The “Swelmet” — a blue-colored metal helmet handed out to the Mariners player of the game — sat in front of outfielder Seth Smith’s locker well before he arrived from the showers.
Wearing that kind of playful garb isn’t the low-key Smith’s style. So instead, he placed it on his son’s head.
Swinging a big bat at clutch moments is more Smith’s speed.
Just when it was time to tap on the panic button surrounding the team’s playoff hopes, Smith came through with two home runs in the Mariners’ 7-3 victory over Houston in front of 25,383 on Sunday afternoon at Safeco Field.
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With the victory, Seattle avoided a weekend sweep by the Astros, and pulled within two games of Toronto for the final AL wild-card playoff berth.
Did we mention who the Mariners’ next opponent is? Why, yes, the Blue Jays come to town Monday for a three-game series.
“We are ready for the challenge,” M’s slugger Nelson Cruz said.
Ah, what one much-needed win will do to improve a team’s outlook.
Entering Sunday, the Mariners’ offense had been scuffling in the previous three games, scoring three runs.
And they had been struggling against Houston pitching. Astros starters came into Sunday with 19 scoreless innings against the Mariners.
That streak was snapped quickly on Kyle Seager’s two-run double off Doug Fister in the first inning to give Seattle a 2-0 lead.
Then came the favorable Smith-versus-Fister at-bats:
▪ Leading off the third, Smith, who bats left, worked the count to 3-1, then ripped the Houston right-hander’s low-and-inside 89-mph fastball deep into the right field seats to give the Mariners a 3-1 lead.
“Smitty had not had a lot of success against Fister … but he’s been swinging the bat pretty good. More importantly, he knows how to work an at-bat with a very professional approach,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “You are not always going to hit a home run on a 3-1 fastball, but he’s in a good spot right now, seeing the ball.”
▪ Well, maybe not always — but Smith did it a second time an inning later.
This time, Fister tried to keep a 3-1 fastball away. He elevated it. And Smith sent it into orbit, ripping it high into the right-centerfield grandstands for a three-run shot.
It was the decisive blow. Seattle had a 7-1 lead.
Smith had done his own scuffling after the All-Star Break. Before that July 12 break, he had been hitting .277 with 11 home runs.
But in the month after that, he was mired in a 5-for-35 slump with three extra-base hits.
“Just the ebb and flow of baseball,” Smith said. “You’d rather not stay in it as long as I did, but it is nice to be out of it.”
He hit a grand slam against the Angels on Tuesday, then notched his eighth career multihomer game Sunday. The last time it happened was May 31 at home against San Diego.
And he loves hitting at Safeco Field. Twelve of his 16 home runs this season have come in the home ballpark.
“Over the course of a career, you start fitting the pieces together a little bit better,” Smith said.
After watching three woeful offensive games in a row by the M’s, Servais said he had a hunch his hitters would do damage Sunday.
“We’ve got a veteran crew, and they do know how to make adjustments,” Servais said. “We had a lot of big hits today. Everybody relaxed a little bit.”
Mariners starting pitcher Ariel Miranda improved to 4-0 in September. The left-hander delivered the longest outing of his major league career, going seven innings while striking out eight Astros.
The two runs he gave up were on solo homers — to George Springer in the third inning, and Carlos Correa in the seventh.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Same 3-1 count, same 89 mph fastball from Fister — and the result was the same for the M’s Smith, who hit his second homer of the game, a three-run shot in the fourth inning, to give Seattle a 7-1 lead.
PLUS: Miranda made it four consecutive starts of six innings or longer for the Mariners on Sunday..
MINUS: Seattle second baseman Robinson Cano is mired in a 1-for-21 slump in his past five games. He popped out to catcher Jason Castro in the first inning Sunday, struck out in the third and grounded out to first base in the fourth and sixth innings (0 for 4).
STAT PACK: Miranda’s streak of not allowing an earned run reached 19 innings before the Springer home run. … Seager’s 95 RBIs are one short of his career high of 96, set in 2014.
SHORT HOPS: Shawn O’Malley got his first start since Sept. 8 at Texas. He went 0 for 3, with a walk and a run scored, in place of Ketel Marte at shortstop. … First baseman Adam Lind (hand injury) returned after a five-game absence. He was 1 for 4.