On the one day of the year the Blue Jays break out of their ornithologically-inspired garb and pay homage to the country they represent, they actually don’t have a great winning percentage (.356). That number got dinged a little more today as the Mariners trounced the Jays 7-2 in a much more decisive victory than last night’s extra-innings affair, giving the Mariners back-to-back series wins against two playoff-bound teams. This road trip was advertised as one that would show us what these Mariners are made of, and while the two series losses to Detroit still sting my memory, it’s hard not to feel enthused about the level of play the Mariners brought today.
Today’s win was authored largely by Yusei Kikuchi, who turned in yet another strong start, his fourth in a row quality start and the third time in his last four outings he’s gone seven innings. You have to go all the way back to June 5 to get to Kikuchi’s last poor start, when he only lasted four innings against the Angels (although he did still strike out eight in just those four innings). Things got off to a rough start for Kikuchi when Marcus Semien hit a leadoff home run that would be a homer in just half of MLB’s ballparks:
Marcus Semien vs Yusei Kikuchi#WeAreBlueJays— Would it dong? (@would_it_dong) July 1, 2021
Exit velo: 106.3 mph
Launch angle: 21 deg
Proj. distance: 392 ft
This would have been a home run in 15/30 MLB ballparks
SEA (2) @ TOR (1)
Kikuchi settled down after that though, and proceeded to get three more outs via groundballs; he’d retire ten batters via grounders today compared to just two flyouts. It wasn’t purely smooth sailing for Yusei early on; he had to contend with a very small zone and was also battling his changeup command early, unable to land it for a competitive pitch. But the cutter was working for him, and Kikuchi alternated between the cutter and fastball until he had a good rhythm going, getting ground ball after ground ball. Marcus Semien (again!) snuck a single into center field in the third, but Kikuchi rebounded with his first strikeout of the day, dialing it up to 98 to get Bo Bichette hacking more violently than Jigsaw:
Kikuchi's first strikeout of the day, 98 to Bo Bichette. pic.twitter.com/Z5QpHWD1Uc— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) July 1, 2021
Even with his fastball cranking up to 99 (!), Kikuchi’s command faltered a little in the fourth, with a leadoff walk to Guerrero Jr., although he was promptly erased when Teoscar Hernández grounded into a double play, one of two on the day for Toronto (Vlad, whose offensive output was mostly throttled by the Mariners, had the other one). An unlucky infield single off the bat of Springer, who got jammed on a cutter that could have doubled as a belly button ring, threatened, but Grichuk flew out to end the threat.
From there on, the gravy train departed the station for Kikuchi, who breezed through his next few innings. As is so often the case with Kikuchi’s starts, he got better as he went along, pumping the velocity up to the upper-90s and starting to mix in his off-speed pitches more. The changeup finally came out and played nice, and after only collecting one strikeout in his first three innings, Kikuchi added five more in innings five through seven.
After only striking out one batter in the first four innings, Yusei collects two more swinging strikeouts in the fifth: one on a 94 MPH cutter (!) at the bottom of the zone; in this at-bat, he follows 98 at the top of the zone up with this slider. pic.twitter.com/yFcPwhF0x6— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) July 1, 2021
After Semien’s homer in the first, the Blue Jays didn’t have another extra-base hit until Kikuchi’s last inning, the seventh, when Teoscar Hernández snuck a double past Ty France down the right-field line; after striking out the next two batters, Kikuchi threw a wild pitch to move the runner to third, but rebounded to get Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to roll over a cutter to J.P. to end the threat, and also to end Yusei’s day on a high note. Your various Jrs have no sway over Yusei, Blue Jays!
Meanwhile, the Mariners offense staked Kikuchi to an early lead, when J.P. Crawford WHO IS AN ALL-STAR I DON’T CARE WHAT ANY VOTE SAYS led off the game with a double, followed by a single from Haniger and a little nubber off the bat of Kyle Seager that was ruled an error and no hit but probably could have been a hit. A sac fly from Ty France made it 2-0 as Hyun-jin Ryu had strike zone struggles of his own, including an inability to land his changeup.
Ryu was at almost 30 pitches at the end of the first inning, and the second didn’t go much better for him, as Jake Fraley’s road-homer-devil-magic proved to be a stronger force than Ryu’s no-homers-for-lefties brand. Unlike Semien’s dink shot earlier, this one would have been out at 27/30 MLB parks:
The Mariners could have dealt more damage to Ryu here after Crawford worked a walk and Haniger hit another single, but Seager cued a changeup well off the plate directly to Bo Bichette. Still, Ryu’s pitch count stood at 54 through two innings and his “no homers allowed to lefties” achievement was about to get wrecked even further by Shed Long Jr. in the third with this two-run bomb (Jake Bauers was aborad, having walked):
See, we have Juniors who hit bombs too! Some might say we had the original Junior. The Juniors are our birthright!
And that was it for the scoring for the next four innings as the two teams traded zeroes. Kikuchi kept mowing down Toronto batters and Patrick Murphy, on in place of Ryu in the fifth, held the fort down, as did Northwest native and recent Blue Jays acquisition Adam Cimber. The Blue Jays did tack on a run against Drew Steckenrider; Marcus Semien (again! so pesky!) doubled and was driven in by a Bo Bichette single, prompting Scott Servais to call upon Paul Sewald to face Guerrero Jr. for the final out of the inning. Sewald struck him out on an ugly quarter-swing and was pretty pumped about it:
Tyler Chatwood, not known for his excellent command, surrendered an additional two insurance runs for the Mariners, walking the first two batters he saw before grooving one down the middle that Seager redirected for an RBI single, followed by a Jake Bauers RBI single to make it 7-2, and eventually forcing the Blue Jays into making a pitching change with two outs in the ninth. Tayler Saucedo, who is a pitcher and not a pattern at Crate and Barrel, struck out Shed Long to end the Mariners’ scoring threat and keep them from tacking double digits on against the Jays.
Servais opted to go back to Sewald in the ninth despite a long layoff and things looked a little dodgy for a bit as he struggled to find his slider, allowing an infield single and walking Springer on four pitches to start off the inning. Just when Anthony Misiewicz started warming up though, Sewald magically found the feel for his slider, and promptly sat down Randal Grichuk on three pitches, all sliders. He then struck out Gurriel looking on a fastball, and got Cavan Biggio to chase after high heat-ish for the final out, and in his reaction I felt a catharsis of a thousand games played among hordes of Blue Jays fans at T-Mobile Park/Safeco Field/The Kingdome. Who needs elite bloodlines and generational talents and Juniors, we have Paul f-ing Sewald:
YEAH PAUL YOU TELL ‘EM. HAPPY CANADA DAY, YOU INVASIVE CHIRPSTERS.
The Mariners return home for their “grand re-opening” against Texas, an objectively bad team, with lots of goodwill built up among the fanbase from this showing on the roadtrip and a ballpark that will likely be packed. Please, Mariners, please don’t Lollablueza this.