The Seattle Mariners have been one of the hottest teams in baseball. Maybe you already knew that. Maybe you didn't already know that. But you know that now. The Mariners came into play on Thursday at 28-27, winners of 11 of their past 14 games. But where ordinarily you'd assume that a hot team has been clicking on all cylinders, the Mariners haven't been. Their ERA over that span was an outstanding 2.37, but they averaged only 3.6 runs scored per game, the consequence of a .641 team OPS.
Even while winning, the Mariners haven't been able to hit. And a big problem - maybe the biggest problem - has been a dearth of power. After bringing up the league rear with 101 total home runs in 2010, the Mariners came in on Thursday again in last place, with 29 dingers against Oakland's second-to-last 32. Home runs aren't a necessary component of a productive offense, but they're a big help, and without them, the M's have been struggling to score.
Given that Thursday brought the Rays and bounceback ace James Shields to Seattle, it looked like M's fans were in for more of the same. They'd get a good start from Felix Hernandez, they'd watch the offense flail away against Shields, and the game would ultimately be decided by one or two runs. That's the way it had been for weeks, and there was no reason to think it would change.
But oh, did it change. If only for one night, Mariners fans were treated to something completely different, as they watched their team sock four home runs and thump Shields and the Rays 8-2.
The Rays actually threatened first, getting men on the corners with two out against Felix in the top of the first. But Felix struck out B.J. Upton to escape, and after that, the Rays would never again feel like they had the upper hand.
Jack Cust led off the bottom of the second by blasting a 2-0 Shields fastball out to center for his first home homer of the year, and second homer overall. Four batters later, Chone Figgins' seeing-eye single plated another run, and then rookie Carlos Peguero stepped in and launched a changeup way out for a three-run shot that made the score 5-0.
The score widened in the third with Adam Kennedy's RBI double, and the score only widened even further in the fourth. Peguero led off by knocking a hanging curve out to left-center for his second home run of the game. Three batters after that, Justin Smoak pulled a low line drive out to right. Smoak's was the Mariners' fourth homer on the night, and it made the score 8-0.
With Felix cruising, the Rays might as well have given up then and there and saved everyone the trouble. Felix wound up going seven innings, allowing one run and striking out 11 before getting pulled with 97 pitches. And though the Mariners didn't score again after Smoak's longball, the Rays never made it competitive. A garbage time solo homer by Matt Joyce in the eighth made it 8-2, but that's where the score stuck, with Chris Ray polishing off the ninth.
A freak power display? Definitely a freak power display. The Mariners aren't going to hit four home runs a night. The Mariners aren't going to hit one home run a night. But the timing on Thursday was good, as the run support allowed the M's to feel what it's like to soundly defeat a quality opponent. It had been some time since the last time they'd done that. The Padres don't count.
The four-game series continues on Friday, with Andy Sonnanstine opposing Jason Vargas.