Unburdened from the psychological block their hitters routinely experience at cavernous Safeco Field, the Mariners pounded three home runs in a 9-4 win over the Kansas City Royals on a sweltering Monday night at Kauffman Stadium.
Seattle seized its opportunity to run the struggling Jonathan Sanchez (1-6, 7.76 ERA) out of the game early, scoring five first-inning runs on a three-run blast from Casper Wells and Justin Smoak’s two-run line-drive home run into the left field camera well.
Jason Vargas (9-7, 4.09 ERA) kept a potent Royals offense in check with six frames of seven-hit, three-run ball, as the Mariners cushioned their lead in the second, fourth and sixth innings. Manager Eric Wedge struck a rare tone in his post-game press conference after his club produced 11 hits, six of which went for extra bases.
“I loved the way they turned around some fastballs,” he said. “We’ve been talking about it. If you’re going to be a good big-league hitter you got to be able turn around a fastball — not just pull it but meet it where it needs to be met in the hitting zone and drive it. We did that a lot tonight.”
Seattle’s quick start began when Ichiro followed a Dustin Ackley walk with a bloop single. Casper Wells then deposited a Sanchez fastball just over the wall in left center field to give the Mariners a 3-0 lead.
Acquired in an offseason trade from the San Francisco Giants for Melky Cabrera, Sanchez remained wild within the strike zone. Jesus Montero followed the Wells home run by lacing a fastball into left field for a base hit. A smattering of boos from Kansas City fans turned to vicious jeers when Smoak smashed another first-pitch fastball over the fence. It was 5-0 before Sanchez could record an out.
In the second, Wells ripped a hanging off-speed offering for a two-run triple with runners on first and second. Sanchez’s night was over after going just an inning and one-third, yielding seven hits and seven earned runs.
Wells continued his offensive resurgence since being recalled from Triple AAA Tacoma by going 2-for-5 with a career-high five RBIs.
Vargas, meanwhile, kept the Royals off-balance on a night he flirted with the top half of the strike zone. The result was a pair of home runs from Billy Butler and No, 9-hitting catcher Salvador Perez.
“Vargas wasn’t at his best tonight but he really battled,” Wedge said. “It was one of the hottest days we’ve had and he didn’t give into it. He was up a little bit in the zone, they were getting to him a little bit, but he controlled damage. What was even more impressive in the last two innings was that he was able to fix it.”
Ackley, Ichiro and Montero all snapped out of July swoons with two hits each. The second baseman crushed an opposite-field home run to left center in the sixth to give the Mariners a 9-3 lead. After witnessing Ackley and Smoak have impressive nights, Wedge sounded optimistic that his underachieving young hitters are ready to finally break out of a season-long slump.
“They’re both working on different things,” he said, “but when you talk about what they’re bringing to the game it is starting to happen a little bit.”