Gutierrez's HR the culmination of a long road back

Gutierrez's HR the culmination of a long road back

SEATTLE -- Coming into Spring Training this season, Franklin Gutierrez didn't have many expectations.

The 32-year-old outfielder had been sidelined for the entire 2014 season with a viral infection and just wanted to know if he could play again. He wanted to know if he could recover quickly enough after games and if his health would improve.

It was a long road back, but Gutierrez said days like Sunday, when he launched a walk-off home run in the 10th inning to lift the Mariners to a 6-5 win over the Blue Jays, are his reward.

"It's a lot of hard work, man. There's a lot of things that had been going on the past two or three months, and I'm just glad that I'm here again," Gutierrez said. "It's been amazing for me."

Gutierrez's blast to left-center off Blue Jays reliever Aaron Loup gave the Mariners their first win in a three-game series since June 19-21 against Houston. He said he knew the ball was gone by time he touched first base and gave a little fist pump as he entered his home run trot. Gutierrez's teammates mobbed him at home plate before suddenly letting up.

"I heard somebody saying, 'Hey, don't hurt him, don't hurt him,'" Gutierrez said with a laugh.

Gutierrez's walk-off home run

The home run, which traveled 395 feet, was Gutierrez's third since being called up from Triple-A Tacoma on June 24 and his second clutch home run for the Mariners in the past week. On Tuesday in Detroit, Gutierrez hit a pinch-hit grand slam in the eighth inning to lift the Mariners over the Tigers after a rough start by Taijuan Walker, who threw six innings of four-run ball on Sunday.

"I think the offense did really good today," Walker said. "Guti -- second time for me pitching that he saves my butt."

Nineteen games into his current stint with the Mariners, Gutierrez has been a regular starter against left-handed pitchers. He has also earned the occasional pinch-hitting opportunity in games he does not start and has managed .267 in 45 at-bats this season.

"The biggest challenge for us is to manage his playing time and make sure that we can keep him on the field," McClendon said.

McClendon on walk-off win

Gutierrez was in a tough spot prior to his home run. He swung and missed at a changeup a pitch earlier to fall into an 0-2 count with one out in the 10th and the Mariners' bullpen down to its last available reliever, Fernando Rodney.

Gutierrez's teammates wouldn't have wanted anyone else up in that spot.

"He's incredible. When he's on the field, that's what he does," said Mariners shortstop Brad Miller. "I think he's everybody's favorite player in this clubhouse. Just so under control, so strong in there. Ultimate professional. That was pretty sweet."

Andrew Erickson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.