EVERETT – The fans flocked to Everett Memorial Stadium on Saturday to catch a glimpse of what they hope is a light at the end of the Seattle Mariners’ tunnel.
And Mike Zunino provided a ray of hope.
The Mariners’ first-round pick from this year’s amateur draft made his professional debut Saturday catching the first game of Everett’s doubleheader against the Tri-City Dust Devils, and Zunino played an integral role in the AquaSox’s 6-3 victory in game one.
“It was fun,” Zunino said following his debut. “It was great to have the crowd support and it was nice to go out there and just get behind the plate. It was nice to start off with a hit in my first at bat. It’s just all go from here, and I’m just ready to help the team out.”
“It was good,” Everett manager Rob Mummau said of Zunino’s debut. “He did a really good job behind the plate. He looked real comfortable and received the ball well, especially that low pitch. He really kept the game moving. Then offensively he got a double his first time up. I thought he looked good.”
Zunino sat out the second game of the doubleheader, which Everett won 5-1 to run its winning streak to six. The Sox (22-7) go for the five-game series sweep against the Dust Devils (13-16) this afternoon, despite Tri-City scoring first in each game of the series so far.
There was a festival atmosphere in the stands in anticipation of seeing Zunino, selected third overall out of the University of Florida in June. Especially after Zunino’s originally scheduled debut was washed out Friday. He was heartily cheered every time he was announced, whether it was during the pregame lineup or when he came to bat.
Despite the atmosphere, Zunino claimed no nerves for his pro debut.
“It’s baseball to me,” Zunino said. “You have to sort of put everything in the back of your mind, the crowd and everything else. We went out there trying to win, and all I’m trying to do is help the team out.”
Zunino got his career at the plate started with a bang. Coming to bat for the first time in the bottom of the second inning, he was green-lighted 3-0 and lashed a fastball down the first-base line past a diving Miguel De Leon for a stand-up double. He later scored Everett’s first run of the game when he was forced home on Mike Faulkner’s bases-loaded walk, cutting the AquaSox’s deficit to 2-1.
“(Mummau) told me to be aggressive,” Zunino said of the 3-0 swing. “I got a fastball away, and I honestly didn’t try to do too much with it. That was my biggest thing today, not trying to do too much, and I was able to get one down the line there.”
In the third, Zunino walked on a 3-2 pitch and scored on David Villasuso’s three-run homer, which snapped a tie at 2 tie and proved to be the difference. Then in the fifth, Zunino rolled a 1-1 pitch to third for a groundout. He finished the game 1-for-2 with two runs scored.
Zunino was also behind the plate as Sox pitcher Dylan Unsworth threw a gem. Unsworth, a 19-year-old right-hander from South Africa, allowed two runs in the top of the first inning. He was nearly perfect after that, retiring 16 of the final 17 batters he faced. Displaying great command of his offspeed pitches, Unsworth struck out nine in his six innings, seven of those looking. He allowed five hits and walked none.
“He was on,” Zunino said of Unsworth. “I think I put down a few wrong fingers today in the first inning, went to his offspeed too much. But he settled in great. His change-up was something else, and he had some great movement to his fastball today.”
Taylor Ard and Patrick Kivlehan each went 2-for-4 with a triple in the game for Everett.
Snohomish high school graduate Derek Jones led Tri-City, smacking an RBI single in the first and making a sterling leaping grab against the fence to rob Kivlehan of extra bases in the sixth.
The Sox received another strong start in the second game, this time from Steven Ewing. The lefty had one shaky inning, but was otherwise in complete control. In five innings he allowed just one run on two hits and three walks, striking out six.
The big blow offensively was delivered by Janelfry Zorilla. In the bottom of the second he lined a ball to right-center that just cleared the fence. The three-run homer gave Everett a 3-1 lead that the Sox never relinquished.