SEATTLE — The Seattle Mariners are trying to supply some hope for next season on the field.
While the bizarre, and at times absurd, soap opera of manager Eric Wedge’s decision to leave the organization and upper management’s decision to keep general manager Jack Zduriencik for another year plays out in media comments and closed door conversation, the players on the field are at least trying to salvage something in the final weekend of this season.
On Saturday, Brad Miller blasted a pair of home runs, including his first career grand slam, Justin Smoak hit a two-run homer and Brandon Maurer picked up his fifth win in Seattle’s 7-5 win over the Oakland Athletics at Safeco Field.
“There are still games to be played,” Miller said. “There is one more tomorrow. We are learning that’s part of being a professional is getting your work done and going out there and trying to win.”
Smoak gave the Mariners a 2-0 lead in the second inning, hammering a 1-0 fastball from Athletics starter Jarrod Parker over the wall in right for his 20th home run of the season —a career high.
“That’s a benchmark, that’s a big deal,” said Mariners manager Eric Wedge, who stayed with Smoak despite hisearly struggles this season. “He’s been much more consistent in the second half. I like the way he’s driving the ball.”
Miller was also driving the ball, blasting a solo homer off Parker to right-center in the third inning, pushing the lead to 3-1.
But that was only a warm-up for Miller’s next at-bat.
Parker loaded the bases in the fifth inning, giving up three consecutive singles to Dustin Ackley, Mike Zunino and Nick Franklin. The Athletics had lefty Jerry Blevins warming up in the bullpen, when Oakland pitching coach Curt Young went out to the pitcher’s mound to talk to Parker.
“I wasn’t sure…” Miller said of a possible pitching change. “They have a lot of good starters so I think they are going to ride those guys. No matter who it was, I was just trying to get the guy on third in.”
Miller instead brought all the runners in with one swing, yanking a 2-1 fastball just inside the right field foul pole for his first career grand slam.
“Miller was hunting the heater,” Athletics, and former Mariners, manager Bob Melvin said.
But that’s Miller’s mindset. While some hitters go passive and look for the perfect pitch with bases loaded, he stays aggressive on fastballs.
“That’s not his personality,” Wedge said of being overly selective. “You try to be too perfect sometimes, but he’s up there ready to rip.”
It was Seattle’s seventh grand slam of the season, second most in the American League.
It was the third multi-home run game for Miller this season — a Mariners rookie record. Miller just seems to hit all of his home runs in pairs.
“I don’t know,” he said chuckling. “But I will take it. I’m glad to drive the ball and drive the (runners) in.”
Miller’s grand slam gave Maurer enough run support so that the bullpen couldn’t cost him a decision.
Maurer pitched 5ª innings, giving up two runs on six hits with a walk and five strikeouts. He gave up a run on a Coco Crisp sacrifice fly in the third and then was lifted in the sixth inning after giving up an RBI single to Alberto Callaspo. Still, Wedge liked what he saw.
“If you look at his last three outings, he’s been really consistent,” Wedge said. “He’s really making strides in regards to his composure and handling his emotions out there.”
Maurer believes he’s nothing like the over-emotional pitcher that made his big league debut at the start of the season.
“Early on I was going out there trying to throw the best pitch or trying to throw a little harder, now I just go out there and trust what I got,” he said. “I feel … different. I’m much more confident going into this offseason.”
The Mariners bullpen, however, didn’t allow the 7-2 lead to appear safe.
Chance Ruffin gave up three runs on two hits in two-thirds of inning, including back-to-back homers to Callaspo and Brandon Moss.
With the lead only 7-5, Yoervis Medina loaded the bases in the eighth inning, but struck out Jed Lowrie to get out of the jam.
Danny Farquhar removed some of the drama working a 1-2-3 ninth inning with two strikeouts to notch his 16th save.