OAKLAND -- When manager Lloyd McClendon penciled Corey Hart in as his designated hitter for the first time in more than a month for Wednesday's series finale with the A's, he said the veteran slugger could be an "X-factor" for Seattle down the stretch.
Hart then delivered the game-winning home run with a seventh-inning blast in the Mariners' 2-1 victory in his first game since coming off an injury rehab to deal with knees that never had fully recovered from a pair of microfracture surgeries that sidelined him all of 2013 in Milwaukee.
"It's just nice to be back and feeling pretty good," said Hart, whose homer came two pitches after Kyle Seager tied it with his own shot. "I don't know what the hopes are for the rest of the month, but when I'm in there, I'm in there. I'm not going to cry. I just want to do the best I can and get good at-bats, and hopefully I get up in situations where I can come through."
The two-time National League All-Star was frustrated when he went on the 15-day disabled list on Aug. 2, saying he'd just never regained full strength in his legs. But he spent the past month working on that with Triple-A Tacoma as well as with the Mariners' training staff whenever possible, and he showed signs of progress with three homers and a .273 average in nine rehab games with the Rainiers before being recalled on Monday.
He then delivered the crucial blow against tough left-hander Jon Lester for his sixth homer of the season. While he's hitting just .204 with those six homers and 21 RBIs, the big man could indeed be a factor if he has regained his strength and timing.
"Corey has a track record," said McClendon. "Corey is an All-Star player. He's battled a lot of injuries this year, but he's come back pretty good. I think he has a chance to be pretty big for us down the stretch."
For Hart, the 32-year-old is just enjoying being in a push for playoff games again with his team. He played in the postseason with the Brewers in 2008 and '11 and would love to be part of that again.
"Right now, every series is big for us," he said. "We're in a situation where we haven't been in a while, right there in the hunt in the last month. It's nice to beat the guys ahead of you, but at the same time, we just have to keep focusing on winning every series the rest of the way and just stay close, no matter who it is."