I had a lot of fun today. Waking up knowing the worst the Mariners could do is split this series felt good. Scoring 12 runs yesterday and forcing Carlos Carrasco into an early exit felt good. Those feelings carried over into my morning coffee cup, as I settled in to watch what this band of merry men would do today.
When the pitching matchups for this series came out, today’s game felt like the most winnable. After two innings of play, that hunch was basically confirmed.
You know when your friend does something cool, and you’re super proud of them, but a simple “thank you” or “good job” won’t convey the depth of appreciation you have? So instead of offering them any verbal validation you instead perform an act of kindness that far outweighs the value of simple words?
That was the Mariner offense today, helping out Marco Gonzales after he escaped the bottom of the first inning unscathed.
Back-to-back hits from José Ramírez and Michael Brantley put runners on the corner with Edwin Encarnación licking his lips in the batter’s box, looking to put Cleveland ahead in the first inning. After falling behind in the count 2-1, Marco trusted his changeup enough to wield it in an early high-leverage situation. The pitch resulted in a swinging strike, and after the count progressed to 3-2, Gonzales utilized the change again to get Encarnación to ground out harmlessly.
It was the kind of pitching that demonstrates a fearlessness on the part of Gonzales. He refused to give in and toss up an obligatory fastball. Rather, he leaned on his best pitch and was rewarded with a zero on the scoreboard. In doing so, he passed the baton to a Mariner offense that had been fattening up on ding dongs, facing a pitcher in Josh Tomlin who had been serving them up in regularity.
The five-run top of the second was born out of a big boy at-bat from Ryon Healy. He took the first two pitches of the at-bat to stake a 2-0 advantage, and took the next two pitches too, which could have been enough to elicit a stroll to first base.
Nope, 2-2. Tomlin went low with his fifth pitch as well, but caught too much of the plate. Healy roped a double into the left field corner to score Mitch Haniger from first and allow Gonzales to pitch with a lead. Dee Gordon kept things going with an RBI single, motored to second on the throw back to the infield, and was plated by a Jean Segura knock seconds later. Just like that, two tough calls on Healy that could have submarined the inning turned into three runs, putting wind in the Mariners’ sails.
The cool thing about the Mariners getting hits is that it means another good hitter gets a chance to whack the ball around. Sitting (unfairly) on 99 career Mariner home runs, Robinson Canó sauntered to the plate with Segura needing a ride home.
Robbie started the car, cranked some easy Sunday morning driving music, picked up Jean, and took a slow ride around Cleveland. In the blink of an eye, the Mariners had scored five runs with two outs and given Marco Gonzales an oxygen tank of breathing room.
Turns out five runs would be enough to win a game that sounded like it was played next to the largest birthday party in the Midwest. The two-out barrage in the second was supplemented by a Ryon Healy funk blast in the sixth. Healy’s bomb left the bat at 108 MPH and traveled 411 feet. Not bad for a nine hitter.
Gonzales was in his bag for the second straight start. He chucked six innings of two-run ball, striking out four and issuing just one walk. Save for an out-of-nowhere home run from Brandon Guyer, the Mariners’ lefty avoided damage all day and handed the ball over to a bullpen with four runs of wiggle room.
Dan Altavilla zapped away most of that wiggle room with an outing from hell. Altavilla plunked Yan Gomes, struck out Guyer, walked Jason Kipnis, puked up a wild pitch, then walked Frankie Lindor to load the bases. James Pazos was called upon to clean up the mess, and instantly wiped out Bradley Zimmer in an epic showdown of West Coast Conference graduates.
Ramírez was the only thing left between the Mariners and a clean but nerve-wracking inning. He smoked a center-cut 2-0 pitch to left field, chasing Ben Gamel into the corner. Hair flapping wildly like a golden retriever, Gamel laid out and briefly secured the ball. For a moment, it looked as though Gamel had made the Mariners’ defensive play of the year. Too bad he was running so fast and generating that much force, because as he crashed back to earth the ball squirted out of his glove.
Thankfully, because this is baseball, we have a pretty clear understanding of the catch rule. While Ben clearly did not complete the catch, and took a less-than-optimal route to get there, Ichiro is probably not getting anywhere near that ball. The non-catch became a two-RBI double for Ramírez, tightening the Mariner lead to two. With bad feelings lurking all around, Pazos settled things by coolly making Michael Brantley bounce one right back to him for an easy putout. Crisis averted, and Mariner hitters got more swings against the non-Miller and Allen pitchers out of Terry Francona’s pen.
And boy howdy, did they take some swings. Haniger tripled to the opposite field and scored Seattle’s seventh run on a Gamel single. After sitting Zunino down on strikes, Nick Goody contradicted his family name with this pitch.
For those keeping track at home, that’s 850 feet of power from the ninth guy in the order. His second demolition of the day put the M’s on top 9-4, driving a dagger through Cleveland’s heart. Losing today clinched the red and blue team’s first home series loss since July 4-6 of 2017, when they lost two of three to the San Diego Padres. Of course, we all knew that.
Twice in a 48-hour span, the Mariners launched four home runs and accumulated double-digit runs against a team almost certainly bound for the playoffs. Dee Gordon went 4-for-5, Juan Nicasio spun his sixth consecutive scoreless outing, and the Mariners won their third straight away series to put a bow on a 7-3 road trip.
Up next, three games at Safeco against the pesky Oakland A’s before a juicy weekend series with the Angels. The Mariners head home with an offense finally at full strength, firing on all cylinders, and a pitching staff starting to take shape.
The 2018 season is inching toward “it’s still early but not THAT early” territory, which means every conversation about this team being good holds a little more credibility. While we can’t expect 10 and 12-run outbursts every time out, it’s starting to look like we can expect a competitive fight most times the Mariners take the field.