The 24-year-old Justin Smoak has now played 148 major league games and his home run tonight was his 21st – and the first of its kind for the Seattle Mariners first baseman.
It came in the eighth inning in a game was trailing 2-0, and produced a 3-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles.
“I wasn’t looking for any particular pitch, and I sure wasn’t thinking home run – not the way I’ve been lately,” Smoak said.
Smoak came to the plate in that eighth inning with two hits in his last 17 at-bats, with his batting average down to .250. Then Jeremy Guthrie hung a changeup and Smoak hammered it for his eighth home run.
After Erik Bedard allowed only two runs in 6 1/3 innings and handed off to Chris Ray, the Mariners went into the bottom of the eighth with three hits against Guthrie. Then with two outs, Ichiro was safe on an error when Guthrie covered first base but couldn’t handle a throw from first baseman Luke Scott.
Brendan Ryan, the new No. 2 hitter and a man who’d already extended his hitting streak to a career high 11 games, singled to bring up Smoak. Guthrie vs. Smoak, game on the line.
“That’s as good as any game anyone has thrown against us all year,” manager Eric Wedge said. “Our guys battled, but into the eighth inning, we hadn’t really done anything against him.”
Smoak homered and the Seattle dugout when slightly crazy. The smallest crowd in Safeco Field history – 11, 692 – stood and cheered until Smoak made a curtain call.
“I’ve never hit one like that, to take the lead late in a game and win it,” Smoak admitted.
Where’s it rank, then?
“Right at the top,” Smoak said.
The victory left the Mariners 15-11 in May – there first winning month since last June. It pulled their record to 28-26, and inched them to within one half game of Texas and first place in the American League West.