The Mariners secured an improbable series victory today by shutting out the Astros in back-to-back games, which is a good recipe for winning when your offense can only scrape together one run. In order to complete that recipe, though, you have to have truly superior pitching, and the Mariners got that today from Logan Gilbert, who turned in his best pitching performance since his home start against the Yankees, and maybe—from a pitch arsenal perspective—his best start of his young career.
Gilbert’s first two innings were mirror images of one another; in the first, he worked around a Michael Brantley single by getting Correa to pop out and striking out Yordan Álvarez swinging on the curveball, a beautiful phrase to type. In the second, it was an Alex Bregman single, but Kyle Tucker flew out and Gilbert escaped the inning by striking out Jake Meyers on a breaking ball, this time on the slider.
The third inning offered a tougher challenge for Gilbert when the lineup turned over with one out and Altuve redirected a slider into left field for a double. He made it to third on a Brantley groundout, but then Correa grounded out to end the inning and the scoring threat thanks to an excellent play by J.P. Crawford:
Correa was flummoxed, to say the least.
In the fourth, Gilbert really started feeling himself with a 1-2-3 inning including his second strikeout of Álvarez, this time on a beautifully tilting changeup. Gilbert got all three batters this inning in 0-2 holes, something he did well all day: in his first 15 batters, Gilbert got ahead with two strikes on seven of them. His stuff stuff was truly excellent today; the fastball was well located, sitting 95-97, touching 98 early but not falling off velo-wise over his outing. Gilbert used a fastball-heavy approach, but also threw his slider and changeup and mixed in the curveball more, using that even more often than the changeup. The evening games haven’t started yet, but Gilbert currently sits on top of the whiffs leaderboard for the day with 18.
The Astros did put up a fight against Gilbert, though, and in the fifth, with his pitch count climbing, Gilbert lost a little effectiveness. He went to a full count on all three batters, and had to be helped out by an excellent leaping grab by Haniger:
However, a lengthy battle with Martín Maldonado ended with a single before Gilbert was able to get Altuve to ground out on two pitches—chalk another one up for an out on the curveball—pushing Logan’s pitch count to 94 over five innings. That’s more a testament to how tough the Astros are to pitch to than Gilbert’s effectiveness, though; he still threw 62 of those pitches for strikes and was ahead in the count at some point against 14 of the 19 batters he faced, and four strikeouts against the team that strikes out the least in the league is more like six strikeouts grading on a curve.
Once again, however, the Mariners bats couldn’t back up the strong effort from their starter and offered Gilbert no run support. After going down 1-2-3 in the first, the Mariners caught a break when Odorizzi hit Ty France (whyyyyy) to lead off the second and walked Toro to put two on with no outs, but the bottom of the lineup swiftly made three outs, two of them strikeouts. Ty France singled in the fourth to give the Mariners their first hit of the day, but nothing came of it, as Odorizzi racked up six strikeouts in just four innings of work. Odorizzi is not a strikeout pitcher—his K/9 is under 8 on the year—unless he’s facing the Mariners. Last time his K/9 was in the double digits for the game; today it was almost 13. That’s bad! The last opportunity to reward Gilbert’s strong performance with a win was the fifth inning, but the bottom of the lineup once again went down 1-2-3.
That left things in the hands of the bullpen, and specifically Justus Sheffield, now a member of the bullpen. Those hoping to see a velocity increase from Sheffield out of the ‘pen will be disappointed, as his sinking fastball remains in the 92-93 MPH zone, but the good news is he got essentially four ground ball outs (one was a hot shot off the bat of Correa that Seager smothered but was just a second late with the throw), getting Álvarez to ground into a double play to end the inning and wipe out that base runner.
J.P. Crawford got the Mariners’ second hit of the day in the sixth inning, returning a fastball right back up the middle. Odorizzi then walked Haniger, ending his day. The bullpen has been a weak point for the Astros all season, and Phil Maton did strike out Kyle Seager to record the first out of the inning before walking France to load the bases. A sac fly off the bat of Toro—no grand slam heroics today, unfortunately—plated the first run of the game (helped out somewhat by the bright midday sun and a truly abysmal throw in from Jake Meyers). It would be the only run of the day.
