SEATTLE — The last time Kendrys Morales hit a walk-off home run, he learned a lesson in the most difficult and painful way possible.
So after his pinch-hit, three-run blast off Oakland Athletics closer Grant Balfour gave the Seattle Mariners a 6-3 win in the 10th inning Sunday at Safeco Field, Morales was more than ecstatic, but he controlled himself as he approached his cheering teammates at the plate.
While others jump into the fray to put an exclamation point on such an achievement, Morales casually stepped on the plate while his teammates carefully but gleefully mobbed him.
Why the caution?
Well, the other time Morales hit a walk-off home run, it was followed by immediate, excruciating pain and heartbreak.
On May 29, 2010 — against the Mariners, of all teams — Morales crushed a walk-off grand slam against then-closer Brandon League to give the Los Angeles
Angels a 5-1 win in the 10th. As so many players do in the same situation, Morales leaped on the plate in the midst of his teammates. But the cheering stopped when Morales collapsed in pain.
His lower left leg was twisted in a sickly mess. His tibia and fibula had snapped.
It would require a lengthy surgery and a lengthier rehabilitation. He still ices the area where he broke the leg after every game.
Even with a more subdued approach Sunday, Morales was all smiles.
“That was a learning experience for me,” he said through a team translator. “I can’t do that anymore, but I had to celebrate this win.”
His teammates didn’t let him get by without the customary head slaps. Justin Smoak fired some sunflower seeds at him, and Felix Hernandez gave him a few exaggerated kicks to the behind. But he walked off the field after this walk-off homer.
After playing through a stiff lower back for more than a week, Morales was out of the starting lineup.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge told Morales to do nothing until the sixth inning, when he could start preparing for pinch-hit duty.
“He was pretty good about it,” Wedge said. “But he was more than ready the last two innings. I think he had his helmet on the last two innings and was ready to hit. He was champing at the bit to get up there.”
Wedge found the best opportunity in the bottom of the 10th, when Oakland brought in Balfour with the score 3-3.
With one out, Balfour seemed to have struck out Mike Zunino swinging on a slider in the dirt. However, the ball squirted away from catcher John Jaso toward the Mariners’ dugout, and Zunino sprinted toward first base. Jaso tracked down the ball and fired an awkward throw to first that was too late.
As a catcher, Zunino knows how difficult that play can be when the ball bounces so far away.
“It’s really tough,” he said. “You obviously want it to stay close, and if it doesn’t, you have to hurry, no matter who is running. It was one of those where I knew if I hustled, I had a chance.”
Zunino advanced to third when Michael Saunders singled through the right side on a 3-2 pitch.
Wedge called on Morales to bat for Brendan Ryan.
Morales simply was looking to hit a fly to score Zunino. He got more than that, jumping on a low fastball and launching it into the stands in right-center field.
“I thought it was just a fly ball,” he said. “I didn’t know it was out till it was out.”
It was Seattle’s first walk-off homer since Luis Rodriguez hit one in the 12th inning against the New York Yankees on Sept. 14, 2011.
The Mariners got a decent outing from starter Jeremy Bonderman. He worked 5 innings, giving up two runs on six hits with three walks and two strikeouts.
“I had no command with my curveball,” he said.
He left with a 3-2 lead thanks to Raul Ibañez, who hit two home runs off A’s starter Jarrod Parker.
Oliver Perez (2-1) pitched two scoreless innings for the win.Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 ryan.divish@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish