The Mariners are, improbably, back to .500 after Wednesday’s remarkable 6-5 walk-off victory over the Minnesota Twins at Safeco Field.
Not just a walk-off victory. A come-from-behind walk-off victory. The Mariners trailed 5-4 with two outs in the ninth inning before Ben Gamel punched a single yo the middle against Twins closer Brandon Kintzler.
Mike Zunino followed with a two-run homer that provided the latest validation in his transformation as a hitter. Zunino didn't try to pull the pitch, a down-and-away sinker.
It wasn’t a great pitch from from Kintzler but, if Zunino tries to pull it — as has long been his habit — he probably rolls it over or pops it weakly into the air. Instead, Zunino drove it 437 feet to right center for a no-doubt homer.
"I know that’s not a guy you want to pull," Zunino said. "His game is sinking it and trying to get ground balls. Now, being able to take a swing and work the ball that way, that means you trust (your swing). That’s the biggest thing."
A month ago, does he try to pull that pitch?
"One hundred percent," Zunino admitted. "That’s something that comes from learning the swing. Learning the pitch selection. And, ultimately, trusting it. That’s the goal in batting practice and cage work and in the game.
" I’m really trying to shoot that Root Sports sign in (batting practice). Being able to get a pitch and do that in the game is really fun."
Check the video clip. See where the ball goes.
The Mariners are 30-30 after winning nine of their last 10. They go for a three-game sweep over the Twins when the series concludes at 7:10 p.m. Thursday.
Three takeaways from Wednesday’s victory:
***Big Zee: Zunino had two homers in Wednesday’s victory. On his first, he did pull the ball — an inside pitch from Twins starter Adalberto Mejia in the second inning. That’s a pitch that Zunino should pull.
"Everybody knows the ability he has," manager Scott Servais said. "He has worked his tail off. He has bought into the new swing mechanics, and he should because he’s getting great results right now."
Zunino is 14-for-30 in his last eight games with four doubles, three homers and 14 RBIs.
***Cruz concerns: The Mariners didn't miss Nelson Cruz on Wednesday because backup catcher Chooch Ruiz, an inspired choice by Servais as the replacement DH, and crushed a 414-foot homer into the upper deck in left field.
That’s not likely to happen often.
The Mariners need Cruz, who continues to battle problems in his right calf muscle. They’re hopeful he can return Thursday or Friday. But that’s all it is at this point: Hope.
The lineup is already missing its catalyst in leadoff hitter Jean Segura, the new $70 million man. He is recovering quicker than initially expected and could return within a week or so.
Losing Cruz for any length of time would be a major blow.
***The Gallardo predicament: Zunino’s walk-off homer rescued the Mariners from what loomed as another costly stumble by veteran right-hander Yovani Gallardo. Once again, Gallardo couldn’t avoid the big inning.
He was cruising with a 2-1 lead in the fifth inning. After getting two quick outs, the wheels came off. Double. Walk. RBI single. Three-run homer. Gallardo then pulled it back together and allowed nothing more in pitching through the seventh.
It’s easy to see that Gallardo could be what he long was — a reliable workhorse in the rotation. He’s healthy. His fastball works in the low-90s. His off-speed stuff has bite. It all works for extended stretches.
But he has a 6.26 ERA through 12 starts. And as good as he was for much of Wednesday’s game, five runs in seven innings isn’t a good outing.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners