Mike Zunino knew it the moment he made contact. As soon as he could put down the bat and start running to first, he raised his right hand into the air in celebration as his hard ground ball went up the middle and into the outfield.
Zunino’s first walk-off hit in his month-long big league career gave the Mariners’ a 5-4 11-inning win over the Chicago Cubs, Friday night at Safeco Field.
“Yeah, yeah, with the infield playing in I knew I got enough of it to get it through,” an excited Zunino said.
Once the winning run – Michael Saunders crossed home – the Mariners turned their eyes on the prized rookie catcher. They didn’t treat him with kid gloves. He was pummeled in celebration.
“Oh man, there were a couple rib shots and few slaps on the back,” he said. “It was definitely worth it.”
For the Cubs, who just rid themselves of closer Carlos Marmol because of wildness and walks, the bottom of the 10th inning was reminder that their bullpen is a mess.
Reliever Blake Parker walked Michael Saunders and Raul Ibanez to start the inning.
To Saunders’ credit, he fell behind 1-2 and had stayed away from Parker’s nasty split-finger fastball. Ibanez did much the same in his next at-bat.
“Those were big league pitches and tough to lay off,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum had seen enough and replaced Parker with Shawn Camp .
With runners on first and second, JasonBay delivered a perfect sacrifice bunt down the third base line to advance the runners into scoring position.
Camp then intentionally walked Justin Smoak to load the bases and bring up Zunino.
Camp got ahead of Zunino with a 1-2 count. But Zunino wouldn’t chase two pitches out of the zone. And with a full count, he wasn’t looking for a walk.
“With a 3-2 count, I knew I had to stay aggressive,” Zunino said. “You have to stay within your zone and be aggressive in a spot you are looking.”
Wedge couldn’t ask for more from his catcher.
“It was a good at-bat by Z,” Wedge said. “He did a good job not trying to do too much and staying up the middle.”
The Mariners didn’t seem destined for victory after Alfonso Soriano and Dioner Navarro both hit solo homers in the seventh inning off of Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma to put the Cubs up 4-1.
It looked pretty bleak for an anemic Mariners’ offense that has destroyed the patience of Wedge each game.
But slowly Seattle chipped away at the lead. Brad Miller playing in his first game of his big league career, drove in his first run, scoring JasonBay from third with a fielder’s choice in the seventh inning.
An inning later, the Mariners tied the game at 4-4. Franklin led off with a double to right and scored on Kendrys Morales’ double to right-center. They tied the game moments later as Raul Ibanez dumped a soft liner off of tough lefty James Russell into left field that got past Brian Bogusevic for an RBI triple.
Seattle got a decent start from Iwakuma. He gave them eight innings. But pitches over the middle of the plate – something that has plagued him in his last few starts – plagued him again.
Iwakuma gave up an RBI triple to Ryan Sweeney in the second inning on a fastball up in the zone. Sweeney would score on the play after Nick Franklin’s relay throw to home skipped off the shin guard of catcher Mike Zunino and rolled into the Cubs dugout.
“Overall, I thought pitched well,” Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. “I was able to get strike one on hitters. The home runs were on pitches to the fat part of the plate.”
The Mariners did little against Cubs starter Travis Wood, who pitched 6 1/3 innings, giving up two runs on three hits with three walks and strikeouts.
Down 2-0 early, JasonBay cut the lead in half in the fifth inning with a solo homer to left field – his ninth of the season.
Miller had an eventful debut. Besides the RBI, he drew a walk and stole a base. He also handled every ball hit to him, including the first hitter of the game an easy ground ball which he fielded with ease. He also had a diving stop on a ground ball up the middle and made two tough catches on pop-ups.
“I thought he was outstanding,” Wedge said.
Miller got a postgame beer shower with Zunino to celebrate.
“I’m still on cloud nine,” Miller said. “Just getting out there was a big thing and getting some at-bats and getting to play. It was so much fun.”