By Geoff Baker, The Seattle Times -
SEATTLE — Mike Carp finally had the chance to talk home runs again, along with the importance of timing and what it takes to beat an opponent down.
The Seattle Mariners didn’t score very often after the first couple of innings of a 5-2 win Sunday over the Minnesota Twins. But in the end, when they scored mattered just as much as how often they did in clinching a series victory.
An early offensive flurry was enough to psychologically bury a Twins team that had entered the day with the worst four-game hit total in modern baseball history (since 1900). Carp’s first home run of the season put Seattle ahead by four runs just two innings in and had the Twins looking as if they’d rather be anyplace but on the field for the seven frames that followed.
“It’s good, especially with our pitching staff,” Carp said. “If we can score some runs early, we know they’re going to come in and dominate the rest of the game.”
Well, maybe not against every team and not in games that Felix Hernandez spends in the dugout instead of on the mound. But against a Twins team that had managed just nine hits the past four contests, it was a pretty safe assumption that early scores would have a devastating impact.
And that’s what happened in front of 23,913 fans at Safeco Field after Jesus Montero doubled home a pair of runs off Nick Blackburn in the first inning, followed by a Kyle Seager double that made it a 3-0 game. Mariners starter Hector Noesi has been all over the map this early season, but barely broke a sweat for seven innings in this affair once staked to the early advantage.
Carp’s homer to right field leading off the second inning made it 4-0 and appeared to vaporize any fight the floundering Twins—losers of 10 of 12 and with the worst-scoring offense in the American League—may have had left.
Dustin Ackley tripled in the fourth inning and scored on a Brendan Ryan sacrifice fly to eliminate any doubt as to which team was going to win. Minnesota barely registered a pulse until Ryan Doumit ended a homerless drought for his ballclub that stretched 259 plate appearances when he tagged Noesi for a leadoff blast in the seventh.
It was the fourth and final hit allowed by Noesi. Doumit then did himself one better with another solo homer in the ninth—this one off Tom Wilhelmsen—but it was all academic by then.
Carp’s homer came in just his third game back from a sprained shoulder suffered in the season opener in Japan.
“It felt good,” Carp said. “It’s been a lot of hard work and I’m just trying to get back and have some consistent at-bats.”
Those are the types of at-bats manager Eric Wedge has been preaching to his entire ballclub. He saw several such at-bats in Detroit on the last road trip, when the Mariners took early leads in all three games en route to a sweep.
But after that, the offense slowed considerably.
“It’s always nice to jump out early, take advantage of opportunities and get out in front like that,” Wedge said. “We had a couple of guys step up for us with those RBI opportunities, and that’s a good sign.
“I feel like we’ve got a couple of guys offensively heading in the right direction. Some a little bit quicker than others, but baby steps with that. They’re definitely a little more comfortable with runners in scoring position and that’s the biggest part of it—controlling your heartbeat and being comfortable and confident in those situations.”
Seager had become particularly adept at handling RBI opportunities, driving in 10 runs his past five games. He’d snapped a scoreless tie with two out in the sixth inning on Saturday before delivering what would be the decisive run of Sunday’s affair.
Montero also came through big, ripping a ball past third baseman Danny Valencia after Ackley had opened with a walk, followed by a Ryan single. Ryan’s handling of the No. 2 spot in the order the past two games has earned him considerable praise from Wedge.
But Ryan said the Mariners are still learning how to win. That statement is evidenced by Seattle’s inability to sweep a series against a Twins squad that had scored in only one of 42 innings before Doumit’s first homer on Sunday.
The Mariners did not produce enough scores when needed Friday, then gift-wrapped a decisive three-run seventh inning for the Twins on two walks, an error and two ground balls. Ryan said it’s up to veteran players like himself to lead the way in executing the right way and at the right time.
“It’s that one inning on defense, or not having that five-run inning when it’s there for us,” Ryan said.