KANSAS CITY, Mo. — If Seattle Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik had any doubts about having Kendrys Morales play for his team beyond this season, Morales served up a nice refresher for him in a 6-4 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday night at Kauffman Stadium.
With two outs in the top of the ninth, Franklin Gutierrez on first base, and the score tied at 4, Morales fell behind in the count 1-2 to hard-throwing Royals reliever Aaron Crow.
But with one swing, Morales changed the entire game and the
Crow tried to blow a 97 mph fastball by Morales, but the pitch found a lot of the plate and Morales found a lot of the ball, blasting it over the center-field wall for a two-run homer.
“You have to open up your zone with two strikes,” Morales said through teammate and translator Raul Ibañez. “He tried to throw a pitch away, but he left it out over the plate for me to hit it.”
Morales hit it and then some. The ball easily carried over the 410 mark on the center-field wall. It was his 18th homer of the season and his first long ball since Aug. 2.
“He hit that one really well,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “It’s the best one he’s hit in a while. It was a big (hit) for us. He needed that, and we really needed that.”
The Mariners need Morales, who also doubled in the game, for more than just this season. A look at their current roster and what’s available in the minor leagues, reveals there’s no traditional middle-of-the-order hitter who is comfortable in that role.
Morales has no problem with hitting in the No. 3 or No. 4 spot.
“I have over 500 at-bats in the middle of the lineup,” he said. “There is no reason to feel any pressure or feel any different.”
But how he feels about coming back to Seattle for another year or beyond is an unknown. Morales is a free agent after this season, and his agent Scott Boras is notorious for taking his clients to free agency over signing contract extensions.
With a shortage of power hitters in the coming free-agent class, Morales could make more on the open market than form an extension with the Mariners – or the one-year qualifying offer of around $14 million for the 2014 season.
Morales’ homer bailed out the Mariners on another night of doing little with runners in scoring position.
Seattle was 2-for-12 in that situation, and stranded eight runners. In the sixth inning, the Mariners had runners on first and second with no outs and came up with nothing. In the eighth, Justin Smoak doubled to lead off. And with pinch-runner Abe Almonte on second and then third after a passed ball, the Mariners struck out three times to leave him there.
“We’re missing opportunities,” Wedge said. “It’s obvious. That’s going to be the difference for us as we move on to next year and the future.”
The two hits with runners in scoring position came early in the game.
In the third inning, Brad Miller gave the Mariners a 1-0 lead, scoring Mike Zunino with a sacrifice fly. Franklin Gutierrez later got the first of those two hits with runners in scoring position, singling home Nick Franklin from third for a 2-0 lead.
The Mariners pushed it to 4-0 in the fourth inning. Franklin singled home Ibañez from third, knocking Royals starter Ervin Santana out of the game after 3 innings. Dustin Ackley later scored on a wild pitch from reliever Wade Davis.
It seemed like a 4-0 lead would be plenty for rookie Taijuan Walker in his second career start.
Walker had cruised through three innings not allowing a hit. But a leadoff walk to Emilio Bonifacio in the fourth inning was a sign of bad things to come.
“I hate walking people,” Walker said. “Leadoff walks aren’t good. Most of the time they score, and this one did. And it started a rally for them.”
From there Eric Hosmer singled to right, and Billy Butler singled to center to score Bonifacio. Walker got Mike Moustakas to fly out to deep right field, but Hosmer was able to tag up and advance to third. He easily scored on Salvador Perez’s sacrifice fly to left. David Lough doubled to right, and Jarrod Dyson singled on a bouncing ball up the middle to score Butler and Lough and tie the game at 4.
With is pitch count over 70, Wedge sent Walker out for the fifth to see how he would respond after the rough inning.
“I felt it was important for him to go back out there,” Wedge said.
Wedge got the answer he was hoping for when Walker coolly worked a one-two-three inning to end his outing.
“That proved something to him,” Wedge said. “We know he can do it.”
Now Walker does too.
“The fifth inning was big for me,” he said. “I’m glad he sent me back out. I wanted to have a clean inning.”
The Mariners’ bullpen then went to work. Carter Capps worked a scoreless sixth inning. Lucas Luetge (1-0), who pitched two hitless innings to set up Morales heroics in the ninth, got the victory.
Closer Danny Farquhar worked a perfect ninth to notch his 12th save in 13 chances.Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish