Saunders powers Mariners to sixth win in a row

Saunders powers Mariners to sixth win in a row

Saunders powers Mariners to sixth win in a row
SEATTLE -- There was a time earlier this season -- and it suddenly seems long ago -- when all the Mariners heard was how they couldn't hit or win at Safeco Field.

But that trend continued to be a thing of the past Monday night as Michael Saunders launched a pair of two-run bombs to power Seattle to its sixth-straight win, a 5-3 victory over the Indians.

The Mariners have won 13 of their past 14 games at Safeco, the best record over a stretch of 14 home games in the club's 36-year history.

After starting the season with one of the worst home records in baseball, Seattle is now 31-30 at Safeco and 59-64 overall. Their 23-13 record since the All-Star break is the best in the American League.

Scoring runs was the early issue at home this season, but Saunders and right fielder Eric Thames provided plenty of power in the series opener with the Indians with a trio of long balls.

"We haven't heard from the media in awhile, so that's nice," Saunders said of the Safeco struggles story line. "We're obviously playing good baseball right now, 1-through-9 and our five starting pitchers and our bullpen is coming in and doing a great job.

"So from a team standpoint, we're playing great. We're having a lot of fun doing it, coming to the ballpark expecting to win. We've got a great attitude right now."

Leading the recent charge is Saunders, who went 3-for-4 to continue his rebound from a prolonged midseason slump. He's 8-for-16 over the past four games to raise his average back up to .248.

"He's a very talented young man," said manager Eric Wedge. "He just keeps getting better. He had a tough stretch there prior to the last four or five days, but he handled it like a pro, like a man, like he should. Now you're seeing him go up there and do some damage for us. Like I've said, he's a complete player and he continues to step up for us."

Saunders broke a 3-3 tie with a two-run shot in the seventh off left-handed reliever Tony Sipp after initially giving Seattle a 2-1 edge with another two-run bolt in the third off starter Ubaldo Jimenez. He has three home runs in the past two games, raising his career-high to 13 for the season.

Thames had tied the game at 3 in the sixth with a solo shot to right-center field, his second since being acquired from the Blue Jays in a July 30 trade. Thames went 2-for-4 with a triple as well and is now batting .286 in 17 games with Seattle.

Left fielder Trayvon Robinson contributed with his glove, making his third excellent catch in the past four games by going high on the left-field fence down the line to pull in a Michael Brantley foul ball in the fourth.

"It looked like it was in fair territory, I thought, but it started creeping toward the fence," Robinson said. "I felt a little bit of dirt, so I was like, I'll just go after it. I'm already here. I might as well."

"That's one of the better catches I've seen," said Saunders, who had a good view from center field. "He timed it perfectly. He's a phenomenal athlete, obviously. He's made plenty of nice catches since he got back up here. He's a heck of an outfielder."

Robinson recorded 10 putouts, a Mariners single-game record for a left fielder.

Kevin Millwood allowed five hits and three runs over six innings for Seattle, winding up with a no-decision after turning a 3-3 tie over to Charlie Furbush to start the seventh. Millwood remains 4-10 on the season with a 4.29 ERA, but has pitched well enough to win more than that as he's 2-2 with a 2.56 ERA and five no-decisions over his last nine starts at Safeco.

"I felt OK," said the veteran right-hander. "Nothing was great, but everything was serviceable. I felt like I had enough to at least give us a chance. And those guys scored enough runs to get us the win."

Furbush, in his second appearance since coming off the disabled list with a strained biceps, picked up the victory with two innings of scoreless relief as he improved to 5-2 with a 2.03 ERA. Tom Wilhelmsen pitched the ninth for his 18th save, escaping a bases-loaded jam with a double-play grounder by Jason Kipnis to end the game.

"It's a lot of fun going home with smiles," Wilhelmsen said. "There's nothing better than winning, especially at home. Everyone's spirits are up and that just rolls. It's a snowball effect."

Wilhelmsen got away with a wild pitch with runners on second and third and one out when the ball rebounded off the backstop to catcher Miguel Olivo before anyone could advance. That's the difference sometimes between winning and losing, and the Indians have been the flip side of the Mariners of late, their 10-27 record since the All-Star break being the worst in the AL.

"When things are going bad, they're going bad," said Cleveland skipper Manny Acta. "A guy throws a wild pitch to put the potential tying run at third base with less than two outs and the ball bounces right back to the catcher. The guys couldn't even move. That's the way things are going right now."

As for the Mariners? They've now outscored their opponents 60-32 over the past 14 games at Safeco, which suddenly is a safe house for a young team on the rise.

"I think we've known all year the talent is here, it's just guys putting it all together," Millwood said. "They're finally starting to swing the bats a little and feel good and feed off each other. You're seeing guys start to figure it out and make some strides. It's fun to watch."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.