TORONTO -- Michael Saunders spent his first six seasons in the Major Leagues with the Mariners, and he faced his former team for the first time on Friday night.The 29-year-old was at the forefront in a pair of critical moments in the Blue Jays' 2-1 loss, finishing 1-for-4 with a
TORONTO -- Michael Saunders spent his first six seasons in the Major Leagues with the Mariners, and he faced his former team for the first time on Friday night.
The 29-year-old was at the forefront in a pair of critical moments in the Blue Jays' 2-1 loss, finishing 1-for-4 with a home run, while also striking out to end the game in the bottom of the ninth.
A native of Victoria, British Columbia, Saunders took fellow Canadian and good friend James Paxton deep in the bottom of the second inning, recording his 17th home run of the season -- just two shy of the career-high 19 he hit in 2012.
"I got ahead in the count and kind of saw everything," Saunders said. "He started me off with a first-pitch curveball, showed me a few cutters and also showed me a few straight ones, and then I got into a 3-1 count and went looking for something hard out over the plate."
Saunders once again came up in a critical situation in the bottom of the ninth, with two on and the Blue Jays working a late comeback attempt against Mariners closer Steve Cishek. After a borderline called strike evened the count, Saunders struck out on a 77-mph slider, snapping the Blue Jays' three-game winning streak.
"It's a big count -- 2-1 and it goes to either 2-2 or 3-1 -- and I thought one thing and [home-plate umpire and crew chief Mike Everitt] thought another," said Saunders. "I'm not going to go on about it. It definitely changes the count which changes the at-bat, but at the end of the day, you can't mope about a call, you've got to just bear down. Cishek made some good pitches and ended up striking me out."
Drafted by the Mariners in the 11th round of the 2004 Draft, Saunders was traded to Toronto in December 2014. After a knee injury limited Saunders to nine games in his first season with the Blue Jays, the left-handed hitter has flourished in 2016, earning his first All-Star Game selection. Despite the loss, he enjoyed seeing some of the familiar faces on the other side.
"It was something I was looking forward to last year, obviously," said Saunders. "I missed that opportunity last year unfortunately, but I still have a lot of friends that I stay in touch with, so I guess that was the thing I was most excited about playing them -- just seeing my old friends and old teammates. But as soon as the game starts, you step between the lines and you go out there and try to win."
Alykhan Ravjiani is a reporter for MLB.com based in Toronto.