By Danny O’Neil
Seattle’s patience was rewarded.
At least it was for one night.
The Mariners have spent years waiting for Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley to blossom into big-league difference makers. They only had to wait until the ninth inning in Monday’s season opener when the pair of former prospects erased any hint of doubt about the outcome.
Smoak’s three-run home run didn’t decide the Mariners’ victory in Anaheim. Neither did Ackley’s bases-loaded triple, but those two hits served as twin exclamation points on a comeback victory: Mariners 10, Angels 3!!
Sure, it’s only Game 1. Yes, it’s premature to talk about anything even resembling a trend. Heck, it’s not even April.
But given how familiar the first six innings of Monday’s game felt, it was hard not to be encouraged by the result. I heard that from the crowd of more than 10,000 watching at Safeco Field for the Mariners’ open house. I saw it from Felix Hernandez as he stayed in the dugout after pitching his six innings, standing on the top step and pumping his fist in celebration when Mike Zunino’s seventh-inning triple scored Ackley to tie the game 3-3.
For six innings, Hernandez put up the kind of effort Seattle has grown accustomed to. He gave up a two-run homer to Mike Trout before recording an out not to mention that he consistently spiked his changeup in front of the plate. But after allowing base hits to the first two Angels he faced, Hernandez only allowed two more hits while walking just one and striking out 11.
It wasn’t quite dominant, but it was in the neighborhood, and this time his efforts earned him the victory after Abraham Almonte singled in Zunino for the Mariners’ second run of the inning. That gave Seattle a 4-3 lead when Yoervis Medina came in to replace Hernandez.
Fernando Rodney was warmed up and ready to enter the game for the bottom of the ninth when Seattle’s bats took him out of a save situation. First, it was Smoak with his second extra-base hit of the night, this one a towering three-run home run. Then it was Ackley with his second base hit of the game, a bases-clearing triple.
And Seattle’s patience paid off. At least for one night, and as first steps go, this one felt pretty good.