Was such an occurrence even fathomable a year ago?  Two months ago? A week ago?

With a baseball season stretching over 162 games, tonight’s game accounted for a mere 0.006 percent of the Mariners year. But you can’t tell me this game didn’t matter more than that to Mariners fans, or especially to Saunders, who went through so much on and off the field last year.

Don’t lose this game in the shuffle of the next 140 games. This was truly something special. Remember it. Treasure it. Mark it as the day Saunders silenced his critics and finally blossomed into the ballplayer who we all imagined he would be.

My Oh My!

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One Response

  1. Solid recap! Let’s hope he’s able to get a bit more consistent going forward and stopping striking out so dang much!

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