It bordered on tired refrain at the start of the homestand last week - “The Mariners always collapse at home after a strong road trip drives up interest!” Lollablueza, Night Court, Deadgar Weekend... I’m sure I’m forgetting a couple, but those all cut deep to this day. After a strong series win against the lowly Texas Rangers, Addie implored us on Sunday to let go of the narrative of “same old Mariners”, to allow this young, scrappy team to forge its own destiny. Sure, a 12-1 drubbing by the Yankees followed up by a close loss stung, but Logan Gilbert single-handedly turned the vibe around with arguably the best start of the season on Wednesday. At 3-3 on the homestand, all that stood between the M’s and the All-Star break was the Angels, and now, the narratives of seasons past are firmly dead and buried.
Chris Flexen came out of the gates strong once again, facing the minimum through his first three innings before David Fletcher annoyingly broke up the no-hitter with a slap shot into center to keep his hitting streak alive. He did walk Ohtani on six pitches in the first, which was fine by me considering his nuke from yesterday, but Tom Murphy had him absolutely dead to rights trying to take second to snuff out any obnoxiousness.
Patrick Sandoval matched Flexen’s zeroes through three, his wicked changeup making fools out of Luis Torrens and Jake Fraley in the second. Sandoval, as you might remember, set the season record for swinging strikes the last time he faced Seattle, extracting thirty-two whiffs on June 6th. That wasn’t quite there tonight, and Dylan Moore snuffed any no-hitter hopes with a clean single in the third, but a pitcher’s duel was bubbling, and it was only a matter of time until someone blinked.
Turns out Sandoval must have gotten something in his eye in between innings. After Flexen worked around the aforementioned Fletcher hit for a scoreless fourth, Mitch Haniger opened the bottom of the frame with a walk on five pretty non-competitive pitches. Ty France went down with no fuss, Torrens smoked a base hit juuust inside the first base line to get Mitch to third, and Fraley redeemed himself with some old-fashioned #hustle.
Tom Murphy struck out to end the inning, and it looked like Flexen’s eye was starting to twitch a bit in the fifth, with Phil Gosselin leading off with a nice piece of hitting on a 3-2 cutter for a single. Although Max Stassi and Taylor Ward went down on strikes on perhaps my two favorite pitches of the night - Stassi flailed on a down-and-in changeup (!), while Ward stared at a 1-2 curveball that crept into the top of the zone - Juan Lagares bunted for an easy base hit, and the Angels had a runner in scoring position for the first - and only! - time all game. Thankfully, instead of someone like Mike Trout, or Justin Upton, or Anthony Rendon, or, or... you get the idea, Jack Mayfield followed, and hit an easy forceout to Dylan at third base to end the inning.
You may have done a double-take at seeing DMo was at third tonight. With Kyle Seager suffering a bone bruise last night that Scott Servais says looks like a “bruised banana” (iiiiif you know what i mean), the hot corner was Moore’s tonight, and he was excellent there all game. No play, though, stood out more than this beauty to rob Fletcher of an infield hit in the top of the sixth.
I mean, that is just a vintage Kyle Seager play there, and it’s hard to overstate how valuable his glove has been nearly everywhere the M’s have deployed him. The bat has been quiet this year, but with a career wRC+ of 96, it’s clear that Dylan Moore is a viable Major League ballplayer, and he should have a home in Seattle for 2022 at the very least. Ohtani went down on strikes on a truly hilarious strike three call (seriously, that 2-2 changeup was at least five inches off the plate), Jared Walsh grounded out harmlessly, and it was time for the bats to add on. J.P. Crawford bunted to reach first, and the ball scooted away from Walsh on an errant Mayfield throw (good!), Perry Hill instantly waved J.P. to second, but he or Crawford or maybe both missed that the ball bounced back perfectly to a covering Fletcher, who fired to second to nab J.P. by at least twenty feet (bad!). As a result, Mitch Haniger’s single immediately after felt pretty bittersweet, and with a forceout replacing him on the basepaths with the much slower Ty France, it would take something truly extraordinary to bring a run home.
How about a good old-fashioned catcher triple?
I love absolutely everything about this: Torrens pouncing on a first-pitch changeup that Sandoval had working all night (and that he had fallen victim to his first time up), Ty France chugging around third base and finishing with a glorious headfirst slide, Sandoval’s resigned peek as the ball races into the corner... a chef’s kiss if there ever was one. Torrens capped off his night with a walk in the eighth inning, making it the sixth straight game he’s earned a free pass, and his wRC+ has broken out to 106. His turnaround since coming back has been nothing short of remarkable, and aside from some home run luck, the approach looks very sustainable. A name which elicited boos and hisses throughout the first six weeks of the year suddenly looks like one of the team’s very best hitters, and should his second half look anything like the last few weeks, Luis Torrens could be a Mariner household name come October. Wouldn’t that be something?
Of course, it wasn’t just Torrens that led the Mariners tonight. Flexen responded with a scoreless seventh, ending his night on a glorious strikeout of Taylor Ward on a 2-2 curve. Drew Steckenrider needed just eleven pitches to strike out the side in the eighth. Seattle had the bases loaded in the bottom of the inning and couldn’t capitalize, but that was okay. Paul Sewald, he of the 91-93 unhittable fastball, he of the 1.03 (!!!) FIP, was on for the ninth to face Anaheim’s 2-3-4. Should worst have come to worst, Ohtani could only bite them for one. Good thing it didn’t come to that!
An easy flyout and groundout later, and the Mariners had their second shutout in three days wrapped up, and clinched a winning record in what’s probably the most important homestand in the last four years or so - and per Ryan Divish, today’s attendance total was the second-highest of the season, with plenty of late and last minute sales adding on. If the electric atmosphere of the crowd these past few days shows us anything, it’s that this city will ride or die for a contending team, and that somehow, against all odds, looks to be on the horizon as the first half wraps up. Give us a sweep. Héctor Santiago will be starting what looks to be a bullpen day for Seattle tomorrow; give us more of his steadfast refusal to acknowledge the rosin bag. Give us dazzling Dylan Moore defense, give us Luis Torrens raking faces, give us shutdown relief pitching, give us the 1-2 Crawford-Haniger punch, give us a funeral procession for the Angels. All of this, and more, is within our and the team’s grasp. They just need to reach out and grab it.