It can’t keep happening, but it keeps happening.
At some level, we know that it shouldn’t keep happening. Friday’s and yesterday’s performances against the Astros should tell us that. The Mariners are giving everything they can to claw themselves to a wild card spot. They go into Houston to face a quality, division-leading team, and get absolutely stomped. They weren’t the types of losses that gave fans anything to be optimistic about. They were sobering losses, losses that are supposed to bring you back to reality.
And then, uh, Mariners baseball immediately got drunk again.
It took a while, of course. The offense came out looking as flat as it had all weekend, compiling just four baserunners in seven innings against Astros starter Framber Valdez.
Tyler Anderson, on the other hand, looked quietly decent. He certainly got a bit lucky, stranding seven runners in 5.1 innings while giving up just two runs. Since joining the Mariners, though, Anderson has yet to give up more than three runs in a start or pitch fewer than five innings. He’s been as good as the Mariners could have hoped for.
Valdez was nearing 100 pitches after seven innings, so the Astros were forced to go the pen. This was great, because Valdez had been unhittable. This was not so great, however, because of who the Mariners found staring at them from the mound down 2-0.
That’s right: it was Kendall Graveman. Graveman had been nuts since getting traded to the Astros, giving up just one run over eight innings while striking out ten. Both Graveman’s run of success and the Mariners’ string of inefficacy seemed poised to continue after Jake Fraley and Jarred Kelenic were quickly retired. Scott Servais opted to pinch hit Jake Bauers for Dylan Moore, which seemed a bit like opting for creamed spinach over pickled chicken feet.
Miraculously, Bauers hit a double. J.P. Crawford then jumped on a middle-middle fastball, crushing it into the gap for a double of his own, scoring Bauers to make it a 2-1 game.
After Mitch Haniger struck out to end the inning, the Astros threatened to expand the lead for a split-second. Yuli Gurriel hit a line drive between first and second, a 98 MPH stroke with an expected hit percentage of 61%. Ty France did this.
Especially over the past month, France has been a revelation at first base. In fact, one of the few things that’s surpassed his fielding ability has been his prowess at the plate. He immediately demonstrated that in the ninth inning.
The M’s easily retired the bottom of the Astros’ order in the ninth inning to send the game to extra innings. And, though logically we know that it shouldn’t continue, extra innings is where the Mariners have thrived this season.
Luis Torrens, who started the inning at second base, seemed especially eager for the Mariners’ extra inning performance to regress to the mean. Jake Fraley grounded softly to shortstop and Torrens inexplicably took off from second to third, getting beat by about three steps. Even with a Cal Raleigh double, the Mariners were unable to score, setting the stage for certain demise with the top of the Astros order coming up.
Did I say certain? I meant near-certain. Martin Maldonado, who made the last out of the ninth inning, was set to begin the inning on second base. Rather than have the incredibly slow veteran catcher run the bases, the Astros opted to have starting pitcher Lance McCullers pinch run for Maldonado.
A José Altuve leadoff single sent McCullers to third, and a Michael Brantley intentional walk loaded the bases. Paul Sewald had no option other than to retire Carlos Correa, Jason Castro, and Yuli Gurriel in order.
Correa, easily the scariest of the three, saw a few pitches before finding himself in a 1-2 hole. Fortunately for Correa, Paul Sewald missed badly with a slider inside. Fortunately for the Mariners, home plate umpire Brian Gorman had one of the worst days behind the plate in recent memory.
Pitch number four was a called third strike. Oof.
Up came Jason Castro, to whom Sewald threw four nearly identical fastballs right at the top of the zone. Castros swung through one, had one called a strike, and swung through another to strike out.
That brought up Gurriel. The veteran Astro, batting a terrifying .312 on the season, fouled off a fastball up and in for strike one. A slider just off the plate was taken for ball one, before another fastball up and in was fouled off.
Rhythmically, Sewald curved another slider just off the plate to make the count 2-2. He tried again with the exact same pitch, seeming to catch a corner of the plate. Gorman said no, but it’s not like the Mariners could reasonably complain after what had happened to Correa.
Sewald responded by throwing an identical up-and-in fastball. Foul ball. Another one. Foul ball.
After seven pitches, the count sat at 3-2. Sewald had thrown what amounted to two different pitches: the up-and-in fastball and the slider off the outside corner. Gurriel’s ears, filled with the excited buzz of the crowd, failed to pick up a telltale metallic clang to let him know what was coming. Sewald wound back, kicked up, and fired.
The up-and-in fastball slammed into Cal Raleigh’s glove for strike three. Sewald screamed, having just accomplished what felt like a minor miracle.
Sewald’s heroic tenth inning set the stage for the heart of the Mariner lineup in the eleventh. A Mitch Haniger walk preceded a Ty France single to score J.P. Crawford from second base. That single set the stage for Kyle Seager to do this.
Seager obliterated a moonshot into the right-center power alley, making it a three-run game and effectively sealing a win.
Of course, it couldn’t possibly be that easy. Having already thrown Sewald, Drew Steckenrider, and Anthony Misiewicz, Scott Servais found his options somewhat limited for the bottom of the eleventh. He chose Keynan Middleton.
That proved to be a bad choice. Middleton managed to induce a groundout, but it was followed by two well-struck singles to score a run and a walk to load the bases. Not only did the Astros suddenly have the winning run at home plate, it was somehow already José Altuve’s turn in the order again.
Mercifully, Servais had seen enough of Middleton. In came Yohan Ramírez, at one time the de facto closer for the 2020 Mariners.
Altuve, who was 3-for-5 to that point, was at first patient against a wild Ramírez. Yohan threw a fastball for strike one before spiking two sliders into the dirt. After raising the blood pressure of the Mariners’ collective fanbase, Yohan managed to come back in with a fastball and a well-placed slider to strike out Altuve for out number two.
A surprisingly casual Michael Brantley fly ball went straight into Jarred Kelenic’s for the third out, ending the game almost anticlimactically.
The Mariners emerged from the series having been outscored by the Astros 30-10. Despite the lopsided run differential, they went 1-2 and lost zero ground in the wild card race. This has been the Mariners at their best and worst: looking like a non-contender to finally put our dreams to rest before sucking everyone back in with a game like today’s. Depending on how Boston does, the Mariners could win their next two against the A’s and wake up on Wednesday just one game out of the playoffs.
Whatever they do over the next month, it’s been a fun ride.