CINCINNATI — The Seattle Mariners’ first game at Great American Ball Park was, well, great.
The Mariners got a quality outing from their starting pitcher, shutout relief from their bullpen and enough production from an offense still searching for consistency, and it added up to a 4-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Friday.
The Mariners haven’t had enough of those types of balanced showings this season, which is why their record is 38-48. But Seattle is 3-1 on this trip and easily could be 4-0, so there is a glimmer of progress being made.
“It was very important to get the first win of the series,” said reliever Oliver Perez, who struck out the side in the ninth inning to pick up his second save of the season. “Now we have three wins on this road trip. We have to go for the series tomorrow.”
The Mariners made themselves at home in their new surroundings, starting with the first at-bat of the game.
Rookie Brad Miller, who entered the game with 20 career at-bats in the major leagues, was batting in the leadoff spot for the first time.
It was a big step for a player in his seventh big league game. But manager Eric Wedge didn’t say a word to him about it beforehand.
“I didn’t want to make a bigger deal out of it,” Wedge said. “I’m sure you (media) guys did that well enough on your own. I wanted him to just go out and play. But his personality — he’s
pretty even-keel – he has a pretty good idea what he’s supposed to do and how he’s supposed to do it.”
And Miller did what he was supposed to do.
After falling behind 0-2 to Reds starter Mike Leake, Miller lashed a fastball into the gap in right-center field. Right fielder Jay Bruce tried to cut it off, but his sliding attempt came up short, and the baseball rolled to the wall. Miller, who left the batter’s box sprinting, rolled into third base with a triple.
“That felt good,” Miller said. “First at-bat, I just wanted to have a good at-bat and pass it off to Frankie.”
Frankie is fellow rookie Nick Franklin, who one-upped Miller by crushing the first pitch he saw from Leake over the wall in right-center for his fifth home run of the season.
“That was a great way to set the tone,” Franklin said of Miller’s triple. “I was just looking for a pitch to drive. Usually I want to see a pitcher (when facing him) for the first time, but at that point in time, I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to try to jump on anything that looks good.’ ”
The Mariners pushed the lead to 3-0 in the second inning, when Michael Saunders led off the inning with a line-drive homer to right-center.
Saunders hadn’t started a game since June 26. He suffered a smashed middle finger on his right hand during a June 28 game and had been available only as a substitute since then. He had just two at-bats during that span, but there was no rust on his home run swing.
“Obviously, it felt good,” Saunders said. “Any time you hit a homer, it feels good, especially coming off the first start I got in a while. I wasn’t trying to do too much. I got a couple at-bats in Texas, and the ball felt like it was getting on me. But I saw the ball well and put a good swing on it.”
Saunders made it 4-0 in the fourth inning by driving in Kyle Seager with a sacrifice fly to left.
The four earned runs off Leake were the most he’d given up in nine starts.
The four runs also were more than enough for Mariners starter Aaron Harang, who felt right at home in Great American Ball Park — for good reason. He played with the Reds from 2003-2010 and made 112 starts on that mound.
It showed as he went out and threw six solid innings, giving up two runs on six hits with a walk and four strikeouts.
“I definitely liked my odds here … ,” he said. “I’ve made many a start on that mound. I just got back out there, and it felt like old times.”
Harang turned over a 4-2 lead to the Mariners’ bullpen, and the score stayed right there. Yoervis Medina (two-thirds of an inning) and Charlie Furbush (1ª innings) didn’t allow a hit as they set up Perez for the ninth.
“Great job by all those guys,” Wedge said. “With the left-handers (in the Reds’ lineup) and the way it lined up late, we felt good going to Oliver, and he was really good. Charlie bridging that gap was huge as well, and Medina did a nice job.”
Offensively, the Mariners had just six hits. Miller tripled again in the fifth inning, becoming the first Seattle player to triple twice in a game since Carlos Guillen on May 9, 2003.
It won’t be a shock to see Miller at the top of the line-up again.
“Energy, aggressiveness — he’s offensive,” Wedge said. “That’s the way he plays the game, whether it be at home plate, in the field or on the basepaths. I love the way he comes out of the box. He’s thinking not doubles, he’s thinking triples out of the box. The ball comes off his bat well. It was a big boost for us tonight.”
The only damper on the night was seeing Franklin hobbling in pain. In his second at-bat, Franklin tried a drag bunt, and the ball hit off his bat and down onto the inside of his knee. He hobbled through the rest of the game, admittedly in pain.
“I just didn’t want to give up on it,” he said. “I saw the pitcher well, I felt OK at the time. I felt I didn’t want to hurt the team by any means by taking myself out. After it happened, every (at-bat) after that didn’t feel good. I obviously wasn’t comfortable, but I tried to do my best.”
The knee was noticeably swollen after the game. But Franklin was optimistic.
“It’s stiff right now,” Franklin said. “I’m going to try to throw a patch on and hopefully I’ll back out there tomorrow.”