General manager Jack Zduriencik knows all the reasons why he would like to have Kendrys Morales play for the Seattle Mariners beyond this season.
And if any doubts were starting to creep into his mind, Morales served up a nice refresher for him on Wednesday night against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
With two outs in the top of the ninth, Franklin Gutierrez on first base and the score tied at 4-4, Morales fell behind in the count 1-2 to Royals hard-throwing reliever Aaron Crow.
But with one swing, Morales changed the entire game and the road trip.
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Crow tried to blow a 97 mph fastball by Morales away and off the plate. Only the pitch was on the plate, and Morales was on top of it, blasting it over the wall in center field for a two-run homer and providing the go-ahead hit in a 6-4 win for the Mariners.
“You have to open up your zone with two strikes,” Morales said through teammate and translator Raul Ibanez. “He tried to throw a pitch away, but he left it out of over the plate for me to hit it.”
Morales hit it and then some. The ball easily carried over the 410 mark on the center field wall. It was his 18th homer of the season and first long ball since August 2nd.
“He hit that one really well,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “It’s the best one he’s hit in a while. It was a big for us. He needed that and we really needed that.”
The Mariners need Morales, who also doubled in the game, for more than just this season. If you look at their current roster set-up and what’s available in the minor leagues, they simply don’t have a traditional middle of the order hitter, who is comfortable in that role.
Morales has no problem with hitting in the No. 3 or 4 spot.
“I have over 500 at-bats in the middle of the line-up,” he said. “There is no reason to feel any pressure or feel any different.”
But how he feels about coming back to Seattle for another year or beyond is an unknown. Morales is a free agent after this season, and his agent Scott Boras is notorious for taking his clients to free agency over signing contract extensions. With a lack of power hitters in this free agent class, Morales could make more on the open market than an extension from the Mariners or the one-year qualifying offer of around $14 million for the 2014 season.
Morales’ homer bailed out the Mariners on another night of not doing much with runners in scoring position.
Seattle was just 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position, stranding eight runners. In the sixth the Mariners had runners on first and second with no outs and came up with nothing. In the eighth, Justin Smoak doubled to lead off the inning. And with pinch runner Abe Almonte on second and then third after a passed ball, the Mariners struck out three times to leave him there.
“We’re missing opportunities,” Wedge said. “It’s obvious. That’s going to be the difference for us as we move on to next year and the future.”
The two hits with runners in scoring position came early in the game.
In the third inning, Brad Miller gave the Mariners a 1-0 lead, scoring Mike Zunino with a sacrifice fly. Franklin Gutierrez later got the first of those two hits with runners in scoring position, singling home Nick Franklin from third for a 2-0 lead.
The Mariners pushed it to 4-0 in the fourth inning. Franklin had the second hit with runners in scoring position, singling home Raul Ibanez from third and knocking Royals starter Ervin Santana from the game after 3 1/3 innings. Dustin Ackley later scored on a wild pitch from reliever Wade Davis.
It seemed like a 4-0 lead would be plenty to work with for rookie Taijuan Walker, who was making his second start of his career.
Walker had cruised through three innings not allowing a hit. But a lead-off walk to Emilio Bonifacio to start the fourth inning was not a good sign.
“I hate walking people,” Walker said. “Lead-off walks aren’t good. Most of the time they score and this they did. And it started a rally for them.”
From there Eric Hosmer singled to right and Billy Butler singled to center to score Bonifacio. Walker got Mike Moustakas to fly out to deep right field, but Hosmer was able to tag up and advance to third. He easily scored on Salvador Perez’s sac fly to left. David Lough doubled to right and Jarrod Dyson singled on a bouncing ball up the middle to score Butler and Lough and tie the game at 4-4.
With is pitch count over 70, it seemed as though Walker would be done after the long inning. Even he thought so. But he wasn’t
“I was a little shocked I was going back out there because they are monitoring my innings so closely,” Walker said.
Wedge sent Walker out for the fifth to see how he would respond after the rough inning.
“I felt it was important for him to go back out there,” Wedge said.
Wedge got the answer he was hoping as Walker coolly worked a quick 1-2-3 inning to end his outing.
“That proved something to him,” Wedge said. “We know he can do it.”
Now Walker does too.
“The fifth inning was big for me,” he said. “I’m glad he sent me back out. I wanted to have a clean inning.”
The Mariners bullpen then went to work. Carter Capps worked a scoreless sixth inning. Lucas Luetge (1-0) pitched two hitless innings to set up Morales heroics in the ninth and get the win.
Danny Farquhar worked a 1-2-3 ninth to notch his 12th save in 13 chances.