Casey Sadler worked a 1-2-3 inning for the Mariners in the top of the seventh, and in the bottom of the seventh Jarred Kelenic recorded his first hit of the series, punching 97 at the top of the zone from former Marlins closer Yimi García into right field. Kelenic’s ability to catch up with a fastball at the top of the zone is one of the true bright spots to hold on to in a season that’s been more struggle than success for the youngster. He also swiped second against a really tough battery in Maldonado/Altuve, so that’s encouraging, even if the Mariners stranding him on third base was less encouraging. (In J.P. Crawford’s defense, Dusty Baker brought in Blake Taylor, a lefty, just to face him to end the inning, which is maybe the first time I remember an opposing manager being scared of the ferocious bat of J.P. Crawford.)
Drew Steckenrider had the eighth for the Mariners and allowed an infield hit on the first pitch he threw to BABIP god Jake Meyers, who is running an obscene .420 BABIP. Dusty Baker then pulled his catcher Maldonado to pinch-hit Aledmys Díaz, who rewarded his manager by promptly grounding into a double play. Job well done indeed, J.P. and Toro.
However, Steckenrider then walked Altuve on four pitches and allowed a first-pitch single to Michael Brantley, putting runners on first and second, so Servais pushed the Emergency! Paul Sewald! button. Sewald obliged by striking out Correa, interestingly not with the slider, which gave Correa fits, but by psychologically scarring him with the memory of the slider and then throwing a bunch of fastballs right down the middle Correa just gawked at. It was truly a masterful performance. However, after the Mariners failed to score off fireballing Ryne Stanek in the bottom of the eighth, that meant that once again Paul Sewald was sent into the ninth to protect a Faberge-fragile lead against one of the game’s best offenses.
Sewald started off with a three-pitch strikeout of Álvarez, again seemingly throwing the ball right down the middle for Yordan to admire.
He then got Gurriel into a two-strike count, which then ran full before Gurriel flipped a little base hit on a perfectly-located fastball into right field, bringing up the always-dangerous Alex Bregman, who poked a ball past a diving J.P. Crawford. That brought up the also-dangerous Kyle Tucker, who flew out softly for the second out. So the game rested upon Jake Meyers and his—did I mention this already—.420 BABIP. Meyers fell behind 1-2 and somehow laid off an absolutely perfect pitch from Sewald which was ruled a ball, then another, pushing the count to full.
But you can’t get a stupid BABIP-aided hit on a strikeout, now can you?
Actual LOL at Meyers throwing his bat aside like he was taking a walk on that, by the way. You’ve just been Sea-walled, son. You might have gotten lucky on that slider, but you don’t get lucky twice when Sewald has the kind of command he had today. The Astros might have wanted the bright and shiny Graveman with his overpowering fastball, but Sewald, working with seemingly more pedestrian stuff, has been almost twice as valuable by fWAR. His K% is second among all relievers, trailing just Josh Hader. It’s hard to overstate his importance to this team and his role in these wins. The Emergency! Paul Sewald! button has gotten a workout this year, and with very few exceptions, Sewald has responded to the call brilliantly.
If I didn’t detest the Astros so much as an organization, I might feel sorry for them. The Mariners didn’t exactly dominate Houston over this series win; they chaos-balled their way to a pair of improbable victories back-to-back, including this game, where they recorded their fewest number of hits (3, in case you lost count) in a win this season. It’s hard to argue that outside of the scoreboard Seattle was the clearly better team. But, as Astros fans are so eager to point out: scoreboard. That’s what matters at the end of the day, and this was, again, the Mariners’ day, a much-needed balm after a disappointing series against the Royals, made all the sweeter by the fact that it came against the detestable Astros, who have so often squashed down the poor Mariners over the years. It’s hard to pull much meaning from a pair of truly chaotic wins, but if this is the beginning of the fortunes changing for each of these two franchises, that’s an even bigger victory than the one on the field today, and an especially good victory on a day when the Mariners extended two of the decision-makers who have helmed and shaped this team over the past half-decade.
(If you read all the way to the end of this unconscionably long recap, congratulations. Please enjoy this picture of Yusei Kikuchi and his son Leo on the field after the game as your reward.)