Of the 57 wins the Mariners have tallied so far this season, very few have been like tonight’s victory. The Mariners last won by the score of 8-2 against Boston back in April, which was their largest margin of victory until the 10-0 drubbing of the Twins on June 15. Since then, they won by six runs one other time, against the White Sox. This is a team that has won close games, a team that likes nail-biters more than nail-filers, that’s anything but boring.
Tonight’s win, however was...not boring, because winning is never boring, but definitely more relaxed than any game I can remember recapping in quite a while. The Mariners offense broke through in the third with a rare big inning, hanging five runs on Rays starter Michael Wacha, who struggled to get the Mariners to chase outside the zone and giving up hard contact when they were in the zone. The inning began when J.P. Crawford walked and advanced to second on a wild pitch, Haniger singled to move J.P. to third, and then Kyle Seager singled to drive in J.P., giving the Mariners a run, traffic on the bases, and still no outs. Ty France kept the line moving with a single of his own, then Abraham Toro worked a walk after falling behind 0-2 to load the bases for Jake Fraley, recently returned from the COVID-IL. Fraley singled, continuing the death-by-a-thousand-papercuts inning for Wacha and driving in two more runs. Wacha’s inning was lengthened by a throwing error from Brandon Lowe on an easy chopper from Luis Torrens, turning what should have been a double play into a fifth run for the Mariners, before Wacha recovered to retire the rookie duo of Kelenic and Cal Raleigh and end the inning, but not before the Mariners pushed Wacha’s pitch count to 70 through three.
The Rays tried to battle back in the next inning; with one out, Brandon Lowe hit a slicing drive into the gap, but Jake Fraley, seemingly not missing a beat, continued his string of brilliant outfield play:
Nelson Cruz then blasted a two-out single (107 MPH exit velocity) up the middle that threatened to take off Flexen’s head, but Ji-Man Choi flew out harmlessly to end the inning. This would come to be a pattern for Flexen, who bent but never broke, effortlessly mixing his pitches and baiting the Rays into weak waves and soft contact, while the Mariners defense—outplaying the Rays defense, or at least the Brandon Lowe part of it, as he committed two errors on the night—helped Flexen out by stealing hits and keeping balls from escaping the Trop’s notorious fast infield.
The Mariners tacked on another run in the top of the fourth and probably could have done more damage in the inning. Flipping the script that started the third, J.P. led off with a single followed by a Haniger walk, but Seager grounded into a double play to put two quick outs on the board. Ty France kept the heat on Wacha with a double, scoring J.P., but Toro grounded out to end the inning. In the bottom half of the inning, with two outs, the Rays finally got to Flexen; Randy Arozarena scalded the hardest-hit ball of the game so far (111 MPH EV) for a solo home run, but Flexen was able to cap the damage there, getting Manuel Margot to ground out easily on just two pitches, keeping Flexen’s pitch count under 60 through four inning and halting any possibility of a momentum swing.
Wacha, at 86 pitches at the end of the fourth, didn’t fare as well, and was replaced by hard-throwing D.J. Johnson, just acquired from Cleveland, to engage Jake Fraley in a battle of the beards.
D.J. emerged the victor of this battle, and of the inning, retiring the Mariners 1-2-3 despite giving up some solid contact off the bat of Luis Torrens (101 MPH EV, but right at Kiermaier). Mikey told you all about the improvements Torrens has made lately last week, but it’s interesting to note that his average exit velocity has rebounded somewhat to over 90 MPH on average, which is in the 62nd percentile in the league; still not at the heights of his 2020 production but definitely an improvement from earlier in the season.
Flexen stumbled a little in the fifth, opening up with a terrible first-pitch fastball to Kiermaier that he tattooed into the gap for a Trop Triple, but Flex then rebounded to strike out Zunino. Kiermaier came in on some weak contact off the bat of Lowe, and Nelson Cruz singled because he is The Best, but Flexen was able to use a couple of well-placed changeups to get Choi in an 0-2 hole before he reached for a changeup across the plate, grounding out harmlessly. In the sixth, Flexen again posted a scoreless inning, surrendering just an infield hit that J.P. Crawford almost made an incredible play on; Abraham Toro picked up Flexen with a nice play on a Margot groundout to end the inning instead.
Abraham Toro seems to be settling in nicely at second base pic.twitter.com/lEIOaNvsPR— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) August 3, 2021
Chris Mazza worked a clean inning against the Mariners in the sixth but got tagged for two runs in the seventh, one on this no-doubter off the bat of Ty France:
The other run for the Mariners in that inning came when Jake Fraley walked (of course) and stole second, and Jarred Kelenic drove him in with a well-struck single. Small sample size ahoy, but over the past week (so about 25 PAs), Jarred was slashing .227/.346/.364 coming into this game, walking over 15% of the time and striking out 27%. It’s still a long ways off from where he’d like to be, but it’s definitely an improvement. Go Jarred go!
Flexen battled into the 7th inning, walking the leadoff man Kiermaier after a ten pitch battle but then getting the next two outs on strikeouts (Zunino and Lowe). At 113 pitches, Servais finally lifted Flex for Joe Smith, who got Nelson Cruz to ground out harmlessly. Smith worked the 8th as well, striking out two in a 1-2-3 inning, and Keynan Middleton shut the door in the ninth with a 1-2-3 inning of his own, notching the Mariners their 57th win of the season, and what felt like their third easy win. As much as I enjoy the high-wire dramatics, please consider using the Big Inning more often, Mariners; it’s super-effective but also super-relaxing, and we could all use a little more relaxation in our lives.