Seattle Mariners

Zunino delivers decisive homer, but not for Mariners, as Seattle drops series to Rays

Tampa Bay Rays’ Mike Zunino, center, is congratulated at home on his three-run home run by Michael Brosseau (43) and Jesus Aguilar (21) as Seattle Mariners catcher Omar Narvaez waits for the next batter during the fifth inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019, in Seattle.
Tampa Bay Rays’ Mike Zunino, center, is congratulated at home on his three-run home run by Michael Brosseau (43) and Jesus Aguilar (21) as Seattle Mariners catcher Omar Narvaez waits for the next batter during the fifth inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019, in Seattle. AP

A longtime Seattle Mariner was honored on this night at T-Mobile Park. Another longtime Mariner later spoiled the party.

Ahead of Saturday night’s game against the Rays, the Mariners celebrated the Hall of Fame induction of beloved former designated hitter Edgar Martinez. Several Seattle sports legends attended, and looked on as Martinez addressed the crowd, noting that playing in front of Mariners fans was one of the highlights of his life.

Both former and current Mariners had their names called out in recognition during the series of speeches, including former catcher Mike Zunino, who spent six seasons with the club before he was traded to Tampa Bay during the offseason.

Zunino, of course, also happened to deliver the decisive blow against his former team in Seattle’s 5-4 loss. The three-run blast in the fifth inning, his third homer in his past six games, was enough to give the Rays a lead they never lost.

“I’m more upset about him framing pitches back there,” joked Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager, a good friend of Zunino’s. “He’s good, man. Mike’s really good. We all know how good he is defensively. And he’s got a lot of pop, too. I got real accustomed to being on this side of it.”

“I know he has a lot of respect for those guys over there with Seattle, obviously,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He spent a lot of good years (with the Mariners). It’s got to feel pretty good to have success.”

Zunino was warmly welcomed by fans ahead of his first at-bat, but a little less so when he clobbered his eighth homer of the season to the beer garden in left center.

“Your first time playing against your former team ... you have a little edge to it, you’re a little fired up,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Mikes’ got big-time power. We’ve seen that before. He got a pitch that he could handle and took care of it.”

Two batters later, Kevin Kiermaier added the second of three homers off of Mariners lefty Tommy Milone, who had allowed just one hit before the decisive four-run fifth. Avisail Garcia launched another solo shot off Milone on the first pitch of the sixth, and Seattle never quite recovered, despite cutting the lead to one run twice.

“Tommy just wasn’t quite as sharp as we’ve seen him in the past, as far as locating and having the depth and the finish to his changeup that we’ve seen,” Servais said.

Milone allowed the five earned runs on six hits — including the three long balls — through four complete innings of work. Zunino now has five hits — three of those are home runs — in his 10 career at-bats against Milone.

“They’re strong,” Milone said. “You get the barrel on the ball, you get it up in the air, sometimes it tends to go out. That’s what happened.”

Mallex Smith led off the Mariners’ half of the fifth with a triple down the line in right — he doubled earlier, later walked and had another sure extra-base hit snatched away when Kiermaier made an athletic play at the wall in the third — and scored moments later on a J.P. Crawford groundout. Omar Narvaez then made it 4-3 on a deep solo homer to right center — his 16th of the season.

Garcia’s homer came at the top of the next frame, but Seattle again wasted no time closing in. Rookie Austin Nola singled with one out in the sixth, advanced on a wild pitch, and scratched across another run on rookie Tim Lopes’ RBI single back up the middle.

But, despite collecting all four of their runs against Rays starter Charlie Morton, who also struck out 10 batters in six innings to offset the offensive production, the Mariners didn’t score again in the final three innings.

“We struck out a bunch tonight,” Servais said. “And Charlie’s really good. We know that. We’ve seen him in Houston a little bit in the past. He’s got multiple weapons, and the way he can move the fastball on our lefties, that front-hip pitch was a really big pitch from him tonight. ... He’s getting that ball to move 6-8 inches come back over the plate. It’s tough.

“You score four runs and you think you’re in pretty good shape against him, but just not enough.”

Another former Mariner, right-hander Emilio Pagan, tossed a scoreless ninth to earn his second save against Seattle in as many games.

Acquired from the Padres last month after being designated for assignment, reliever Matt Wisler seems to have found his place. Through four outings (six innings) as the Mariners’ opener, the right-hander has yet to allow a walk or a run, and has given up just two hits while striking out five. Saturday, he threw two scoreless innings before handing the ball over to Milone.

“He’s embraced it. ... He comes out and he uses all of his pitches right from the get-go, knows it’s going to be short, and it’s been pretty sweet for him so far,” Servais said.

Seattle scored the game’s first run in the second, but lost the lead on Zunino’s homer. Kyle Seager opened the second with a single, and eventually crossed on Lopes’ sacrifice fly to right.

Rookie right-hander Reggie McClain, making just his second appearance for Seattle this season, pitched three scoreless innings in the seventh, eighth and ninth, retiring nine of 10 batters and striking out two.

“When you have your pitches, it almost feels effortless,” McClain said. “You just trust your training and what got you here.”

“Really impressed with what I saw from Reggie McClain,” Servais said. “That’s an awesome step in the right direction for a young guy that’s come a long way in one year. I’m excited to see more of him. Hopefully he can build on that outing tonight. It’s a big confidence boost for a young pitcher to come in (and pitch) like that.”

Lauren Smith covers the Seattle Mariners for The News Tribune. She previously covered high school sports at TNT and The Olympian, beginning in 2015. She is a graduate of the University of Washington and Emerald Ridge High School.
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