ANAHEIM -- It was another day, another four homers on Saturday as the Mariners mashed their way to a 6-5 victory over the Angels and regained the early lead in the American League West.
But for the Mariners, this was more than just another successful slugfest. Rookie Yusei Kikuchi picked up his first Major League victory despite giving up 10 hits and four runs in five innings, helped out by the long-ball support of Mitch Haniger, Daniel Vogelbach, Edwin Encarnacion and Domingo Santana.
Kikuchi had held the lead in his first four MLB starts before seeing it relinquished by the bullpen, so this one felt sweet for both the Mariners and their prize free agent from Japan.
“First and foremost, it’s kind of a weight off my shoulders,” said Kikuchi, now 1-1 with 4.68 ERA in his first six starts in the Majors. “To be totally honest, I was thinking about it the back of my mind. Now that it’s out of the way, there’s a bunch of things I need to improve on and do good things moving forward.”
The Mariners have embraced their new teammate from Tokyo, who lost his father several weeks ago but stayed with the club and continued pitching.
“I’m just glad Yusei got his first win and I was able to contribute,” said second baseman Dee Gordon, whose two-run single in the fourth supplemented the four-homer day. “That’s huge for him and his confidence. He’s pitched so well his last 3-4 games and we weren’t able to do it for him.
“He means a lot to us,” Gordon said. “We want to make sure he’s comfortable. He’s coming from a different country and what happened with his dad was tough. For any one of us, that would have been tough. For him to stay here and continue to be a great teammate and continue to smile every day, that speaks volumes to the guy he is.”
Kikuchi emerged from a celebratory postgame beer shower from his teammates in honor of his first victory wearing that same smile.
“I love the Mariners,” he said through interpreter Justin Novak. “I love my teammates, the staff, the coaches. There’s been a lot of stuff to be happy about and hopefully we can keep that rolling, because I know it’s a long season.”
Homers piling up in record numbers
As for those long balls? Seattle slugged 11 homers in taking the first three games of the four-game series at Angel Stadium and has hit a Major League-record tying 53 in 24 games on the season while rolling to a 16-8 record.
“Again, the home run was our friend tonight,” said Mariners manager Scott Servais.
The only previous MLB team with 53 homers in its first 24 games was the 2000 Cardinals and no other team has had more than 47 in that span. The previous-fastest 50-homer start to a season for the Mariners came in the Kingdome days in 1999 when they needed 26 games to get to 50.
That’s an amazing feat for a team that traded away Robinson Cano, Jean Segura and Mike Zunino and let Nelson Cruz depart in free agency. But despite an offseason aimed more toward reloading for the future, the Mariners have come out swinging.
They’re now 11-1 on the road this season, having scored 97 runs with 34 homers in their dozen away games.
After blasting four homers in Friday’s 5-3 win, the Mariners wasted no time resuming their long-ball party, with Haniger unleashing a 407-foot shot down the left-field line on the third pitch of the game from Trevor Cahill. Two outs later, Vogelbach ripped a 401-foot drive over the short fence down the right-field line for a 2-0 lead.
Encarnacion hit his sixth homer of the season in the fifth, a soaring 432-foot blast that ended Cahill’s night, and Santana launched his fifth homer -- and AL-leading 25th RBI -- leading off the seventh with a 410-foot opposite-field poke.
Even with all the solo homers, it took a bases-loaded, two-run single by Gordon to make the difference as the Mariners’ second baseman ripped the 1,000 hit of his career in the fourth inning.
Vogelbach has been leading the recent charge as he’s hit all eight of his homers in his last 14 games, batting .383 (18-for-47) with 13 walks and 14 RBIs in that span. The 6-foot, 250-pound designated hitter has hit .452 (14-for-31) with seven homers and 13 RBIs in 10 road games on the year.
Vogelbach drew two of Seattle’s five walks on Saturday as the Mariners forced Cahill to throw 95 pitches in just 4 1/3 innings, a trend they’ve built on all year in forcing opposing starters out early.
“Our offense continues to grind,” Servais said. “If they had a time of possession number on how long we’re on offense, our half-innings are long. Which is a good thing because we’re seeing a lot of pitches and really making pitchers work.”