This is not how catcher John Hicks envisioned his major league debut. As a third baseman. But needs must.
The Mariners came up short of infielders Saturday night in their 7-6 victory over the Chicago White Sox when Ketel Marte suffered a mild strain to his right hamstring in the eighth inning while running out a grounder.
The club’s other shortstop, Brad Miller, started in center field but had just left the game for a pinch-hitter. So the Mariners were out of infielders.
Solution: Gold Glove third baseman Kyle Seager shifted to shortstop and Hicks entered the game at third base. Hicks had played 11 games at first base in his five minor league seasons and one game in left field.
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He had never played third base.
“Mike (bullpen coach Mike Rojas) told me to start stretching when they went out to check on Marte,” Hicks said. “He said (catcher Jesus) Sucre might go to third. So I started stretching.
“They called down and said, ‘Hicks, you’re going to third.’ I was like, ‘Wow. OK, let’s go.”
It wasn’t Hicks’ inexperience at third that turned what appeared to be an easy victory into a nail-biter.
The Mariners carried a 7-2 lead into the Chicago eighth before it began to slip away.
Singles by Avisail Garcia and Alexei Ramirez preceded two-out walks by Mariners reliever Logan Kensing to pinch-hitter J.B Shuck and Adam Eaton.
Tom Wilhelmsen replaced Kensing and yielded a two-run single to Tyler Saladino. That quickly, a five-run lead was down to 7-5 with the tying runs on base.
Jose Abreu’s single to left made it a one-run game before Wilhelmsen ended the inning. Wilhelmsen then steadied and worked a one-out walk in a scoreless ninth for his sixth save.
That ninth inning had an interesting moment, though.
The White Sox had a runner at first with one out when Alexei Ramirez hit a high pop toward third. Hicks and Seager looked at one another.
“It went up,” Hicks said, “and I was expecting Seager to call me off. He didn’t. It got to the highest point, and I called it and tried not to mess it up.”
Hicks made the catch.
Seager smiled and said, “yeah,” he thought about calling Hicks off the pop. So why’d he let a catcher playing third for the first time since high school take it in a one-run game in the ninth inning?
“It’s more fun,” Seager said. “You only get to debut once. It’s a pop-up. He’s a big leaguer. He can catch it.”
It all made for an entertaining finish to a 4-hour, 16-minute marathon played through intermittent drizzle at U.S. Cellular Field.
The Mariners jumped to an early lead when Seager’s two-run homer highlighted a three-run first inning against Chicago starter Jeff Samardzija.
The lead climbed to 5-0 before the White Sox scored single runs in the fourth and sixth against Hisashi Iwakuma. Marte’s injury occurred during a two-run eighth inning.
Afterward, Marte said he was fine and expected to play Sunday. He’s most likely to get at least one day off.
Iwakuma (6-3) labored throughout his 52/3 innings. He threw 107 pitches and tied a career high with four walks in addition to allowing seven hits. Still, he limited the damage to two runs.
“You want to run with the lead,” he said. “You appreciate a three-run lead, but you want to pitch your game. I went through a couple of jams but, overall, I was able to come through.”
Samardzija (8-11) closed out a miserable August with another disappointing effort: five runs and eight hits in 5 2/3 innings. He was 0-6 for the month with a 8.82 ERA in six starts.
Seager’s homer in the first inning was his 20th of the year; the fourth consecutive year that he’s reached 20 homers.
“That’s definitely an accomplishment,” he said. “You strive to be consistent and continue to improve each year.”
Six other Mariners have done that in the franchise’s 39 seasons: Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner, Alex Rodriguez, Bret Boone and Raul Ibanez.
The Mariners weren’t done.
Nelson Cruz walked and went to third on Robinson Cano’s single. Seth Smith made it 3-0 with a sacrifice fly to deep center. Doubles by Cano and Smith added another run in the third.
Cano finished with four hits and a walk in five plate appearances. His average is up to .281 — its highest point since April 26. Sucre contributed two singles to a 13-hit attack for his first multi-hit game since Sept. 4, 2014.
But it all funneled to a wild eighth inning when a catcher made his debut by playing third base for the first time as a professional and a lead that nearly, but didn’t quite, slip away.
“I was real excited,” Hick said. “It’s definitely not how I pictured my debut, but I’m happy to get it out of the way.”
SUNDAY: Mariners (LHP Edgar Olmos: 1-0, 0.00 ERA) at White Sox (LHP Jose Quintana: 7-10, 3.63), 11:10 a.m., Root Sports, 710-AM, 1030-AM