SEATTLE — Dae-Ho Lee does not speak English, but applause is an international language that Lee clearly understood as he circled the bases with a smile on his face after clubbing a pinch-hit, walk-off home run Wednesday afternoon at Safeco Field.
Lee, a 33-year-old major-league rookie out of the pro leagues of South Korea and Japan, drilled a two-run homer with two outs in the 10th inning of the Seattle Mariners‘ 4-2 victory over the Texas Rangers. It was Lee’s second homer and third hit in 13 at-bats with the Mariners.
Lee’s blast to left field came on a high, 0-2 fastball from Texas reliever Jake Dietman (0-1).
“That was terrible,” Dietman said. “Put it right where he could hit it.”
Seattle manager Scott Servais seemed far more impressed with Lee’s homer than Dietman.
“I don’t know how he got on top of that pitch, but it says a lot for his ability,” Servais said.
The victory snapped Seattle’s five-game losing streak — all at home. The 0-5 home start was the worst in Mariners history, prompting a players-only meeting after Tuesday’s 8-0 loss to Texas.
Since he doesn’t understand English, Lee didn’t gain much from the meeting. Fortunately for Lee, his bat spoke volumes Wednesday.
“He cuts down his swing to make contact,” Servais said. “He’s plenty strong enough that if he does square it up, he’s got enough power.”
“I faced him before so I was expecting a fastball,” Lee said through an interpreter.
Robinson Cano pushed Seattle ahead 2-1 in the fifth with a solo homer to right off Texas starter A.J. Griffin. The hit snapped an 0-for-15 skid for Cano, who set a club record with four homers in the Mariners’ first three games. Five of Cano’s seven hits have been home runs.
Former Mariner Adrian Beltre singled in DeShields to open the scoring in the third. Seattle answered in the bottom of the inning when leadoff hitter Norichika Aoki reached second on a dropped fly ball by inexperienced left fielder Ian Desmond, then scored on a Seth Smith single.
Seattle closer Steve Cishek evened his record at 1-1 with two innings of perfect relief. Seattle starter Taijuan Walker limited Texas to one run and five hits in six innings.
Griffin, making his second major league appearance since 2013 because of arm issues, gave up two runs (one earned), three hits and four walks in five innings. He struck out five.
The loss spoiled a fine performance by 32-year-old rookie reliever Tony Barnette of Texas. Barnette, who grew up in the Seattle suburb of Federal Way, threw 2 1/3 innings of one-hit, shutout relief before making way for Dietman in the 10th.
Barnette spent the past six years in Japan’s Central League following four years in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. Barnette said he felt no added pressure from having plenty of family members in the stands in Seattle.
“You’ve just got a job to do,” he said.
Dietman didn’t do the job Wednesday, but he had not allowed a run in his previous 14 appearances, dating back to Sept. 12. Lee brought a sudden end to Dietman’s success streak.
“Baseball being baseball, he’ll erase it,” Barnette said.
NOTES: Seattle RF Nelson Cruz said the message at the team meeting was simple: “It’s a long season … keep your head up. No one says it’s going to be easy, but we have a really good team.” … The Rangers are the only major league team without a scheduled off-day the first two weeks (April 4-17). The Rangers are scheduled to play 23 games the first 24 days and 36 games the first 38 days. … Safeco has a reputation as a pitcher’s ballpark. Asked if Safeco is a “fair” ballpark, first-year Seattle manager Scott Servais responded with a question of his own. “Fair? Um … good question. I don’t know if it’s fair for me to comment on that yet. I need to see a few more games in here.” Servais did say fly balls “have a tendency to hang up there a little bit longer” at Safeco, which is located near a bay that has been blamed for creating heavy air. Servais said balls carry better when the roof is closed. … Hundreds of high school students arrived early for the annual Sports Career Day at Safeco.