In the midst of saying “It was just a bad day” several times following his previous start in Houston – a forgettable eight-run, 11-hit outing – Joe Saunders also said, he would “go get’em next time.”
Saunders made good on that promise on Monday night.
The veteran left-hander continued his mastery at Safeco Field, pitching the Seattle Mariners’ first complete game of the season in a 6-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles in front a Safeco Field record-low 9,818 fans.
Saunders wasn’t dominant, just brutally efficient, giving up two runs on four hits with one walk and two strikeouts. He recorded 19 ground ball outs which always a good sign for him.
“He pitched a great ball game,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “It was great job of finishing it off against a good line-up. He did a great job of moving his fastball around. He did a great job of working his change-up off that. He dropped his breaking ball in there when he needed to. Just a great effort by Joe.”
What did Saunders think?
“A little better outing, yeah,” he deadpanned.
Saunders admitted that he was suffering from quadriceps tightness in that previous outing in Houston.
“It was preventing me from really pushing off,” Saunders said. “Not to make excuses. I was piss poor last game and I needed to make up for it tonight.”
And he did. It helped being at Safeco Field where he is now 8-0 with a 1.75 ERA in 12 career starts.
“That’s the beauty of baseball,” Wedge said. “Some guys just have more success against certain teams, against certain players or at certain places.
The questions as to why he’s been so good at Safeco have grown wearisome for Saunders. Cold weather, heavy air and larger dimensions seem to be the logical reasons. Saunders didn’t mention any of those things.
“Yeah, I don’t know,” Saunders said shaking his head. “Notoriously, I’m better on the road. So I don’t know what’s going on. I need to be better on the road. I pride myself on the being good on the road.”
The only two runs Saunders gave up against his former team came in the fourth inning. With two outs and a runner on first, his former catcher Matt Wieters jumped on a fastball on the inside of the plate and yanked it down the line over the wall in left field to give the Orioles a 2-1 lead.
“I dog-cussed myself out in the dugout after that,” Saunders said.
But his teammates made sure they were would be no more dog cussing. Jason Bay delivered a run-scoring double and fellow former Oriole Robert Andino added an RBI single off Orioles starter Zach Britton to retake the lead.
Even with temperatures dropping to the mid 40s by midgame, the Mariners offense suddenly had some life. Two innings later Justin Smoak and Jason Bay each singled to start the sixth. Wedge had Andino sacrifice the runners into scoring position bringing up Brendan Ryan, who was hitting .145 coming into the game. Ryan had failed to safety squeeze attempts and struck out in a similar situation in the fourth inning. This time he delivered, singling to right to score Smoak.
“That’s big for him,” Wedge said. “Again, he beats himself up and it’s Groundhog Day with that. And hopefully some time his lifetime, he’ll get beyond that. But that was a big hit. Less is more for him up there. When he’s under control and quiet with the bat, then has a pretty good swing.”
The Mariners tacked on another run as Bay scored on Michael Saunders fielders’ choice, and another when Kyle Seager tripled home a run. Seattle scored six runs on 11 hits in frigid temperatures? How did that happen?
Bay, who had three hits on the night, credited Michael Saunders’ first-inning lead-off home run as a big key. Activated from the disabled list earlier in the day, Michael Saunders made his presence felt immediately, crushing the second pitch he saw from Britton over the wall in right-center. It was the first lead-off homer of his career.
“I think that instantly got the dugout going, it woke up everybody early,” Bay said. “And we just kind of rolled from there.”
Given the extra run support, Saunders went to work, cruising through the final three innings, not allowing a base runner. It was his first completed game since April 27 of last season when he was pitching against the Miami Marlins for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“Every pitcher says it’s their job and what they try to do,” he said. “But it’s freakin’ hard to do. You need to have some breaks. And you need to have some quick outs. Once you hit 100 pitches, those bullpens start going.”