ATLANTA — An inning into the game, the Mariners looked done.
They were down 4-0 to the Atlanta Braves thanks to yet another shaky start from Erasmo Ramirez, and it seemed destined to get worse. Perhaps if it had been at Safeco Field, the game would have been over.
But on a warm and muggy night at Turner Field, where the ball was carrying well, the Mariners took advantage of the hitter-friendly conditions to rally for a 7-5 victory over the Braves.
John Buck belted his first home run as a Mariner — a two-run, opposite-field shot off reliever Alex Wood in the seventh inning — to break a 5-5 tie.
Buck got the chance because Dustin Ackley was able to leg out a slow roller up the first-base line with two outs, beating first baseman Freddie Freeman to the bag.
“You just got to run hard,” Ackley said. “It was kind of a tweener. I definitely didn’t think it was a hit right off the bat.”
Manager Lloyd McClendon didn’t overlook Ackley’s hustle to get Buck the at-bat.
“Those are the things I preach to my team all the time — not giving teams extra outs,” McClendon said. “We took advantage of it.”
Well, Buck took advantage of it, blasting the home run to right field off an elevated change-up.
Buck had seen Wood during his time in the National League East with the Marlins, facing him five times.
“I knew he had a good change-up and liked to throw me in,” Buck said. “I had that feeling he might go with another change-up, I looked for it up and I ran into it. “
It was Buck’s third hit of the night and one of 13 for the Mariners.
Seattle (30-28) needed every one of those hits with the hole that Ramirez put the M’s in immediately. Called up from Class AAA Tacoma to make this specific start, Ramirez looked like the same pitcher that pitched his way out of the starting rotation and into the minor leagues earlier this season. He left pitches over the plate and fell behind in counts and lasted just three innings, giving up five runs on eight hits.
“He struggled,” McClendon said. “You have to make quality pitches, and he just didn’t make too many quality pitches tonight.”
Ramirez gave up three straight singles to start the game to put the Mariners behind 1-0. The lead grew when hulking catcher Evan Gattis blasted a three-run homer over the wall in left field.
“I was missing my spots too much,” Ramirez said. “The things I wasn’t doing in Triple A, I did here and I paid for it. They took advantage of every mistake I made.”
Fortunately for the Mariners, Atlanta starter Gavin Floyd wasn’t much better.
Seattle answered the four-run first, scoring two runs in the top of the second with Brad Miller and James Jones coming up with RBI singles.
“You get behind four runs and normally people would think ‘you just pack it in,’ ” Ackley said. “But any time you can cut the deficit in half it is huge because it gives you the sense, ‘OK, we are back in the game.’ “
The Mariners were back in the game two innings later.
Ramirez’s day would be short. He gave up a solo homer to B.J. Upton in the second inning to make it 5-2. With runners on first and second and no outs in the top of the fourth, McClendon pinch-hit for Ramirez with Stefen Romero.
The move worked better than expected. Romero sent the second pitch he saw from Floyd over the wall in left-center with a screaming line drive to tie the score.
“Initially, I thought I was going to bunt,” he said.
But third-base coach Rich Donnelly gave Romero the hit sign instead.
“I just wanted to drive something in the gap,” Romero said. “I got ahead early in the count, and I got a fastball up. I thought it might go out or might hit the wall so I just started sprinting out of the box.”
Even with the win, the Mariners still have serious issues with the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation. It seems unlikely that McClendon will want to reward Ramirez with another start after Tuesday’s outing.
The hope was that young prospect Taijuan Walker would replace Ramirez in the rotation and start on Monday in Tampa Bay. But Walker made it just two innings in his rehab start in El Paso, throwing 56 pitches with just 28 strikes. He gave up just one run on one hit with four strikeouts, but he also walked four batters and hit another.
It’s not exactly the precision command needed for major-league success.
What will they do?
“I’m not even thinking about it right now,” McClendon said. “I need to sit down and talk with Jack (Zduriencik) about it.”