As Eric Wedge says, ‘Kudos to Michael Saunders’
Yeah, baseball is a funny game sometimes. How many people had written off Michael Saunders after last season? Or an easier question, how many figured him as still part of the Mariners’ future after he struggled through a .149 season with two home runs and eight RBIs in 58 games?
Remember when Franklin Gutierrez was being touted as the big offseason story? How the former Gold Glover was healthy again, buffed up beyond recognition and ready to reclaim center field.
But here we are tonight in Toronto, 21 games into the season, and word comes from Eric Wedge that Gutierrez now is battling plantar faciitis in his heel amid his frustrating comeback from ongoing healthy problems that figure to sideline him at least another month.
And a couple hours later, up steps Saunders to belt two home runs — a solo shot in the ninth and a game-winning grand slam in the 10th — to lift the Mariners to a 9-5 victory, the fourth straight for a team that seems to be finding itself.
Tonight’s win was big for several reasons. It came against Toronto standout Ricky Romero, a very tough lefty. It came on the heels of the three-game sweep in Detroit and added another boost of confidence to a young squad that had a perfect game and rugged 3-6 homestand shoved down its throat just last week.
And it came with players contributing everywhere — Ichiro gunning down a runner at the plate, Miguel Olivo making a great tag on that key play, John Jaso delivering a clutch pinch-hit RBI, Blake Beavan supplying another solid start, Jesus Montero with a big-time home run, Casper Wells with a clutch RBI double.
Manager Eric Wedge went so deep onto his bench that every position player and all the relievers except Hisashi Iwakuma were used by the end of it. He went so deep that starter Hector Noesi was warming up to pinch run if needed when Saunders delivered his big blow.
And, yeah, Saunders was the biggest of the heroes, fittingly on a night in Canada when many of his countrymen were heckling him as a British Columbia native and mockingly chanting “Saun-ders, Saun-ders” while he played center field.
“I guess we got the last laugh,” he said with a smile, as detailed in my game story here.
Wedge appreciates the transformation Saunders has undergone. His average is up to .254 and climbing. His three home runs and 11 RBIs have already exceeded last year’s season output. His confidence is growing.
“He’s a completely different hitter this year,” said Wedge. “To his credit, with the work he did this winter and how he came in and made the ballclub this spring, I think it was evident to everybody. He’s always been a complete ballplayer, but the hitting was a little short. But this year it hasn’t.
“He’s still learning. I was impressed with the way he fought through at-bats earlier tonight even before his home runs. Kudos to Michael Saunders.”
Kudos, indeed. Great stuff by a young player who vowed to come back swinging this season and now is turning into a key part of the club’s early success.