ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There was plenty of intrigue Tuesday as the Seattle Mariners beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 5-4, at Tropicana Field.
And there was plenty more in the game-within-a-game between Mariners’ leadoff hitter Brad Miller and Rays’ leadoff man Ben Zobrist.
Each homered in the first inning, and each homered again later. That is far rarer than you might think, as will be explained in a moment.
However, in the end it was Miller – who grew up in nearby Orlando – who got the win and the happy homecoming. Meanwhile, the Rays (66-51) suffered their sixth consecutive defeat.
“Good ballgame,” Mariners acting manager Robby Thompson said. “Great ballgame by Brad. … He swung the bat very well tonight, as most of the guys did.”
When Miller and Zobrist each homered in the first inning, it marked the first American League game in which both teams had a leadoff home run since Aug. 17, 2006 — when it happened twice on the same day.
When each homered again later, it marked only the third time in major league history that both leadoff hitters had multiple home runs in the same game, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
Miller became the third player since 1969 to record his first four career home runs through a pair of two-home-run games. He also homered twice July 19 against Houston.
Adding to the thrill for Miller was that it all played out in front of family and friends and what he said was every coach he’s had since he was 5 years old.
“It was awesome,” he said. “To go out there and get things going, finishing it off with a win. It was perfect, it was a lot of fun.”
If all that wasn’t enough, Miller revealed another twist.
“I actually was (at Tropicana Field) in high school when Zobrist hit his first career home run,” he said. “I remember that. … I just remembered he came up as a left-handed hitting shortstop, and I said, ‘Hey, I’ll remember that guy.’ And he hit a home run.”
Miller’s home runs came in the first and fifth innings. However, the winning run for the Mariners (55-63) came in the sixth, when Justin Smoak led off with a single and Dustin Ackley drove him home with a triple — and with a bit of suspense along the way.
“I was kind of scared when I was rounding second,” said Ackley, who had three hits. “He kind of slowed a little bit. I was like, ‘I hope he goes home, because I’m going to third no matter what.’ ”
Smoak slid in ahead of the throw, and then it was up to the Mariners bullpen to save the victory for starting pitcher Erasmo Ramirez, who had weathered the storm of a two-run first inning, and who served up both Zobrist homers.
“I tried to be aggressive with Zobrist with my fastball,” Ramirez said. “He took advantage of another fastball right in the middle. He did what he had to do — hit the ball (as) hard as he can.
“But after that, you just have to control what you can control. You try to be aggressive. It wasn’t the right spot, but that’s baseball. You never know what’s going to happen. Maybe it’s a pop fly another time; but this time it was a second homer. After that you’re still in the game, you still have the ball.”
In the sixth it was Oliver Perez with the ball, and then Yoervis Medina in the seventh and eighth. Finally in the ninth, the ball was handed to Danny Farquhar.
And as Hollywood would have it, the leadoff hitter was Zobrist. Farquhar struck him out on a fastball. Next up was Matt Joyce, and Farquhar struck him out on a breaking ball. That left Evan Longoria, and he lifted a ball to the edge of the warning track, where Ackley ran it down for the win.
“It’s a fun point in the game,” said Farquhar, who earned his fifth save. “Same thing as usual — the crowd gets loud, the game gets intense, one-run game in the ninth, top of the order. It was fun.”
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