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Mariners finally get offense and defense working in tandem, avoid sweep in Oakland

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Mariners get monkey off back, kill monkey, hold monkey up to other monkeys as example

Seattle Mariners v Oakland Athletics
we’re thankful for you too, Nelson
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

For all the talk about how long a baseball season is, and how change is incremental, sometimes it’s shocking to look back at just a week ago and see how much things have changed. A week ago, Yovani Gallardo was coming off a loss against the Marlins in which he allowed nine hits over six innings, allowing four runs, a home run, and striking out three. A week ago, Dan Vogelbach was playing teams with names like the Chihuahuas and the Isotopes. A week ago, Leonys Martín was a Mariner.

Coming into this game, things felt bad, bad, bad. We all knew Leonys had been struggling at the plate, but DFA’ing him still felt harsh and sudden—remember, we are just one month removed from the team hiring a mariachi band for his birthday and him declaring it to be an experience he’d never forget. Kyle Seager was out with something ominously referred to as “a hip thing.” Yovani Gallardo was starting against Andrew Triggs, who was yet to give up an earned run. It seemed like a perfect storm for a sweep in Oakland, and the Mariners limping into Detroit, in the basement of the AL West, morale severely dinged.

Instead, currently Scott Servais is draping himself in gold chains and Nelson Cruz’s cleats, because he promised the team if they won by ten runs he’d dress up in their gear. The Swelmet is perched on top of Yovani Gallardo’s head. It all still feels a little weird, a little hollow. The Mariners still lost three of four to Oakland, and Leonys’s locker is still empty. But if there’s going to be a turnaround—and there needs to be, or we really might all need to take up curling—today’s game was a good first step.

I’m not going to dip too much into the nitty-gritty of Gallardo’s performance here; Jake will have a breakdown on what exactly made Gallardo so effective tomorrow. But he was excellent over six-plus innings, giving up just one run on four hits and striking out seven. The bullpen was also on lockdown, with Evan Scribner giving up the only hit, a last-gasp double off the bat of Yonder Alonso in the ninth. Marc Rzepczynski was especially effective, needing just eleven pitches to finish off his slice of the A’s order. He threw nine of those eleven pitches for strikes and collected two strikeouts on seven pitches, including a three-pitch strikeout of righty Chad Pinder.

The real story today, though, was the offense. The eleven runs they scored was more than they’d scored in the past three games combined, and the ten-run margin of victory is their largest of the season (and double their previous high of five). The game began with the Mariners again small-balling their way to a score. Triggs hit Dyson with a pitch, Haniger rogue bunted him over to second, and then Canó singled to get the Mariners on the board early. Triggs didn’t have great control today, floating the ball all over the strikezone, and the Mariners hitters were patient and took advantage, which was nice to see after they hadn’t been able to take advantage of a similar lack of control out of yesterday’s starter Jharel Cotton. In the third, the Mariners were able to load up the bases off singles from Zunino and Haniger, and consecutive walks to Canó and Cruz pushed a run across. After collecting just four walks over the first half of April, Cruz has eight since the 14th. His strikeouts have fallen over that time, as well, from thirteen down to just six. Plate-patient Nelson Cruz is so much more fun to watch than Plate-Kermit-flail Nelson Cruz.

Cruz’s walk not only scored a run, but it also set up Taylor Motter for a date with another pitcher who apparently hasn’t read the—wait what now?

Huh. It’s still an inside fastball, but that’s lower than where we’ve maybe seen Motter bust them out. And he clubbed this thing to left-center: 400 feet.

This opened up the game to a very comfortable lead for Gallardo, but Nelson Cruz wasn’t done quite yet. In the seventh, Raul Alcantara threw him a middle-inside fastball and Nelson did not miss it:

Just for good measure, he would also double in a run in the ninth and score on Dan Vogelbach’s first-ever RBI single. Motter will get the attention for today’s grand slam, but Cruz accounted for 5 RBIs. Mitch Haniger also had another solid day at the plate, going three-for-four with a walk. Add Kyle Seager to this lineup and there’s a possibility the Mariners are still scoring runs.

There’s a chance—a good one—that this team continues to frustrate us, continues to look more like the team they were in the first three games of this series; like the team they’ve been on the road. There’s a chance the starting pitching continues to falter, that Iwakuma will fall to age and Miranda to his peripherals and Felix and Pax to fragility or bad luck or crazy BABIP or just plain old ineffectiveness. There’s a chance the bullpen collapses. There are so many things that can go wrong. Like the weather in Seattle this spring, the team could continue to tease us with dazzling sunshine one day, sandwiched with eternal, unending rainy days the rest of the week. But today is a reminder of how quickly things can change. I’ll check in with you next week.