SEATTLE (AP) — Michael Saunders is winning the small battles during his biggest week of the season.
Saunders hit a pair of two-run homers to help the Seattle Mariners win their sixth straight with a 5-3 victory over the Cleveland Indians on Monday night.
Saunders also hit a two-run homer on Sunday and now has a career-best 13 home runs. He has eight hits in his last 16 at-bats, including three home runs, after going 1 for 35 over his previous eight games.
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Eric Thames also had a solo shot for the Mariners in the sixth and added a triple in the eighth.
The Mariners have won 13 of their last 14 games at Safeco Field, the best home stretch over 14 games in club history. They are 23-13 since the All-Star Break.
The Indians have lost six in a row.
“Baseball is a grind, it’s a process,” Saunders said. “I just have to believe in my process. The slump was longer than I hoped for but there’s going to be ups and downs in this game.”
In the third and with the Indians up 1-0, Saunders worked starter Ubaldo Jimenez to a 3-1 count.
“I was looking for the heater at that point,” Saunders said. “He threw one middle away. When I was going bad, I was rolling over on that pitch. I needed to correct that.”
He did, straightening it for a 411-foot shot to center and a 2-1 lead.
The Indians jumped back ahead with a two-run fifth. Casey Kotchman walked with one out then Ezequiel Carrera beat out a right-side bunt. With one out, Jason Kipnis singled to left, scoring Kotchman from second. Asdrubal Cabrera then singled to center, scoring Carrera from second for a 3-2 lead.
Thames tied it in the sixth with his two-out, 425-foot blast into the right-center seats. It was his fifth of the season.
Then Saunders faced another inside battle with reliever Tony Sipp in the seventh. With a runner on first, Saunders found himself in a 2-2 count.
“I haven’t had too much success in my career against Sipp,” Saunders said. “Typically, he’s gotten me out with those sliders.”
Saunders had been 0 for 5 in his career against Sipp with three strikeouts.
“He ended up hanging one (slider) tonight,” Saunders said. “I tried not to do too much, just put a good swing on it.”
That one traveled deep into the right-center seats for his third career two-homer game.
Saunders finished with three hits in four at-bats.
“The first two balls Saunders hit was hard-hit balls, one was 2-0 count up the middle and the other 3-1 count,” Jimenez said of the single and home run he gave up to Saunders. “You don’t want to put yourself in those spots. That is where hitters really have the advantage and let it fly.”
Charlie Furbush (5-2) earned the victory in relief of starter Kevin Millwood.
Tom Wilhelmsen worked the ninth and had trouble closing. Kotchman singled with one out and Carrera doubled to right, with Kotchman taking third. Pinch hitter Jack Hannahan drew a walk to load the bases, which didn’t really bother Wilhelmsen. It set up the double play.
“That’s the idea,” Wilhelmsen said.
He added that he left a pitch up to the next batter, Kipnis.
“I was lucky he got on top of it,” he said. “And we got the double play.”
Kipnis bounced the ball to second and it was turned quickly into a game-ending double play. Wilhelmsen picked up his 18th save in 20 opportunities.
Joe Smith (7-4) took the loss.
Kipnis, who had two RBIs, had started the game for the Indians with a shot off the right field foul pole. It was his 12th home run and first career leadoff homer.
NOTES: Felix Hernandez, who threw the 23rd perfect game in Major League history last Wednesday, was named the American League Player of the Week. He is the first Mariners pitcher to win the award since Joel Pineiro on May 7, 2006. Hernandez starts Tuesday night against Cleveland. … Mariners Trayvon Robinson had 10 outfield putouts, most in club history for a left-fielder. … The Indians staff has given up 59 unearned runs this season, second most in the majors. Of those, 21 have come over the past 14 games.