Franklin Gutierrez rescued the Seattle Mariners with a pinch-hit grand slam that punctuated a wild 11-9 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday night at Comerica Park.
The Mariners built leads of 4-0 and 5-1 for Taijuan Walker, who couldn’t hold them. They saw relievers David Rollins and Tom Wilhelmsen struggle as the Tigers surged to an 8-6 advantage.
But Gutierrez reversed momentum with one swing in the eighth inning when the Mariners stormed back with five runs against Neftali Feliz, the former Texas closer recently signed by the Tigers.
“Just put the ball in play,” Gutierrez said. “That was my thinking. I think I did pretty good. I put a good swing on it and four runs.”
Austin Jackson and Kyle Seager started the winning rally by reaching on one-out singles. Nelson Cruz struck out, but the Mariners loaded the bases on Robinson Cano’s sharp single to center.
A wild pitch scored Jackson and prompted an intentional walk to Seth Smith that reloaded the bases.
Up stepped Gutierrez as a pinch-hitter for Chris Taylor.
“In that situation,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “I just wanted a veteran up there. You know he’s going to give you a quality at-bat whatever happens.”
This was a quality at-bat: Gutierrez sliced a 1-1 fastball to right with enough carry to clear the right-field wall. It was the second pinch-hit slam in franchise history.
“As a pinch-hitter,” he said, “it’s tough when you go up there. It doesn’t matter how much you warm up. And this guy throws 96-97 (mph). I was looking for his fastball. He threw me the fastball, and I just hit it good.”
The Mariners led 11-8.
Now all they had to do was hold it — no sure thing since they had lost three of their four previous games since returning from the All-Star break because relievers gave up homers in the late innings.
Fernando Rodney gave one run back in the eighth when Ian Kinsler pulled a one-out double past third and came around on two wild pitches. Rodney exited after Victor Martinez’s two-out single.
Carson Smith got the final out in the eighth and closed out the game in the ninth for his eighth save in nine chances. Joe Beimel (1-1) got the victory. Feliz (1-3) was the loser.
What a ride.
“When you put up four runs in the first inning,” catcher Mike Zunino said, “and then you see one run come off the board and another run come off the board. “Then they put up that big inning. It sort of takes the wind out of your sails. But we were able to get some guys on, and Guti came up with another big swing.”
The comeback took Walker off the hook for a loss after he gave up six runs (five earned) in 41/3 innings.
“It’s frustrating,” he said, “because the offense gave me a huge lead, and I gave it up. But they picked us up, and we got the win.”
A concern: Walker appears to be back on the down escalator, too. He’s yielded 18 runs in 161/3 innings over his last three starts after going 6-1 with a 1.68 ERA in seven previous starts.
“Listen, nothing’s changed with Walker,” McClendon said. “You hope that you get three good ones out of five. ... To expect some clunkers from a rookie from time to time, yeah.”
The Mariners jumped Detroit starter Shane Greene for four runs in the first inning. When the Tigers grabbed one back in the second, thanks to some sloppy defense, Cruz answered with a 455-foot shot in the third.
Then it all went wrong.
J.D. Martinez countered Cruz’s homer with a 467-foot shot later in the third inning after Walker hit Victor Martinez with a two-out pitch. The Mariners’ lead was down to 5-3.
Greene exited in the top of the fifth — before Walker surrendered the rest of the margin later in the inning. Kinsler led off with a single, and Yoenis Cespedes followed with a 418-foot homer to left-center field.
When Walker allowed a one-out single to J.D. Martinez, the Mariners went to the bullpen. Rollins struck out Jefry Marte, but Detroit loaded the bases on a single to Nick Castellanos and a walk to Alex Avila.
In came Wilhelmsen, who couldn’t reach Andrew Romine’s squibber to the right side. That turned into an RBI single. When Wilhelmsen forced in another run by walking Anthony Gose, the Tigers had a 7-5 lead.
The Mariners pulled back to within a run after Logan Morrison’s one-out single. He went to third on Zunino’s double and scored on Jackson’s single to right.
Just the one run, though. The Mariners left the tying and go-ahead runs on base when Seager popped to short center, and Cruz grounded to short.
Detroit regained its two-run lead on Castellanos’ one-out homer in the seventh against Wilhelmsen.
That was all prelude to Gutierrez in the eighth.
“As soon as I saw the right fielder not moving at all,” he said, “I knew the ball was out. It was exciting at the moment because we needed this win.”
WEDNESDAY: Seattle (LHP Mike Montgomery: 4-3, 2.51) at Detroit (RHP Anibal Sanchez: 9-7, 4.55), 4:08 p.m., Root Sports, 710-AM