SEATTLE -- Justin Smoak, the centerpiece of the Seattle Mariners trade of Cliff Lee with Texas a year ago, has had a season of injuries, inconsistencies and disappointment.
But what one swing can do.
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Smoak hit his first home run in nearly three months, a two-run shot in the sixth inning, to help the Mariners claim a 4-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals Thursday night.
"It finally feels good to hit one solid, hit it on the barrel," said Smoak, whose last home run was June 12. "Thank God it went out. It was a good time to put some runs on the board."
Smoak hit a 1-1 fastball from Luke Hochevar (10-11) into the right-field seats for his 13th to break a 1-1 tie. He had gone 48 games between home runs.
"It was good for him, big for us," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "It's nice to see him hit it out of the ballpark but nice to do it in a situation where it impacted the ball game. He's had a tough road the past couple months with injuries and what not but he's one of the guys we're really looking to finish strong for us."
Jason Vargas (8-13) picked up the victory, his first since Aug. 10. He worked six innings, allowing four hits and one run. Jamey Wright, Tom Wilhelmsen each worked a hitless inning.
Brandon League had a little trouble getting out of the ninth. He took a two-out line drive from Mike Moustakas off his left leg, with Moustakas reaching. Shortstop Brendan Ryan bobbled a Johnny Giavotella ground ball.
League got Salvador Perez to ground out to end the game and earn his 34th save in 39 opportunities.
Smoak injured his thumb in early August and missed a week then fractured his nose in an Aug. 12 game on Boston's Jared Saltalamacchia ground ball. He was placed on the DL, did not play for more than a week then finally went through rehab with Triple-A Tacoma.
He was hitless in 11 at-bats in Tacoma when he said he felt "way off." He was activated Sept. 2, coming back with just 10 hits in his previous 75 at-bats.
Then just before his at-bat in the sixth, Wedge offered an observation.
"I was wiggling the bat a lot at the plate and he said just quiet my hands a little bit and try to take them straight to the ball," Smoak said. "And what do you know, I hit a homer. I've been battling all year trying to do too much. It was good to try to simplify right there."
Ichiro Suzuki opened the Mariners first with a first-pitch home run to right field. He has four home runs, all leading off the game. It was his 36th career leadoff home run -- out of 94 career homers -- sixth on the all-time list.
"When he gets a pitch he likes, he can put a swing on it," Wedge said. "He can hit it as far as anybody."
In the second, Jeff Francoeur lifted a one-out triple into the left-field corner. Left-fielder Mike Carp missed it on a dive and it bounced past him.
With the infield drawn in, Moustakas hit a two-hopper to second baseman Dustin Ackley, who threw home on the run. His throw bounced in front of the plate but catcher Chris Gimenez gathered it smoothly on the hop then was slammed by Francoeur. Gimenez held his ground and the ball for the out.
"It was a bang bang and I'm doing anything I can to catch the ball first," Gimenez said.
Royals manager Ned Yost said Vargas "did a real nice job of keeping us off-balance. He changed speeds real well and was getting us out front, throwing cutters in. We were getting jammed and hitting it off the end of the bat. We could never really square him up."
The Royals finally broke through in the sixth. Melky Cabrera reached on a one-out bunt single up the third-base line. With two outs and a 1-1 count to Eric Hosmer, Cabrera stole second, his 18th.
Hosmer followed with a RBI single to center. Cabrera scored without a throw, tying the game 1-1.
Hochevar, coming off two straight wins, went 6 2/3 innings. He struck out a season-high nine and walked three, although his base on balls to Ackley in the sixth was followed by Smoak's blast.
Suzuki singled in the seventh then stole second and third, giving him 37, third most in the American League. He scored when Escobar booted Ryan's ground ball.
Mariners pitchers now have held opponents to two runs or fewer 50 times. They are 40-10 in those games.
Both teams entered the game coming off a combined three hits in Wednesday's games. The Royals had a season-low two hits and the Mariners a season-low one. The Mariners activated RH Dan Cortes off the disabled list. He had been on the DL since Aug. 23 with a bruised left ankle. the Royals have not announced a starter for Sunday but it likely will be either RH Nate Adcock or LH Everett Teaford, both now in the bullpen. "If I have to use one of them between now and then, it'll probably be the other one," Royals manager Ned Yost. "If everything stays even, it'll probably be Teaford." Teaford has never started in the big leagues. LH Jeff Francis (5-15, 4.72) will start for the Royals Friday. His trouble this season has been the first inning, allowing 29 of his 95 runs as opponents are hitting .351 in the first. Seattle gave Francis his first decision as a Royal, beating him 3-2 in an April 17 game at Safeco. ... RH Michael Pineda (9-9, 3.74) makes his 27th start in his rookie campaign, likely his second last. The club would like to end his season after his next start, at approximately 170 innings. The Mariners have not scored a run in his past two starts. Among rookie starters, Pineda ranks first in strikeouts (163), first in opponents average (.210), second in ERA (3.74) and innings (159) and third in wins (nine).