TORONTO (AP) — A winter spent working on adjustments, both mental and mechanical, are starting to pay off for Seattle outfielder Michael Saunders.
Saunders hit two home runs, including a grand slam in the 10th inning, and the Mariners rallied to beat the Toronto Blue Jays 9-5 on Friday night, extending their winning streak to a season-high four games.
“He’s a completely different hitter this year,” Seattle manager Eric Wedge said of Saunders. “It’s to his credit with the work he did this winter and how he came in and made this ballclub this spring. He’s always been a complete ballplayer but the hitting had always been a little bit short. This year it hasn’t been.”
After struggling at the plate in 2011, hitting just .149 in 58 games, Saunders decided to work with a private hitting coach over the winter to retool both his swing and his attitude.
“I was all ears,” Saunders said. “I was desperate at that point.”
Now those long hours of offseason effort are bearing fruit: Friday was Saunders’ first multihomer game of the year and his fourth multi-hit game in the past five.
“I still have a long way to go but I’m seeing results and I’m feeling a lot more comfortable in the box,” he said.
Saunders started a two-run rally in the ninth with a shot to center, then hit the tiebreaking homer to right off Luis Perez (2-1) in the 10th, his first career slam and third homer of the season.
Charlie Furbush (2-1) got two outs for the win and Jesus Montero also homered for the Mariners, who had lost eight of their past nine games in Toronto.
Edwin Encarnacion and Eric Thames hit solo homers for the Blue Jays, undone by three errors as their losing streak reached four games.
Trailing 5-3 to begin the ninth, the Mariners cut it to one when Saunders connected off Francisco Cordero. Clinging to the lead, Toronto was twice let down by its defense. Pinch-hitter Kyle Seager reached on a throwing error by Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie, and pinch runner Munenori Kawasaki went to third on catcher J.P. Arencibia’s errant pickoff throw that ended up in right field.
Blue Jays manager John Farrell didn’t think much of Arencibia’s throw.
“I thought J.P. tried to force some things defensively,” Farrell said. “Errors are going to be made, but when you can make a decision to prevent that, that’s where we’ve got to be a little bit smarter.”
Arencibia, meanwhile, wasn’t questioning his decision.
“I don’t play scared, I play aggressive,” he said. “It’s a high-risk play but I’d do it again.”
Dustin Ackley was intentionally walked to bring up pinch hitter John Jaso, who tied it with a single that dropped just in front of a diving Colby Rasmus in center. With Toronto slow to react to the loose ball, Ackley tried to score from first but was thrown out at the plate.
The blown save, Toronto’s fifth in nine chances this season, canceled a two-run Blue Jays rally in the eighth. Thames broke a 3-3 tie with a homer to center, his second. Lawrie singled and went to third on a throwing error by pitcher Tom Wilhelmsen before scoring on Arencibia’s sacrifice fly.
Mariners starter Blake Beaven, who was on the losing end of Phil Humber’s perfect game last week, saw Ricky Romero hold Seattle hitless through five innings in this one, although the visitors scraped out a run in the third thanks to a pair of walks and a fielding error by Lawrie.
The Blue Jays, who scored just three total runs during this week’s three-game sweep in Baltimore, got their offense started when Encarnacion drilled a leadoff homer into the center field restaurant in the second. It was his fifth of the season.
Toronto took the lead with two in the fourth. Encarnacion hit a one-out double, Thames reached on an infield single and, after Brett Lawrie popped up, Rasmus drove in both runners with a double into the right field corner, putting Toronto up 3-1.
Romero lost his no-hit bid when Ackley led off the sixth with a double to right, and coughed up the lead in the seventh. Montero began the inning with a homer that scraped over the wall in left, his third. Romero got two outs but couldn’t finish, giving up a single to eighth hitter Miguel Olivo and an RBI double to ninth hitter Casper Wells. Romero was replaced after walking Ackley, with Jason Frasor coming on to retire Brendan Ryan.