Miller leads hot-hitting Mariners over Astros, 10-7

Staff writerJuly 19, 2013 

— So this Brad Miller kid, he’s kind of good.

The Mariners rookie shortstop, who has looked like a rookie only in his baby-faced appearance, came out of the All-Star break much like he went into it — playing like he belongs at the big league level.

Miller blasted the first two home runs of his career, drove in five runs and collected another hit to help the Mariners outlast the Houston Astros, 10-7, on Friday at Minute Maid Park.

Since he was called up on June 28, the bright lights of the big leagues have never seemed too bright for Miller.

“It’s his persona,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “It’s why I kept him in camp the whole time. I wanted to see him. He handles everything at the same pace, which says a lot when it comes to this game.

“You talk about the game speeding up — he does a good job keeping it out in front of him.”

On a night filled with plenty of hits, base runners, runs and even a player hitting for the cycle, Miller still managed to stand out.

It started with the first pitch of the game. Miller scalded a fastball from Astros starter Bud Norris into center field for crisp single.

“That felt good after the couple-day break, getting up there and swinging it,” Miller said.

It was a sign of things to come. And it would feel even better later.

With two outs in the sixth inning, Mike Zunino on first base, and the Mariners clinging to a 4-2 lead, Miller worked the count to 2-0 against Norris. Miller was looking for a fastball, got it and destroyed it, depositing the ball into the upper deck in right field for his first big league home run. It traveled an estimated 410 feet.

“I was just looking for anything to hit hard. I didn’t like the first two pitches,” Miller said. “He threw one in there, and it felt pretty good — well, it felt really good. It felt pure. And I kind of blacked out there for a little bit.”

The two-run blast gave the Mariners a 6-2 lead.

“He has power — he has considerable power,” Wedge said. “I’m just talking (about) the ball off the bat, the way it jumps. He’s going to be a hitter first, but he’ll hit a few home runs.”

The second home run wasn’t quite as majestic, but it was well-earned.

With the Mariners up 6-3 in the eighth, the Astros brought in Josh Fields to pitch in relief.

Fields was the Mariners’ first-round pick in the 2008 draft. After some subpar years in the minor leagues, he was traded to the Red Sox as part of the trade that sent Erik Bedard — who will start for Houston on Saturday — to Boston. Fields was acquired by the Astros in the offseason with a first-round pick in the Rule 5 draft.

Fields quickly got into trouble by walking Zunino and Dustin Ackley. Miller worked the count to 3-2 and was able to muscle a fastball over the right field wall — and the outstretched glove of Justin Maxwell — for a three-run homer.

“I was just trying to stay alive,” Miller said. “It was a 3-2 count, and he was throwing me everything, and I was just trying to battle. I didn’t see it originally off the bat. And then I saw Maxwell turn. And he’s like 7 feet tall, he’s about to do something. He was sizing up the wall. And I was like, ‘Just go, just push.’ And luckily, it was just out of his reach.”

The three-run homer pushed the lead to 9-3, and the Mariners needed almost all of those runs.

The Seattle bullpen, which has been anything but stable this season, gave three runs right back as Danny Farquhar and Oliver Perez couldn’t hold down the Astros.

Farquhar walked Maxwell, then gave up a double to a hustling Brandon Barnes. The double completed a cycle for Barnes, who had homered and tripled off Joe Saunders and singled off Yoervis Medina. Barnes is the first Astros player to hit for the cycle since Luke Scott did it on July 28, 2006.

After an RBI groundout, Wedge brought in Perez, a left-hander, to face the lefty-swinging Brett Wallace. Perez has been the Mariners’ best and most consistent reliever this season, but he wasn’t on this night. He hung an 0-2 slider that Wallace ripped into the stands in right-center field for a two-run homer that made it 9-6.

The Astros weren’t finished threatening. Jose Altuve hit a two-out triple to center on a ball that was misjudged by Ackley, and Perez walked Jason Castro to put runners at first and third with two outs.

Wedge then called on closer Tom Wilhelmsen to get the final out of the eighth. That final out would be big slugger Chris Carter, who had helped knock Wilhelmsen out of his role as closer with a double during a blown save in June.

But Wilhelmsen won the battle, this time, getting Carter to ground into a force out to end the inning.

“I guess I was trying to keep the ball on the outside part of the plate,” Wilhelmsen said. “The fastball particularly. I only showed him one. I had a pretty good feel for the curveball today, so (Zunino called for it), and I threw it.”

In the top of the ninth, Justin Smoak hit a solo home run — his ninth homer of the season — that provided the Mariners with a key insurance run.

In the bottom of the inning, Wilhelmsen gave up a two-out single to Barnes – his fifth hit of the night — and Barnes scored on Matt Dominguez’s single to center. But Wilhelmsen notched his 20th save by getting Wallace to ground out to first base to end the game.

Joe Saunders (9-8) got the win, pitching 5 1/3 innings, giving up three runs on nine hits with three walks and six strikeouts.

ryan.divish@thenewstribune.com
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