Baseball / Sports

Morales' homer lifts Mariners to 2-0 win over Blue Jays

SEATTLE -- The Seattle Mariners traded for Kendrys Morales for one reason, and that reason isn't lost on Morales.

As good as the Mariners' pitching has been, the offense needed reinforcements. Morales provides a proven bat in the middle of the order, even if he has struggled for most of this season.

"They brought me here for a reason," Morales said, "and while I haven't had the results up to this point, I'm going to keep working hard to bring that production."

In his past five games, Morales has started to turn the corner. His two-run homer in the first inning lifted the Mariners to a 2-0 win Wednesday against the Toronto Blue Jays in front of 32,368 fans. It was just his third home run this season but his second in as many nights, and it helped the Mariners cap a homestand that went about as well as it could have.

The Mariners won eight of nine games, averaged nearly six runs a game and moved into a virtual tie with the Detroit Tigers for the final American League wild-card spot.

The Mariners and Tigers meet for a three-game series in Detroit starting Friday.

Seattle is 10 games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2007 season.

"This was just an important series," Morales said. "The offense clicked, and it's good that we get to keep that going. We knew Toronto was coming in and we were tied with them. We knew it was big, and that gave us a lot more energy going forward."

Morales has hit in four of his past five games, including three multi-hit games. He also homered on Tuesday night, and Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said he is getting better every day.

Morales missed spring training while waiting to sign with a team and didn't play in his first game this season until early June.

The Mariners' series against the Blue Jays was billed as the biggest of the season. If that was the case -- if the three-game series against a fellow wild-card contender brought on the first signs of playoff fever in Seattle -- the Mariners answered the call with some of their best baseball of the season.

McClendon has called his offense a "BB gun" this season, and it has been the glaring weakness on a team whose pitching staff has produced historically good numbers to this point.

But the Mariners played with some gunpowder in their nine-game homestand. They scored 52 runs, an average of 5.8 runs per game. In the first 16 gams after the All-Star break, they scored 43 runs, or just 2.7 runs per game.

They scored at least four runs in seven of their nine games this homestand. In their previous 16 games, they had scored four runs or more only six times.

The Mariners are 48-10 this season when they score four runs in a game.

"I think guys are settling in their roles maybe in the lineup and feeling better at the plate, and I think that's the biggest thing," catcher Mike Zunino said. "It's just one of those things that once one guy gets going, a lot of guys just want to tack on too."

The one constant this season -- the one thing that has kept the Mariners hanging around even when their offense has gone cold -- has been the pitching staff. Hisashi Iwakuma pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings, and the Mariners extended their club record of allowing three runs or less to 12 straight games.

Iwakuma has gone at least six innings and given up two runs or less in eight of his past nine starts.

"I thought he had an exceptional split tonight," McClendon said. "I was very pleased with his outing."

Iwakuma battled out of a jam in the fourth inning with two outs and runners on second and third. But he struck out Munenori Kawasaki to end the threat.

The only other danger the Blue Jays mustered came in the seventh inning, when Iwakuma put a runner on first with two outs. McClendon pulled him and brought in reliever Charlie Furbush, who walked the first and only batter he faced.

McClendon dipped further into his bullpen and called on Danny Farquhar, who struck out Jose Reyes with two runners on to end the inning.

Yoervis Medina worked a scoreless eighth and Fernando Rodney picked up his 35th save of the season.

"It was a good homestand," McClendon said. "Our guys should be proud of it. But it's over with now."

(c)2014 The Seattle Times

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