Angels rookie belts first HR in 3-2 win

Eric Gilmore, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

OAKLAND, Calif. -- That didn't take long.
In just his second major-league game, Seattle rookie catcher Mike Zunino hit his first career home run, lifting the Mariners to a 3-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Friday night at Coliseum.
Zunino launched a solo shot to center field off A's left-hander Tommy Milone with one out in the top of the seventh inning to snap a 1-1 tie.
"It's awesome," Zunino said. "I'm just happy it could come at a time like that to help the team out. It's obviously awesome to get the first one out of the way. I think the bigger part was getting the W. That was my first one, too. I think that was the most exciting part."
Mariners left-hander Joe Saunders held the A's to one run and five hits in seven innings, striking out four and walking two to pick up the win and end Oakland's 11-game home winning streak.
"I told myself this morning, 'This team's playing great baseball, you need to step your game up,''' Saunders said.
The Mariners added a run in the eighth, using singles by Nate Franklin, Kyle Seager and Raul Ibanez off reliever Dan Otero to take a 3-1 lead.
Leading off the bottom of the eighth, A's center fielder Chris Young hit a monster home run to deep left against reliever Danny Farquhar, cutting the lead to 3-2, but that's as close as they got.
"It felt real good, but it would have felt even better if we won," Young said. "That was a tough loss."
In his major-league debut on Wednesday against Houston, Zunino got his first hit, a single off Jordan Lyles, and threw out a base stealer. Now he has a home run on his big-league resume.
With a 1-1 count, Milone threw Zunino a changeup, but the rookie wasn't fooled. He sent it over the 400-foot sign in center, just out of the reach of a leaping Young.
"He threw me similar in all my at-bats," Zunino said. "I was sort of trying to pick my spots and look for certain pitches. I just happened to get it in that situation."
Milone said he threw a changeup "down the middle" of the plate to Zunino.
"I was trying to get him to hit a weak fly ball, but he barreled it. The only video we had of him was against a right-hander and only four at-bats," Milone said. "I knew he was aggressive, but I didn't know too much more."
The Mariners took Zunino with the third overall pick in the 2012 June draft out of the University of Florida. He's the first position player from that draft class to reach the major leagues -- just a year out of college.
"It makes me feel really old," Saunders joked. "He's obviously got a lot of talent. He's a great receiver back there. He's obviously got some pop and he can throw really well too. I feel like the sky's the limit for him."
Before the game, Mariners manager Eric Wedge said he was giving the struggling Tom Wilhelmsen a break from closing and going with a closer by committee. He chose veteran left-hander Oliver Perez to pitch the ninth, and he worked a scoreless inning to pick up his first career save at age 31. Perez allowed a two-out single to Josh Reddick but retired Adam Rosales on a fly ball to right.
"I was kind of surprised," Perez said. "I think I started warming up in the eighth, and I sat down, and they told me you're going to go in the game."
Even so, Perez said he stayed calm until the final out. That's when his heart started beating faster.
"That's my first time I've been in that situation," Perez said. "It's very special."
The Mariners took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second. Michael Morse, back in the lineup after missing one game with a strained right quad, hit an opposite-field, leadoff double to right-center off Milone. Morse moved to third on Ibanez's infield single and scored when Zunino hit into a double play.
The A's pulled even in the fifth. With two outs and Rosales on first, Eric Sogard blooped an RBI double to right field as second baseman Franklin and right fielder Bay collided. Franklin had the ball in his glove, but a hard-charging Bay, who appeared to be in better position to make the play, knocked the ball loose.
Milone turned in another solid outing, holding the Mariners to two runs and five hits in 6 2/3 innings. He struck out four and walked three but left with the A's trailing 2-1 and took the loss, snapping his three-game winning streak.
"I was a little slow to start," Milone said. "I couldn't put the ball where I wanted, especially my fastball. As the game went on, I felt better and located the fastball. I was glad to be able to get that far, especially after that first inning when I felt like I was throwing a lot of pitches."
Saunders had a lot to do with the A's troubles at the plate. He entered the game with a 14-6 record and 3.47 ERA in 22 career starts against the A's, a team he has faced more time than any other in the majors.
"Joe was outstanding," Wedge said. "He controlled the ballgame. We made a couple mistakes behind him and he handled that well. Did a great job of mixing and using all of his pitches."
NOTES: Catcher Henry Blanco, 41, signed as a free agent with the Mariners. A veteran of 16 major-league seasons, Blanco was released by Toronto on June 10. To clear a spot for Blanco on their 25-man roster, the Mariners designated catcher Kelly Shoppach for assignment. Blanco will back up and mentor Zunino. "I told him if he needs to ask questions or wants to do some work, I'm here for him," Blanco said of Zunino. ... Wedge said he has "every intention of getting (Wilhelmsen) back to the closer's role," but will "give him a break here, let him pitch a few times in the sixth, seventh, eighth inning."... The A's agreed to contract terms with first-round draft pick Billy McKinney, a center fielder from Plano West High School in Plano, Texas, and Virginia Tech shortstop Chad Pinder, their third overall pick. McKinney took batting practice on Friday at the Coliseum. "I thought I'd feel some butterflies, but after the first two swings I felt good," McKinney said. ... The A's called up Otero from Triple-A Sacramento and optioned right-hander Hideki Okajima to Sacramento. Otero, a former Giant, was 1-0 with a 0.99 ERA in 23 appearances for the River Cats. He gave up three hits and one run in 1 1/3 innings to the Mariners on Friday night.

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