OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - Only hours after being assured he would be the Seattle Mariners catcher for the foreseeable future, Mike Zunino put together the type of game that could keep him in the role the rest of the season.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge certainly hopes it plays out that way.
Zunino hit a tiebreaking home run in the seventh inning after making a stellar defensive play to cut down a runner at the plate earlier in the game and helping Joe Saunders end his season-long struggles on the road in Seattle's 3-2 win over the Oakland Athletics on Friday night.
``It's awesome,' Zunino said of his first career homer. ``I'm just happy it could come at a time like that to help the team out. The bigger part was getting the W. That was my first one, too.'
Two days after making his big league debut, Zunino connected on a 1-1 pitch from Oakland starter Tommy Milone (6-6) and hit a towering shot to center field to help snap Oakland's 11-game home winning streak.
Zunino is Seattle's third catcher to be given the starting job. Jesus Montero, the opening day starter, struggled and was sent to the minors before tearing the meniscus in his left knee. His backup, Kelly Shoppach, also failed to hold onto the job and was optioned to the minors just hours before Zunino's homer.
``He put an easy swing on it,' Wedge said. ``You could tell it went up in the air different so you knew it might have a chance to end different, and that's what happened. It looks like he creates a lot of torque in his swing.'
Raul Ibanez added two hits and an RBI for the Mariners, while Joe Saunders (5-6) allowed five hits over seven innings for his first road victory of the season.
Chris Young homered and had three hits but the A's, coming off an 18-inning win against the New York Yankees, couldn't get much else going.
``I've just been working, trying to produce and making the necessary adjustments to have success,' said Young, who went into the game hitting just .169. ``It felt real good but it would have felt even better if we won. That was a tough loss.'
The Mariners had lost five of eight before beating the division-leading A's to begin a seven-game road trip. They did it behind a steady offense - every starter but Kendrys Morales had at least one hit - and a stellar effort from Saunders.
The Seattle left-hander struck out four and walked two, pitching out of jams in the second, third and seventh. Saunders had been winless in his six previous starts away from Safeco Field and had a 9.00 ERA on the road before handcuffing the A's.
``Joe was outstanding,' Wedge said. ``He controlled the ballgame. We made a couple mistakes behind him and he handled that well. He did a great job of mixing and using all of his pitches.'
Danny Farquhar pitched the eighth and allowed Young's homer, and Oliver Perez worked the ninth for his first career save. Perez was in the closer's role after Wedge decided to go with a by-committee approach following Tom Wilhelmsen's recent struggles.
Seattle took a 1-0 lead in the second when Mike Morse doubled and scored on Zunino's double-play grounder. Morse had been in a 2-for-18 slump.
The Mariners' defense gave Saunders a lift when Oakland's Nate Freiman was thrown out at home trying to score from second on a single by Derek Norris in the bottom of the second. Freiman had stopped at third then took off for home when center fielder Michael Saunders bobbled the ball, but Zunino caught the relay throw from shortstop Brendan Ryan and made a diving tag to get the sliding Freiman.
``I just had to make sure I had the ball first and go back to the plate,' Zunino said. ``(I) was able to get a piece of him before he got in.'
Oakland tied it in the fifth when Adam Rosales reached on a fielder's choice and scored after Seattle second baseman Nick Franklin and right fielder Jason Bay bumped into each other chasing Eric Sogard's fly ball. Franklin appeared to make the catch but Bay's glove hit Franklin's and the ball popped out and rolled away as Rosales circled the bases. Sogard was credited with an RBI double.
Milone pitched into the seventh but left following Zunino's homer and a two-out throwing error by shortstop Jed Lowrie. He struck out four and walked three.
Franklin singled leading off the eighth against A's reliever Dan Otero and scored on Ibanez's two-out sharp liner that skipped off Freiman into right field line to make it 3-1.
Young, batting in the leadoff spot for the first time this season while Coco Crisp rested his bruised right heel, homered off Farquhar to make it 3-2.
NOTES: Wilhemsen has a team-leading 16 saves but allowed five earned runs in his last outing on Wednesday. ... Oakland 3B Josh Donaldson was also rested a day after suffering a leg strain. ... The A's signed first-round draft pick Billy McKinney. McKinney had committed to TCU before getting selected 24th overall in the draft. ... Otero was called up from Triple-A Sacramento before the game. Oakland optioned LHP Hideki Okajima to the minors to make room. ... The Mariners signed veteran Henry Blanco and designated fellow catcher Kelly Shoppach for assignment. The 41-year-old Blanco, released by the Toronto Blue Jays on June 10, is with his 11th major league team. ... Seattle RHP Felix Hernandez (7-4) takes a 2.49 ERA into Saturday's game. ... RHP A.J. Griffin (5-5), who is winless over his last three starts, goes for the A's.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved