It is impossible to describe the amazingness displayed in tonight’s baseball games, but I’ll do my best. The Mariners managed to pull back to .500 on the season in emphatic passion. Their season has witnessed exciting win streaks followed by disappointing losing skids. After winning eight of their last nine, it looked as though their dominant stretch was nearing an end. Not so fast.
Yovani Gallardo took the bump for Seattle to start the game, and was impressive early. The 31-year-old hurler attacked the top of the zone early and often. For example, Gallardo got Max Kepler swinging in the third inning, throwing all four pitches at the top of the zone or higher:
His ability to locate his high heat early also set him up for pitches down in away later in counts, evidenced by his third-inning strikeout of Miguel Sano:
Gallardo was through four innings, allowing just one run while striking out four; however, as they say, the top of the zone giveth and the top of the zone taketh away. After retiring the first two batters of the fifth, A double, walk, and single earned the Twins their second run of the game. Then Miguel Sano stepped into the box. Gallardo started the at bat with two high fastballs, but his third pitch was a curveball in upper-middle part of the zone. Just like that, the Mariners trailed 5-2.
Offensively, the Mariners had an interesting night. Their first two runs came in the third inning, when Mike Zunino and Carlos Ruiz hit back-to-back solo shots, a very rare and beautiful occurrence.
The dynamic duo of catchers helped gather the night’s third run, starting the fifth inning with a pair of walks. Zunino would later score on a sacrifice fly from Tyler Smith (who, by the way, had his first MLB RBI tonight).
Seattle would cut the deficit to one in the sixth, with a Kyle Seager round tripper in the sixth inning.
Although the Mariners could muster up four runs in the first eight innings, they didn’t look nearly as offensively potent as they had in the past few games. They only had three hits on the night and struggled to put together any cohesive rallies to manufacture runs.
Their offensive struggles would continue into the ninth inning. The first two batters of the frame failed to reach base Seattle was down to their final out.
Ben Gamel worked a 2-0 count and drove a sinker in the lower-middle of the zone up the middle to keep the Mariners alive. In stepped Mike Zunino, the unlikeliest hero of Seattle’s recent win streak. The 26-year-old catcher had a 38 wRC+ before getting sent to Tacoma earlier this year to figure out his swing. After a successful 12 game stretch with the Rainiers, Mike was called back up to Seattle and continued to struggle, recording just one hit in his first 17 plate appearances back in the bigs. But recently he’s flipped the script, accumulating 12 hits in the seven hits prior to tonight’s contest. He’d already smashed a homer and drawn a walk in tonight’s contest, but the Mariners needed him to deliver one more time.
After watching two balls away and a strike on the outside corner, Mike saw his pitch, a belt-high fastball on the outer half of the plate. Observe:
It’s a bad pitch, but it’s one we’ve watched Mike swing right through countless times in his career, and countless times this season. He didn’t miss tonight. You couldn’t have scripted a better return to .500 than a Mike Zunino opposite-field walk-off homer. The hottest team in baseball is being fueled an unlikely, but infinitely loved, hero. His wRC+ since being recalled is 130. It makes you wonder if he’s finally tapping into the potential that earned him a third overall draft choice in 2012. Whether or not it’s here to stay, his increase in production has been a delight to watch and has been the impetus of the resurging Mariners.
The Mariners are .500. Felix Hernandez and Mitch Haniger are in the middle of rehab assignments. Jean Segura will be a Mariner for a long time. Mike Zunino is crushing the baseball. Life is good. Let’s enjoy it.