TORONTO — After making things tough Friday for James Paxton, Nelson Cruz and Mariners turned Hisashi Iwakuma’s start Saturday into a carefree cruise in a 14-5 demolition of the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre.
Cruz erased an early one-run deficit with a grand slam in the third inning against Toronto knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. It was pretty much all Mariners from that point on.
"With the knuckleball," Cruz said, "you just hope you can hit it. You saw the catcher having trouble catching it. It’s not easy. You just try to put the ball in play and hope for the best."
Cruz missed a chance for a second slam in the sixth inning, but he rocked a three-run shot in the eighth inning against Drew Storen for his 20th career multi-homer game.
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So, yes, while he had a lot of help, Saturday was the Nelson Cruz Show.
He finished with seven RBIs.
"I don’t remember the last time I had that many runners on base," Cruz said. "It’s always nice to have that chance and to deliver in those situations."
Let’s do a memory refresh.
The last player to get at least seven RBIs against the Blue Jays before Saturday? Nelson Cruz in 2012. And the last person to do it before that? Nelson Cruz in 2011.
Both of those games came at Texas, while Cruz was playing for the Rangers. Cruz is the first opposing player to get seven or more RBIs at the Rogers Centre in more than 16 years.
He had no explanation.
"Nothing in particular," Cruz said. "It’s a great hitters’ ballpark. I guess you feel more comfortable."
It wasn’t just Cruz.
The Mariners matched a season high with 19 hits and went 9-for-15 with runners in scoring position — a reversal from Friday’s 1-for-13 with RISP that left Paxton and the bullpen with no margin for error in a 2-1 victory.
"Obviously, Dickey was not on the top of his game today," manager Scott Servais said. "A few walks. A few hit batters. Then we got some big hits. Cruz with the grand slam. We got the line moving after that."
Most of Toronto’s production came from ex-Mariners.
Michael Saunders hit two homers — one against Iwakuma and another against reliever Wade LeBlanc. Both came with the bases empty. Justin Smoak hit a two-run shot against LeBlanc in a three-run eighth inning.
Iwakuma (11-6) wobbled early but won his fifth straight decision by limiting the Blue Jays to two runs and four hits in six innings.
"I think the grand slam by Nelson Cruz helped me a lot," Iwakuma said. "It gives you a lot of mental comfort. You can be more aggressive early on and just attack."
LeBlanc pitched the final three innings for his first career save.
The Mariners won their third in a row, pushed their record 50-47 and clinched their first winning road series since a three-game sweep on May 20-22 at Cincinnati. They were 0-5-2 in their previous seven road series.
"We haven’t done that in a while," Servais said. "There’s no doubt (there’s a different feeling in the clubhouse). It’s nice to see the confidence. Guys are loose. Again, it’s driven by the starting pitching."
Dickey (7-11) lasted just three-plus innings and gave up six runs and seven hits.
Every Mariner in the starting lineup had at least one hit. Shortstop Shawn O’Malley, in his fifth straight start, had three singles, including one when he beat out an intended sacrifice bunt in the five-run sixth inning.
Kyle Seager capped a five-run sixth inning against reliever Jesse Chavez with a two-run homer. Robinson Cano and Nori Aoki joined O’Malley with three hits. Four more players had two hits.
The Mariners trailed 1-0 when they loaded the bases in the third inning on O’Malley leadoff infield single before Dickey hit two batters with one out.
Cruz then caught a flat 1-2 knuckleball and drove it into the batter’s eye beyond the center-field wall. The 433-foot drive was the ninth grand slam of Cruz’s career.
"I felt like I executed a pretty good pitch to Cruz," Dickey said, "and he did a good job of staying with it."
The Mariners knocked out Dickey and extended their lead to 6-1 in a two-run fourth inning. They blew the game open with a five-run sixth against Chavez after Chris Iannetta led off with a double.
Singles by O’Malley, Aoki and Seth Smith made it 8-1. After a single by Cano loaded the bases, Cruz grounded into a run-scoring double play. Seager followed with a two-run homer, and it was 11-1.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Something you don’t often see: Toronto’s Josh Donaldson stuck in arm, protected by an elbow pad, into a slow curve from Hisashi Iwakuma in the third inning.
The ball hit Donaldson. He dropped his bat and headed to first. But umpire Jordan Baker called him back, saying Donaldson made no effort to get out of the way. The pitch went into the books as a ball.
The Mariners eventually retired Donaldson when he hit a squibber in front of the plate. Catcher Chris Iannetta made a quick pick-up and throw for the out at first.
PLUS: Nori Aoki was 3-for-6 and is 6-for-15 in three games since returning from Triple-A Tacoma…Shawn O’Malley was 3-for-5 with a walk and is batting .304 (14-for-46) in his last 20 games…Chris Iannetta was 2-for-4 with a walk for his first multi-hit game since June 20…Hisashi Iwakuma pitched through the sixth inning for the 12th time in his last 13 starts.
MINUS: There wasn’t much not to like. Wade LeBlanc gave up three runs in the eighth inning, but he was in a throw-strikes mode while pitching with a 14-2 lead…Five of the Blue Jays’ six runs in the two games came on homers by ex-Mariners. Michael Saunders hit two Saturday after hitting one on Friday — all with the bases empty. Justin Smoak hit a two-run homer on Saturday.
STAT PACK: Nelson Cruz’s nine career grand slams are tied for ninth-most among active players — but rank second among his current teammates. Robinson Cano has 10. Ex-Mariner Alex Rodriguez is the active leader with 25.
QUOTABLE: Hisashi Iwakuma is 11-6 after winning 10 of his last 12 decisions.
Asked whether he ever wonders what the Dodgers think after backing away from a tentative three-year deal last December because of medical concerns, Iwakuma laughed and said: "Not at all."
SHORT HOPS: Toronto outfielder Michael Saunders’ two homers boosted his season total to 19, which matched his previous career high set in 2012 with the Mariners…the Mariners have an 18-9 edge in their last 27 games against the Blue Jays…Nelson Cruz is the first player to hit a grand slam and a three-run homer against Toronto since Cleveland’s Manny Ramirez on Sept. 24, 1999.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners