Branyan hits grand slam, Rowland-Smith rebounds to lead M's

SEATTLE -- No wonder Russell Branyan couldn't remember the last time he'd hit a grand slam.

It had been nine major league teams, four minor league stops, five trades and five free-agent contracts ago.


"Was I with the Reds?" Branyan guessed correctly with a smile Sunday, after he broke out of a slump with his first slam in six years to help starter Ryan Rowland-Smith rebound from a shaky beginning, and the Seattle Mariners rolled over the Tampa Bay Rays 11-2 on Sunday.

Branyan hit the first pitch from Jeff Bennett in the sixth inning over the Rays' bullpen and off a back fence well beyond left field. It was the 33-year-old's first slam since July 21, 2003, when he was with Cincinnati.

"Yeah, I remember that," he said unconvincingly, rolling his eyes.

Mariners rookie manager Don Wakamatsu moved Branyan from second to sixth in the batting order Sunday. The slugger with a sore back that is limiting his pregame batting practice was hitless in 11 at-bats before he capped Seattle's comeback from an early 2-1 deficit.

His 26th homer extended his career high. It was the first home run to left field in two years from the left-handed pull hitter.

Franklin Gutierrez's second consecutive three-hit game included a go-ahead home run in the second off Scott Kazmir.

Kazmir (6-7) said he failed to mix his pitches. He continued to look like anything but Tampa Bay's pitching star of 2008, keeping the Rays from reaching a season-high 13 games over .500.

"Kazmir just had a tough time today," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He was throwing the ball in bad spots ... and they pretty much beat us up."

Rowland-Smith (2-1) allowed two early runs but nothing else. He struck out a season-high six in 6 2/3 innings, as Seattle took two of three games from last season's AL champions to stay on the fringes of the wild-card race.

The Mariners, who lost 101 games last season, are now 4½ games behind wild-card co-leaders Boston and Texas.

"You're always looking at the scoreboard to see what other teams are doing. Yeah, it's talked about in here," Rowland-Smith said inside a clubhouse that has gone from dysfunctional to dreaming in less than a year.

"But, obviously, it's only August. Hopefully we can still be right there in September," he added.

Rowland-Smith broke about a half dozen bats and struck out Rays on big, looping curves and floating changeups in his fourth start of the season. He spent 3½ months on the disabled list with elbow pain and then on an inconsistent rehabilitation assignment in the minor leagues.

He said he simply decided "to pitch to contact." The switch was well-timed, one day after starter Ian Snell walked six and got just four outs in his Mariners home debut.

"Rowland-Smith picked us up big time," Wakamatsu said.

The left-hander's only mistake was a two-run home run by Dioner Navarro that gave Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead in the second, on an 0-2 pitch. That extended the Rays' team-record of a home run in 14 straight games.

Ichiro Suzuki singled in the tying run in the second before Gutierrez hit a chest-high fastball from Kazmir for his career-high 14th home run to turn Seattle's 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead.

Suzuki, who was 0 for 4 Saturday, has not gone hitless in consecutive games since Aug. 13-15, 2008. That span of 144 games is the longest such streak in the majors since 1954.

The longest AL streak of not going hitless in consecutive games is 164 by Earl Sheely of the 1923-24 Chicago White Sox.

Kazmir hasn't won on the road since May 9 at Boston. The 2008 All-Star and starting pitcher in Game 1 of last fall's World Series lasted just 4 1/3 innings, his shortest outing since he returned in late May from missing a month with a strained quadriceps. He allowed nine hits and seven runs, increasing his ERA to 6.50.

"It was frustrating," he said.

Game notes
Rays 1B Carlos Pena, tied for the AL lead with 28 home runs entering Sunday, sat because he was 0 for 5 with four strikeouts against Rowland-Smith. Willy Aybar played 1B and singled, walked and was hit by a pitch. ... Wakamatsu said 25-year-old RHP Doug Fister will make his first major league start Tuesday against the White Sox, to replace the demoted Jason Vargas.