Remember a month ago when we were all collectively in the Pit of Despair? On the wrong end of two no-hitters in the span of two weeks, a team batting average dipping below .200, and injuries left and right? Around this time in May, the Mariners were mired in a six-game losing streak, swept by the hands of the Tigers and Padres. At 21-26 with seemingly no help on the way, it was easy to take a glance and see a team that was dead in the water, trapped underneath a table.
This last month has shown us, though, that they’ve picked themselves up.
Logan Gilbert opened the game with a strong first inning, blowing away Randy Arozarena on a high fastball and coaxing easy flyouts from Ji-Man Choi and Yandy Díaz. While he tussled with Díaz for ten pitches, his velo was strong and he broke out a changeup to Choi: something I was hoping to see against a lefty-leaning Tampa Bay lineup. Josh Fleming responded with a 1-2-3 bottom of the frame, and Gilbert ran into some trouble in the second. Austin Meadows smacked a 2-2 fastball back up the middle for a leadoff single, and after a pretty strikeout of Manuel Margot, Joey Wendle returned to his Oakland A’s roots with this infuriating double:
Taylor Walls - who I’m convinced was grown in a lab somewhere in the Rays’ player development facilities - laid down a perfect bunt for a base hit, and old friend Mike Zunino brought Wendle home with a sac fly to deep center. With Gilbert’s pitch count pushing 40 after just five outs, Kevin Kiermaier helped him out with a first pitch grounder to second. Down two runs against the Rays never feels good, especially with the top of the order going down quickly, but hey, they fell behind early last night and bounced back quick. Who’s to say they couldn’t do it again?
Friends, tonight’s offensive explosion was a true joy. Kyle Seager led off the bottom of the second with a double into the right field corner, surpassing Ichiro! on the all-time franchise leaderboard, Tom Murphy followed suit with a single through the hole, and Jake Bauers continued his red-hot hitting with an opposite field dunk.
Since coming over from Cleveland, Bauers has put up a pretty hilarious .444 BABIP as a Mariner. Regression is undoubtedly coming, but I’ve liked his approach at the plate and his willingness to use the whole field - and really, when was the last time we had a waiver claim come in and make as immediate an impact as he has? Dylan Moore walked to load the bases with nobody out, and the hit parade felt inevitable.
Fleming, though, very nearly wriggled out of this jam. Needing seven pitches to make Jake Fraley and Shed Long Jr. look truly silly, he threw a sinker down and in on J.P. Crawford, who fouled it off. While normally a pitcher wouldn’t want to throw the same pitch in the same spot after a hitter just missed, he was probably thinking “Pssh, J.P.’s not gonna hurt me here.”
109.1 off the bat! The ball quite literally bounced over the top of the fence! It doesn’t get much more fun or chaotic than that for J.P.’s first career grand slam. Armed with a three-run lead, Logan Gilbert carved through the next two innings, striking out three and allowing only an infield hit to Wendle, because of course. Some trouble struck in the fifth thanks to Mike Zunino cranking a center-cut 0-1 fastball into the bullpens, but whatever, a multiple-run lead was still intact. He rebounded nicely, retiring the next three in order, and got Choi on a beautiful changeup to wrap up the frame.
He very nearly made it through a full six, as well, but was once again nipped by the homer bug - Manuel Margot jumped all over a hanging slider with two outs to make it a one-run game. Still, though, there was quite a bit to like from Logan’s outing tonight. The slider wasn’t sharp at all (just an 11% CSW% on the night. Yikes!), but he made up for it with getting plenty of swinging strikes on the fastball, and the changeup emerged as a real weapon. Oh, and no walks with seven strikeouts? That’ll work any day. Anthony Misiewicz got his one out, and despite some dingers, a one-run lead was still Seattle’s.
Unfortunately, after the five-run eruption, Fleming got back on track and gutted through 6.1 innings with no further damage. Twice, the Mariners had a runner on third against him and failed to bring them home - a botched contact play in the fourth especially stung. The bats also couldn’t get anything done against Drew Rasmussen, whose triple-digit heat was utterly overwhelming in his 1.2 innings of work. That’s okay, though! JT Chargois and Paul Sewald continued to play like the unexpected relief aces they’ve been, each throwing a perfect inning, and Kendall Graveman came on to close. He got the first two outs with relative ease, striking out Brett Phillips and just barely keeping Joey Wendle in the yard, but I noticed his velo was sitting in the 95-96 range rather than the soul-reaping 98-99. Missing on two sinkers down to pinch-hitter Brandon Lowe, he hung a changeup, and... well... if you want to relive it, here it is:
Blech. Matt Wisler and his twenty sliders (Seriously. That was all he threw tonight. Wild stuff!) kept the Mariners off the board in the bottom of the ninth despite Jake Fraley’s single, stolen base, and move to third on a groundout, and we were headed for Manfred-ball, which J.P. was decidedly not pleased about.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was pretty tense the entire time Rafael Montero was pitching with a runner in scoring position - thankfully, the runner in question was the not-fleet-footed Mike Zunino. Credit where it’s due, though: he retired the side in order, including the ever-dangerous Arozarena and Choi, with three batted balls that averaged out to an xBA of .043. Maybe his stuff is alright, after all. And hey, the Mariners got to open the bottom of the inning with some speed on Crawford at second! I think Mitch Haniger was hearing everyone’s pleas to end the game quickly, though, because no sooner had Dave and Mike finished introducing J.P. Feyereisen than he pounced on a first-pitch slider and sent it into the left field corner. Our J.P. - the best J.P.! - beat out a strong throw from Meadows, and the rest was history.
So here we are: seventy-three games in the 2021 season, and the Seattle Mariners are a game over .500. With two walkoffs in three days, strong pitching, and Crawford establishing himself as a rising star, you could easily make the case that this has been the best series of the year despite a fourth and final game due up tomorrow. I know it was likely the highlight of J.P.’s year.
JP Crawford mentioned how important it was and how honored he was to be wearing the Seattle Steelheads jerseys today. And since he hit his first grand slam in them ... is he going to keep the jersey.— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) June 20, 2021
"Oh it's already in my backpack. I'm framing that."
The injuries haven’t let up; losing Justin Dunn for a few weeks was just another blow. That hasn’t stopped them, though. This club might be a little sick, unsure, unsound, and unstable, but one thing has been very clear: they’ve been fighting their way back all year, and with eighteen games left before the All-Star break there’s still plenty of time to make some noise.