SEATTLE — Given the number of them on the Tampa Bay Rays roster, a former Seattle Mariner was likely going to play a part in the outcome of every game this series. It had already happened Friday night with Ji-Man Choi’s bases-loaded walk for the decisive run in a Tampa victory.
On Saturday, it was Mike Zunino’s turn to haunt his old team. The slugging catcher, who has struggled at the plate this season while losing playing time to Travis D’Arnaud, flashed some of the tantalizing power that made Mariners fans crazy with hope and frustration.
Zunino smashed a three-run homer off lefty Tommy Milone into the un-watching mass of imbibing and cavorting fans known as The Pen to ignite a four-run fifth inning and propel the Rays to a 5-4 victory over the Mariners.
It was Zunino’s eighth homer of the season.
Seattle banged around Tampa’s best starter, Charlie Morton, for four runs on nine hits in six innings, but also struck out 10 times. They were 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position.
The Mariners may have found their permanent opener in Matt Wisler. The right-hander, who was acquired from the San Diego Padres on July 4 for cash considerations, made his fourth “start” as an opener and worked a quick 1-2-3 inning on just 10 pitches. He came back and worked another scoreless inning, allowing just one hit.
In four outings as the opener, he’s pitched a total of six shutout innings, allowing just two hits with five strikeouts and no walks.
But this time it was the pitcher who followed the opener who struggled. Milone worked just four innings, giving up five runs on six hits — three of them home runs — with no walks or strikeouts.
Following Zunino’s homer, Kevin Kiermaier crushed a solo homer for the fourth run of the inning.
Seattle answered with two runs in the bottom of inning. Mallex Smith led off with his seventh triple of the season, a line drive into the right-field corner that allowed him to race to third with ease. He scored easily on J.P. Crawford’s ground ball to first base. Omar Narvaez cut the lead to 4-3 by adding to his career-high total (17) in home runs, launching a solo shot into the right-field seats.
The two teams exchanged runs in the sixth inning. Avisail Garcia crushed a solo homer to center and the Mariners answered with an RBI single from Tim Lopes.
The Mariners got an outstanding effort from rookie Reggie McClain, who was pitching at T-Mobile Park for the first time. McClain tossed three scoreless innings in relief of Milone, allowing just one hit and striking out two batters to give the chance for a comeback that never could be realized.