SEATTLE — Nelson Cruz offered a hint of things to come Saturday night when he crushed a 459-foot homer, a three-run shot, in the first inning. That was the start. Just the start.
The Mariners hit five homers in a 12-6 slugfest victory over the Baltimore Orioles at Safeco Field. That makes three straight victories over the Orioles, by the way, and remember: They arrived with a seven-game winning streak.
Mike Zunino hit two homers in his first big-league game in more than 10 months. Seth Smith hit a homer for a third straight game, which is career first. And Adam Lind joined the party.
"It’s always exciting to get back," said Zunino, who returned Thursday from Triple-A Tacoma to replace an injured Steve Clevenger.
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"Obviously, how last year ended isn’t how you write it up. But there’s been a lot of work put into it. Just to get the opportunity to come back, and do that, was a lot of fun."
Fun, yes. For all that, the Mariners had trouble landing a knockout blow.
James Paxton (2-3) entered the sixth with a 9-2 lead but couldn’t make it through the inning. Nathan Karns gave up a two-run homer in the seventh inning to Chris Davis.
"I think I was just getting on the side of the ball a little bit (in the sixth inning)," Paxton said, "and it was running out over the plate.
"I’ve got to learn that adjustment to stay on top of the ball and drive it through the bottom of the zone."
Baltimore kept the game almost within reach, but never quite got there. The Mariners always had an answer whenever the situation demanded one and reached the midpoint of their season at 42-39.
The Mariners rocked Baltimore starter Tyler Wilson (4-6) for eight runs and nine hits in three-plus innings.
All eight runs scored on homers: Cruz’s three-run boomer in the first; Zunino’s two-run drive in the second; and Smith’s three-run shot in the fourth.
"He’s just not as crisp as he was," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He’s in the 80-plus-innings mark, and he’s just not carrying the same crispness he had earlier in the season. Happens with a lot of pitchers."
The Mariners built leads of 5-0, 8-1 and 9-2, but Baltimore had closed to within 9-4 and had the bases loaded with two outs in the sixth when Tom Wilhelmsen replaced Paxton to face Adam Jones.
Wilhelmsen responded by getting Jones to pop a full-count fastball on the infield — which was fine, except neither shortstop Shawn O’Malley nor second baseman Robinson Cano appeared to see it.
O’Malley grabbed it at the last instant.
The Mariners answered with three runs later in the inning against relievers Vance Worley and Mychal Givens. Kyle Seager sliced a one-out double to left and scored when Dae-Ho Lee followed with an apparent double.
Lee came off second after the slide and was tagged out. Lee argued he was pushed off the base by second baseman Jonathan Schoop, but the call stood. Lee was credited with an RBI single.
"A big man like that," manager Scott Servais said, "inertia says he hits the bag, he’s probably going to stay on the bag. But we didn’t win that argument."
The Mariners kept coming.
Lind hit a homer to left and, after Givens replaced Worley, Zunino hit his second homer of the game. The Mariners led 12-4.
Karns inherited that eight-run bulge to start the seventh but gave two back on a Davis homer. But Karns steadied and allowed nothing more in closing out the victory for his first career save.
"The guys brought the sticks today, didn’t they?" Paxton said. "That was awesome. Big hits, big runs. Homers. Great to see Zee hit the ball of the park today on his first game back."
PLAY OF THE GAME: One pitch after fouling a ball off the top of his right foot, Shawn O’Malley flicked a single into center field to start the fourth inning.
The foul had O’Malley limping around and brought a visit from trainer Rick Griffin and manager Scott Servais. After O’Malley tested his foot a few times by bouncing up and down, he collected his second hit of the game.
"It hurt," O’Malley said, "but I wanted to get even by getting a hit. That helped."
PLUS: Seth Smith has homers in three straight games for the first time in his 10-year career…the Mariners hit five homers in a game for the second time this season. The other occasion was May 31 in a 16-4 victory over San Diego at Safeco Field…Adam Lind had four hits, including three extra-base hits, and raised his average from .233 to .246…Shawn O’Malley reached base four times in five plate appearances with two singles and two walks.
MINUS: First baseman Adam Lind rush a throw after fielding Adam Jones’ leadoff grounder in the fourth inning. The throw skipped past pitcher James Paxton at first for what was scored a single. It led to Baltimore’s first run…Dae-Ho Lee came off second base because of a sloppy slide and was tagged out…Paxton had trouble closing out the Orioles in the sixth…Nathan Karns appeared to take a few hitters to find a groove…this is nit-picking on a night when the Mariners hit five homers and won by six runs.
STAT PACK: Robinson Cano collected his 100th hit of the season on a single in the first inning. It marked the seventh time in his career that he’s reached 100 before the All-Star break. Only two current players have done it more often: Miami outfielder Ichiro Suzuki (11 times) and Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera (eight). Cabrera has a chance to make it nine times; he has 92 hits.
QUOTABLE: Seth Smith’s homer came on a 3-0 pitch from Baltimore starter Tyler Wilson in the fourth inning. Shawn O’Malley led off with a single, after fouling a ball off his foot, and Leonys Martin walked.
"Wilson fell behind 3-0 on Smith before choosing to come in with a 90-mph meatball. Smith was waiting and crushed a 430-foot homer to right.
"I don’t swing 3-0 very often," Smith said, "but, sometimes, you want to take a chance and see what happens."
SHORT HOPS: Mike Zunino hit two homers for the third time in his career. He also did it Sept. 25, 2013 vs. Kansas City, and May 12, 2015 vs. San Diego…the Mariners had never hit more than four homers against the Orioles in their 403 previous meetings…the Mariners hold a 5-1 edge in the season series with only Sunday’s series finale remaining.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners