Nick Franklin isn’t afraid of the moment. In fact, he relishes it.
It’s something every coach or manager has noticed in his climb through the Seattle Mariners organization.
It’s a supreme self-confidence that sometimes can come off as off-putting cockiness. But he simply thinks that he will succeed when it is most needed.
On Saturday night, in the 25th game of his big league career, Franklin found himself in one of the moments.
And he delivered.
With the score tied in the bottom of the eighth inning, the rookie second baseman dropped a two-run single into center field, and the Mariners beat the Oakland Athletics, 7-5, at Safeco Field.
“He’s a pretty good player,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “He likes to be up in those situations. I just like the way he plays so aggressively. He does it offensively, he does it defensively and he does it on the basepaths. I just think you are a better baseball player when you play with no fear, and that’s what we’ve seen with him.”
With his third hit of the night, Franklin raised his batting average to .295.
So how does he do it?
“I think it’s most important that when those situations do arise that you stay relaxed and don’t put a bunch of pressure on yourself and force things to happen,” he said. “You just let them happen.”
Franklin fell behind 1-2 to hard-throwing A’s reliever Ryan Cook. He didn’t chase a change-up off the plate to push it to 2-2 and then calmly stayed on a 94 mph fastball for the big hit.
“With two strikes, I’m just trying to put something in play and give us a chance to score on anything,” he said. “It’s better to put the ball in play, rather than swing and miss trying to hit a long ball.”
Franklin has found an admirer in Raul Ibañez. The 41-year-old outfielder knows something about successful hitting in those big moments.
“He’s got a great approach at the plate,” Ibañez said. “He doesn’t try to do too much, and he has a really good eye. He’s a very disciplined hitter.”
It was Ibañez who set up Franklin to be the hero.
The Mariners seemed destined for defeat after Oakland scored two runs in the top of the seventh to push the lead to 5-2.
With the Mariners in an offensive funk, it didn’t seem as though a three-run deficit could be made up in 15 innings, let alone three.
But Ibañez put Seattle back in the game with one swing.
With one out and runners on first and second, Ibañez sat on a 0-1 curveball from lefty specialist Jerry Blevins, crushing it over the wall in right-center to tie the score.
“I was just looking for something I could barrel up and not do too much,” Ibañez said. “I was trying to make sure I didn’t over-swing in that situation.”
It brought the announced crowd of 20,704 roaring to life while energizing the Mariners’ dugout.
“Right when he came up, you just get one of those feelings,” Franklin said. “Once he does it, you are like, ‘How does he do it?’ You don’t even get excited at first, you are just shaking your head, like ‘Wow.’ ”
It was Ibañez’s team-high 15th homer of the season and his fifth against lefties.
“He may not have the best average against lefties, but he does damage, and he does damage at the right time,” Wedge said. “You’ve seen that multiple times this year. It was a big lift for us.”
Yoervis Medina entered the game with two outs in the seventh inning and picked up his second career win, getting a key double play from Kyle Seager to end it. He worked a season-high 2ª innings, giving up three hits, striking out two and throwing 37 pitches.
“Obviously, we pushed him a little bit, but he did a great job of working through it,” Wedge said.
After spending the last 54 games on the disabled list, Franklin Gutierrez made his presence felt immediately. In his first at-bat since April 22, Gutierrez crushed a solo home run to right-center to give the Mariners a 1-0 lead in the second. Franklin made it 2-0 when he scored Justin Smoak from third with a hard single through the right side.
Seattle starter Aaron Harang couldn’t hold the lead. He gave a run in the third inning on a Jed Lowrie sacrifice fly and two more in the fifth on a two-run single from Lowrie.
Harang worked five innings, giving up three runs on six hits with two walks and three strikeouts.