Pujols' blast carries Angels; Iwakuma stumbles out of gate
SEATTLE -- Albert Pujols moved into a tie for 18th on Major League Baseball's all-time home run list as the Angels teed off early on Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma and then held on for a series-clinching, 5-3 victory Wednesday at Safeco Field.
Pujols' 521st career home run, a two-run shot in the first, helped provide a quick 5-0 cushion for right-hander Matt Shoemaker, who allowed three runs on six hits over six innings to pick up the win.
Iwakuma gave up five runs (four earned) in the first two frames before settling in, but wound up allowing a career-high-tying nine hits in his six-inning stint. The five runs equaled the most he's allowed in a Safeco Field start since 2013. More >
The Mariners loaded the bases with one out in the eighth, but Joe Smith struck out Rickie Weeks and got Logan Morrison to fly out to center to preserve the lead.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Angels' offense erupts: The same Angels offense that led the Majors in runs last year -- minus Josh Hamilton and Howie Kendrick, of course -- showed itself early on Wednesday, with six of the first nine hitters registering hits against Iwakuma. Mike Trout ripped a single, Pujols followed with a rocket two-run shot to left, Matt Joyce and David Freese laced back-to-back hits and Erick Aybar's grounder snuck under the glove of Robinson Cano, plating two runs to cap a four-run first. Trout added a sac fly in the second.
Miller time: Mariners shortstop Brad Miller ended a 14-inning scoreless drought for Seattle with a home run leading off the third. The 25-year-old had 10 homers last season and launched his first of 2015 on a 1-2 changeup from Shoemaker, driving the ball well into the right-field seats to cut the Angels' lead to 5-1.
Smith escapes: Mariners hitters were 8-for-55 against Smith heading into the series finale, but the Angels' setup man started the inning by giving up a single to Dustin Ackley and a double to Cano. He then came back to strike out Nelson Cruz, intentionally walked Kyle Seager with first base open after falling behind 2-0, then struck out Weeks and got Morrison to fly out to end the inning.
Seager gets on board: Seager was hitless in his first nine at-bats of the season, but ended that dry spell in dramatic fashion with a two-run blast in the sixth to cut the Angels' lead to 5-3. Seager hit 16 of his 25 home runs at home last year and solved Safeco again with a first-pitch shot off Shoemaker after Cano had doubled with one out.
"They're a good ballclub. They had more wins than anybody in baseball last year. We certainly don't take them lightly. I thought we played extremely well against them last year. We played them well this series. There's a lot more baseball to be had. We'll see what happens." -- Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon on the defending AL West-champion Angels
"If you told me 16 years ago when I got to this game that I would accomplish what I have, winning two World Series, hitting some home runs, getting some big hits, I couldn't have imagined it." -- Pujols, on another milestone homer
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Iwakuma isn't traditionally a slow starter. The 33-year-old Japanese standout had a 1.67 ERA in six April starts in 2013, but didn't pitch in the first month of the season last year due to a torn finger tendon.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia hinted about matching up his relievers in seventh-inning situations, and that proved to be the case on Wednesday. Holding a two-run lead, Scioscia used lefty Jose Alvarez -- a converted starting pitcher -- to face the left-handed-hitting Morrison. He then went to right-hander Mike Morin against Mike Zunino (righty), Miller (lefty) and Austin Jackson (righty). Lefty Cesar Ramos was warming up in the bullpen to face left-handed-hitters Ackley and Cano, if necessary, but Morin retired Jackson to end the inning.
The Mariners' Carson Smith is turning into a reliever to watch. The young right-hander nearly started the season in Triple-A before a late roster flip-flop with Dominic Leone. On Wednesday, he entered with two-on and one out in the seventh and struck out Pujols and got Joyce to fly out. McClendon left him in for the eighth and after a leadoff walk and hit batter, he pitched out of his own jam with three straight outs, including two strikeouts, while displaying some nasty movement.
Angels: The Angels get their first off-day on Thursday, then host a weekend series against a Royals team that swept them in last year's American League Division Series. Lefty Hector Santiago will get the ball in the home opener, opposite former Angels lefty Jason Vargas at 7:05 p.m. PT on MLB.TV and Fox Sports West. The Royals beat the Angels on back-to-back, 11th-inning walk-off homers in Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS, then took an early lead in Game 3 from Kansas City and moved on.
Mariners: After an off-day to travel on Thursday, Seattle opens its first road series Friday at 7:07 p.m. PT in Oakland with young right-hander Taijuan Walker on the mound. The 22-year-old was sensational in the spring (4-0, 0.67 ERA in seven starts) to earn the No. 4 starter's spot. He faced the A's twice in relief last year, including a six-inning, one-run outing at O.Co Coliseum on Sept. 1. The game will be televised on ROOT Sports and MLB.TV.