Dominic Leone’s return to Boston couldn’t have gone much better.
He scored his Dunkin’ Donuts fix soon after the Mariners hit town, got into the series opener Friday at Fenway Park and nabbed a victory after a stunning comeback produced five runs in the ninth inning.
“I grew up here,” he said. “This is home. About and hour and a half (away in Norwich, Connecticut) with traffic. So I was close. I came to a bunch of games here as a kid. So running out of that pen was…there were some nerves.”
Leone, 22, is a rookie right-hander who rose quickly through the Mariners’ system following his selection out of Clemson in the 16th round of the 2012 draft.
He earned an invitation last spring to big league camp after compiling a 1.95 ERA in 67 minor league games over two seasons spent mostly in the low minors.
“I was in Seattle (last) winter,” manager Lloyd McClendon recalled, “and I happened to be flicking through the channels. A Fall League game was on, and Leone was pitching. I said, `Who in the heck is this?’
“Nobody ever mentioned this guy to me, and I’m seeing 97 (mph). Wait a minute! So he caught my eye then, and I was anxious to see him in spring training and he didn’t disappoint.”
Leone allowed two runs and six hits in 10 spring innings over nine appearances. He also struck out 10.
“He was very impressive in the spring,” McClendon said, “really to the point where he probably should have made our team out of spring training. We had roster issues with (Hector) Noesi.”
Less than a week into the season, the Mariners designated Noesi for assignment before eventually trading him to Texas. That created an opening for Leone, who is 6-2 with a 2.60 ERA in 45 outings.
McClendon nursed Leone’s acclimation to the big leagues by restricting him primarily to low-leverage situations. The Mariners trailed 3-0 on Friday when Leone took the mound in the eighth inning.
Even so, this was special…and then it turned into something extra special.
“I knew there was a bunch of family here,” Leone said. “People were stopping by throughout the game. I had to settle myself down and make sure I was focusing on the game rather than the situation as a whole.”
Leone worked around a one-out walk in pitching a scoreless inning, then watched as his teammates erupted for five two-out runs in the ninth against Boston closer Koji Uehara.
That’s the same Uehara who had a 1.53 ERA when the night began and who Leone watched last October, at times from the stands, close out seven postseason victories when the Red Sox won the World Series.
“That’s who we are,” Leone said. “We fight. We’re making this (postseason) push for a reason. No matter what, we’re going to keep grinding. I get the W in the stat sheet because these guys battled.”
Even so, it turned Leone’s first Fenway appearance into a wonderfully indelible memory.
“Oh, yeah,” he agreed. “Awesome. Just awesome.”
Logan Morrison was unavailable for Saturday’s game after awakening with flu-like symptoms.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Something in my stomach. I don’t know if it was food poisoning or what. I’m starting to feel a little better. Hopefully, I’ll be OK for (Sunday).”
Whatever Morrison’s ailment, it required McClendon to do some lineup juggling. Kendrys Morales, the usual designated hitter, replaced Morrison at first base.
McClendon then opted for Chris Denorfia in right field and Endy Chavez as the DH. Morales and Denorfia contributed singles to a seven-run fourth inning, and Chavez had a single in four at-bats.
“I’ve said this before,” McClendon said, “give me a veteran who is 70-75 percent over a rookie who is 100 percent. They bring so much more to the table. There’s nothing like experience.”
Rich Donnelly likens his job to being a traffic cop in that nobody tends to notice him unless there’s a big wreck. That’s just life’s reality for all third-base coaches.
“You show me a third-base coach who doesn’t get anybody thrown out,” McClendon said, “and I’ll show you a very bad third-base coach. Rich is willing to take the right chances in the right situation.”
Donnelly took one of those chances in Friday’s comeback victory over Boston by waving Dustin Ackley home from first base on Robinson Cano’s two-out single to right.
The Mariners had already scored four two-out runs, and Donnelly was willing to gamble on a knockout punch.
“That’s the time to do it,” he said. “If we’re down one, you can’t do it — unless you’ve got James Jones, maybe. I had Ack, but (right fielder Daniel) Nava took his time and kind of lobbed it in.
(Dustin) Pedroia made a heck of a play to make it close.”
But Ackley scored, the Mariners led 5-3 and their win percentage after the play jumped from 83 percent to 93 percent.
“I was surprised, for sure,” Ackley said. “I was running on the pitch, and I kept running hard to third. I saw him waving me. Halfway to third, he kept waving and kept waving.
“I was like, `I’m just going to keep running.’ I wasn’t expecting it at all. I thought it was just a one- or two-hopper to right. I thought, ‘He’s probably going to shut me down here in a second,’ but he just kept waving me.”
It was 38 years ago Sunday — Aug. 24, 1976 — that “Mariners” was selected as the nickname for Seattle’s expansion franchise.
The nickname was chosen after a contest that attracted more than 15,000 entries. The winning entry was entered by Roger Szmodis of Bellevue.
The Mariners and Red Sox conclude their three-game weekend series at 10:35 a.m. Pacific time Sunday at Fenway Park.
Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma (12-6 with a 2.57 ERA) will oppose Boston right-hander Allen Webster (3-1, 4.73). Root Sports will televise the game.
The Mariners open a six-game homestand Monday with the first of three games against Texas. After an open date Thursday, the homestand concludes with three weekend games against Washington.