SEATTLE —From no chance to “No way!”
In Monday’s opener, new Ranger Josh Hamilton could only flail at a 97 mph fastball that J.J. Putz buzzed past him for the final out of Seattle’s win.
“I cleared that at-bat out of my head,” Hamilton said Tuesday.
Hamilton hit the next fastball he saw from the All-Star closer for a stunning, two-run homer in the ninth, sending Texas to a flip-flopping, 5-4 victory over the Mariners on Tuesday night.
Putz (0-1) angrily snapped his glove at the new baseball after Hamilton pulled the old one, a 93 mph fastball with one out, four rows into the bleachers beyond right field.
Hamilton said he was sitting solely on Putz’s fastball again. When he got one slower than he expected, he was able to pull it mightily.
Putz blew his first save in his second game of the season. He didn’t blow his first last year until July 25—at Texas.
“It’s early in the year. We are getting our feet on the ground all the way around,” was Mariners manager John McLaren’s only explanation of the rarity.
The Mariners were 75-0 last year when leading after eight innings, thanks to Putz. They are 1-1 this year in that situation, thanks to Hamilton.
“That was fun,” Hamilton said, smiling.
The 26-year-old was a first-overall draft choice of Tampa Bay in 1999 troubled by cocaine and alcohol addictions before he revived his career last season with 19 home runs in a delayed rookie season for Cincinnati. Then Texas traded for him in December.
Hamilton says he’s felt comfortable with his new team since the first week of spring training.
“This is an awesome team to be around, great guys,” he said. “I want to be a part of that.”
His new manager, Ron Washington, thinks Hamilton is pressing.
“He’s a great player. He’s just got to relax and play and not put so much pressure on himself, because what he did today is what he’s capable of,” Washington said after the winning homer.
Hamilton shook off two strikeouts against starter Felix Hernandez, then got hits in each of Texas’ last two rallies—one that broke a 1-1 tie in the eighth and one led by his homer that erased a 4-3 deficit.
Texas’ new center fielder also made a running, over-the-shoulder basket catch of a drive to the warning track in left-center field by former-Ranger Brad Wilkerson in the fifth. That saved a run.
Joaquin Benoit (1-0) relieved with a 3-1 lead in the eighth but Seattle went ahead on an RBI single by Yuniesky Betancourt, who had four hits, an RBI grounder by Ichiro Suzuki that second baseman Ian Kinsler misplayed for an error and a run-scoring wild pitch.
Betancourt doubled with two outs in the ninth off C.J. Wilson. But Wilson earned his first save by retiring Suzuki, who had three hits, on a game-ending groundout.
The Rangers made three errors, two in Seattle’s three-run eighth.
“That was a rewarding one to win, considering all the mistakes we made,” shortstop Michael Young said.
Young went 0-for-4, hit into two double plays and made one of the errors in the eighth that sparked Seattle’s rally. Then again, he played with a 104-degree fever.
“I don’t feel good at all,” he said, describing a flu that Kinsler had Monday and is spreading through Texas’ infield.
Vicente Padilla did. He allowed eight hits, one run and stranded 11 Mariners in six innings.
Hernandez looked ace-like in his new role as Seattle’s No. 2 starter behind new teammate Erik Bedard. The youngest Mariner, one week short of his 22nd birthday, allowed only an unearned run and five hits in seven innings of fist-pumping, yelling and continual escapes. He struck out three and walked three, and his fastball reached 97 mph.
He and Bedard have allowed just eight hits and one earned run combined through their initial starts as Seattle’s new twin aces.