SEATTLE — There’s this between-innings announcement running these days at Safeco Field that informs us that June is national smile month.
On Saturday, finally, it didn’t seemed like a twisted joke.
Austin Jackson’s home run in the seventh inning lifted the Seattle Mariners to a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays when relievers Mark Lowe and Carson Smith nursed that slim edge through the final six outs.
Yep, rookie Carson Smith pitched the ninth for the save. (VIDEO LINK)
Not Fernando Rodney.
“I think it’s an opportunity to clean Fernando up,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “and get some things straightened out from a mechanical standpoint. We’ll see how it goes.”
McClendon said Lowe or Charlie Furbush might also be in line for save opportunities until Rodney is judged ready to reclaim his role. Rodney said he is healthy; so the cause for his 6.94 ERA lies elsewhere.
Smith needed just 10 pitches to retire the Rays in order for his first major-league save. He had 40 over three minor-league seasons, but…
“It was much different from the minor leagues when I did it,” he admitted. “Coming out of the gates, it was a little different feeling. The crowd was a little louder. It was fun to be a part of.”
The crowd of 31,106 roared once it realized Smith was coming into the game. The cheers built through the inning.
“Once I got the first guy out,” he said, “I settled down a little bit. But that’s always true. When you get the first guy out, the inning is a lot easier to navigate through.
“I can’t say it felt normal at any point but, for the most part, I tried to treat it the same.”
The victory snapped a seven-game skid and came just as the Mariners appeared ready to squander a shutdown performance by Felix Hernandez, who gave up one run and two hits in seven innings.
Jackson broke a 1-1 tie when he turned on a full-count fastball (VIDEO LINK) from Steve Geltz (1-2) and sent a no-doubt drive over the left-field wall.
“I don’t hit many,” Jackson said, “but it felt good coming off the bat.”
It was almost as if Jackson had decided enough was enough. He died on third base after a leadoff triple in the ninth inning of Friday’s 1-0 loss, and his leadoff double in the third inning Saturday produced nothing.
“It’s tough right now,” Jackson said. “We’re grinding. We’re just not getting the results we want, but the positive thing is we’re getting the guys out there.
“Eventually, we’ll start to find some holes and find some grass (with runners on base).”
The only run against Hernandez (9-2) came on a wild pitch after Kevin Kiermaier’s one-out triple in the sixth inning. The Mariners have seen their rotation yield just five runs in 30 innings over the last four games.
They finally got a payoff.
“The first inning was a little rough,” Hernandez said. “I was a little wild (in walking two of the first three hitters). I was overthrowing. It was a big game. We had a seven-game losing streak.
“I was trying to throw as hard as I can, and that does not work for me.”
Tampa Bay starter Alex Colome gave up one run and seven hits in six innings — including a great escape in the fourth inning when he limited the damage to one run.
The Mariners got a leadoff double from Seth Smith, who went to third on Logan Morrison’s bloop single to left. Willie Bloomquist then lined an RBI single (VIDEO LINK) up the middle for the Mariners’ first run in 17 innings.
Mike Zunino tried to sacrifice but walked instead, which loaded the bases with no outs — but the Mariners got nothing more. Jackson fouled out, and Robinson Cano grounded into a double play. (VIDEO LINK)
All of that, and just one run. That seemed certain to haunt the Mariners after the Rays pulled even in the sixth. It’s been that kind of week, after all. Except this time, Jackson changed the ending. Along with Lowe and Smith.
This time, the Mariners could smile.