It’s been easy to overlook Mariners first baseman Danny Valencia for much of season simply because of who he isn’t.
He isn’t a recognized All-Star like Nelson Cruz or Robinson Cano or a longstanding familiar face like Kyle Seager. He isn’t pushing to lead the league in batting like Jean Segura or offer the mesmerizing speed of Jarrod Dyson.
He’s not one of the trio of rookie outfielders who herald the future like Ben Gamel, Mitch Haniger or Guillermo Heredia. He’s not the career-resurrection story that Mike Zunino presents or offer the hair-flipping versatility of Taylor Motter.
Valencia is a 32-year-old journeyman playing for his seventh club in eight years and who will be a free agent at season’s end. He is the regular first baseman only because Dan Vogelbach didn’t play to expectations in spring training.
He’s just there.
And for all that, it’s hard to imagine where the Mariners would be without him.
"Danny’s been key," manager Scott Servais said. "I like hitting him in the two-hole against lefties. He adds a power dimension there. But the at-bats are good (wherever he is in the lineup). And I think his defense at first base is underrated.
"He’s been a nice addition to our club. After that first month, he’s relaxed and just gone out and played. The numbers are showing it."
It was hard to overlook Valencia on Sunday because it was his three-run homer that pulled the Mariners even after they fell into an early five-run hole against the Chicago White Sox.
The Mariners won the game 7-6 in 10 innings on a homer by Nelson Cruz and because their bullpen limited Chicago to one run over the final seven innings after replacing an ineffective Andrew Moore.
Valencia’s homer capped a four-run fifth inning against White Sox starter Derek Holland and helped propel the Mariners to their first three-game sweep in Chicago in more than 14 years.
"It’s no secret that we have a lot of confidence in our offense to score runs," Valencia said. "It was still early in the game (when the Mariners trailed 5-0). We knew we weren’t going to get shut out.
"Just have good at-bats and get runners on base. Fortunately for me, I got up there with a couple of men on base, and I got a good pitch to hit. I hit it out of the ballpark."
Asked if he got "all of it" on his 414-foot drive to left, Valencia initially hesitated: "Yeah…(then laughed)…Yeah, I did."
It was his 10th home of the season, which made him the fifth Mariner to reach double figures. Valencia also had a double in five at-bats and raised his average to 271, which is also deceptive.
As Servais noted, Valencia got off to a dreadful start this season before finding a comfort zone. He is batting .302 in 66 games since April 25 with all 10 of his homers and 43 of his 46 RBIs in that span.
Valencia has been the steady run-production bat that often goes unnoticed in a a good lineup. Not on Sunday, though. His homer was the key blow.
Three takeaways from Sunday’s victory:
***Cruz missiles: Remember when Nelson Cruz didn’t hit a homer from June 6 through July 4? He now has five in his last eight games and a club-leading 19 overall.
Cruz’s two-run shot erased a one-run deficit Saturday in a 4-3 victory, and his leadoff drive Sunday in the 10th inning provided the difference in a 7-6 victory. Oh, and he leads the American League with 73 RBIs.
***Learning curve: Rookie right-hander Andrew Moore absorbed a hard lesson in what happens when a command pitcher (like himself) can't command his fastball against big-league hitters. Three homers and five runs in three innings.
"He’s not used to having that happen to him," Servais said. "He’s been very consistent throughout his minor-league career and so far for us in the big leagues. But on the road, if you’re not locating your fastball, it can happen."
The five runs matched a professional worst for Moore in 61 career games over three seasons. He gave up five runs in just two innings on Aug. 28, 2016 while pitching for Double-A Jackson in a 5-3 loss at Biloxi (Brewers).
Moore’s next scheduled start is Friday against the New York Yankees at Safeco Field.
***More lockdown relief: Sunday’s comeback victory doesn’t happen without Emilio Pagan, James, Pazos, Steve Cishek, Nick Vincent and Edwin Diaz combining to limit the White Sox to one run in seven innings.
The Mariners’ bullpen limited Chicago to one run and five hits over 14 innings in winning three tight games. The relief corps has a 2.61 ERA over 48 games since May 21, which is easily the best mark in the majors over that span.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners