Willie Bloomquist? A two-run homer? Well, who better to play the key role Friday night when the Mariners kicked off their “Turn Back the Clock” weekend?
Bloomquist and Kyle Seager each drove in three runs in support of Felix Hernandez in a 6-1 victory over the Houston Astros at Safeco Field.
Seager produced the only runs that Hernandez required with a two-run single in the first inning. And Hernandez improved to 6-1 by shutting down every Astro except Jose Altuve.
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The night belonged to Willie Ballgame, the prodigal Mariner who returned to the organization as a free agent last winter at age 36 after spending the last five years with three other clubs.
“This guy is a professional,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He’s struggled a little early on, but I tell guys all the time, check the book. That guy is pretty good at what he does.
“He hasn’t had a lot of opportunities. We’re trying to get him a few more at-bats and get him going a little bit. He’s by no means a power hitter, but he’s a professional hitter, and he gives you good at-bats.”
Bloomquist started at shortstop and produced a sparkling defensive play in the second inning. He also delivered a sacrifice fly in the fourth that extended the Mariners’ lead to 3-1.
The highlight, though, came in the sixth.
Mike Zunino had just missed a one-out homer against Astros starter Rudy Owens, who was making his big-league debut. Zunino’s drive hit the yellow stripe in right-center field and, after a quick review, resulted in a double.
Bloomquist then hooked the next pitch from Owens, an 86-mph change-up, and kept it fair just inside the left-field foul pole for a 5-1 lead. Estimated distance: 336 feet. The distance to the pole is 331.
“I was hoping,” Bloomquist said. “I knew it started to hook a little bit. First, I was just hoping it would stay fair and maybe get off the wall. Maybe get on base. That would have been kind of cool.
“The fact it went out was great.”
It was Bloomquist’s first homer since Aug. 10, 2011, when he was playing for Arizona, and ended droughts of 626 at-bats and 663 plate appearances. It was just the 18th of his career in 2,974 plate appearances.
“Don’t even go there,” he joked. “Don’t want to remember. Let’s put it that way. Had a lot of ground-rule doubles in the meantime. No…I know it’s been a while. That’s not my swing, but I’ll take it when they come.”
And it was plenty for Hernandez, who yielded only one run and five hits in eight innings while striking out nine and walking one. Altuve had three of those hits and drove in the Astros’ only run with an RBI single in the third.
“Altuve is always going to be aggressive,” Hernandez said. “He’s pretty good.”
Added Astros manager Bo Porter: “I would not want to imagine this game without him. So let’s not speak that into existence.”
Altuve’s last hit was a one-out single off Hernandez’s calf in the eighth inning. Two innings earlier, Hernandez took a Jason Castro comebacker off his foot.
“They got me,” Hernandez said. “They got me pretty good. The calf. My foot. But I feel pretty good. Everything was working. I was throwing a lot of strikes.”
Owens, 0-1, gave up five runs and nine hits in 5 2/3 innings.
Charlie Furbush and Danny Farquhar closed out the game by combining for a scoreless ninth in a non-save situation.
The victory boosted the Mariners to 24-23 and marks the first time since 2007 that they’ve been over .500 at this point in the season. So turn back the clock. Know who was here in 2007?
Hernandez and…that’s right: Bloomquist.
“The feeling in here is a quiet confidence,” Bloomquist said. “Guys aren’t rah-rah or `look at me.’ We’ve had some injuries and are banged-up a little bit, but we’ve weathered that storm pretty well.
“We understand we’ve got some horses who are getting healthy. It could be kind of fun.”