We’re used to Red Sox games at T-Mobile (née Safeco) being a one-sided affair both on the field and off of it, as the Boston faithful who have somehow washed ashore three thousand miles away from their hometown team take over the park, washing out Mariners’ fans gentle blues and greens with baked bean-red. But even after a disappointing series loss against one of baseball’s worst teams this weekend, the Mariners made tonight feel like a Friday night in Safeco, equalling if not exceeding the Boston fans in number and outdoing them in cheers and chants as the two teams slugged it out for better position in the Wild Card race. They did so despite some shaky offensive performances—again—and despite Paul Sewald, their rock, getting dinged for a couple of runs, and despite having a rookie pitcher on the mound—in fact, you could say, because of it.
A run of bad outings for Logan Gilbert towards the end of August caused some worry around these parts that Gilbert was perhaps wearing down, something not uncommon for rookie pitchers and especially given the bizarre 2020 season, which Gilbert spent pitching to teammates at the alternate training site. As the calendar turned to September, however, Gilbert has rebounded, stacking strong outing upon strong outing. Tonight, he effectively shut down one of the AL’s best offenses, tying a new career high in strikeouts and making it through six innings for the first time since an August 10th start against the Rangers (a game he earned a no-decision in despite allowing just two runs as the Mariners got Jonah Heim’d).
Gilbert tied for the league lead in swing-and-misses tonight, tying Toronto’s Alek Manoah (another rookie) for whiffs, with 17. Despite Boston’s reputation as a good fastball-hitting team, Gilbert went after them with his fastball primarily, using it 65% of the time (his second-most-used pitch was the slider, at 25% of the time), and why not, when your fastball sits 95-96 consistently with some late movement and even touches 98, as Gilbert was early in his outing. He also recorded the majority of his whiffs on the fastball (11), with five on the slider and one on the changeup, and of his strikeouts, five came on the heater, one on the changeup, and three on the slider.
Aside from one lousy pitch, a slider that hung in the middle of the plate for a José Iglesias solo home run, and a little bit of poor luck in a parachute shot that dropped in for an RBI after Gilbert opened the fifth giving up a pair of singles, Gilbert was basically untouchable tonight. He scattered just five hits over his six innings, including the two that threatened to undo his night in the fifth, but as we’ve seen Gilbert wilt in big innings before, tonight he bounced back strong from allowing the run to score, working around a leadoff single from Xander Bogaerts in the sixth by getting Devers to fly out softly (and then pitch a hilarious hissy fit at home plate), another flyout from the dangerous J.D. Martinez, and then Gilbert ended his night—and showed a rare flash of emotion—with this well-executed strikeout of Alex Verdugo, feeding him nothing but soft stuff after Verdugo had singled off Gilbert’s fastball earlier. Gilbert didn’t always have command over his secondaries tonight—see the slider Iglesias hit out for a solo home run—but he dialed it back in for this at-bat in a big way.
He also got some help from his center fielder after J.D. Martinez reached in the second on Gilbert’s lone walk of the day:
Good running catch by Jarred Kelenic to help out his pitcher with a man on first. Hit had an xBA of .620. pic.twitter.com/hRYveN0LCF— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) September 14, 2021
Unfortunately, as has been their wont, the Mariners repaid Gilbert by tossing away scoring opportunities like white clothes after Labor Day. The Mariners seemingly had Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodríguez on the ropes early when J.P. Crawford—who was excellent tonight, it should be noted—led off the game with a double and Haniger followed that up with a single. Unfortunately Ty France, who was not excellent tonight, grounded into a double play, which scored the run but also ate up two outs, setting up an inning-ending groundout from Kyle Seager, who also had an 0-for-4 night with two strikeouts.
The Mariners had another chance in the second, when E-Rod’s command wavered and he walked Abraham Toro to start off the inning, followed by a Luis Torrens single that pushed Toro to third on an error from right fielder Hunter Renfroe, providing an excellent object lesson in how Boston is the AL’s worst-fielding team. A Tom Murphy force out scored the run, but again, that would be all the Mariners could muster off Rodríguez, who Alex Cora worked deep into the night, staying with him through the sixth despite a pitch count approaching 110.
That would turn out to be a smart decision, as the Mariners got after E-Rod’s replacement Ryan Brasier in the seventh, touching him up for three runs with one swing of the bat from Mitch Haniger:
It’s important to note that was a three-run home run thanks to another fielding error, this time by not-a-first-baseman Kyle Schwarber, that allowed Jake Bauers to reach with two outs. J.P. Crawford, again being excellent, singled to put two on for Haniger, who just barely snuck that ball over the fence outside the visitor’s bullpen. Tonight was a weird night for reading fly balls at the part, between the Red Sox faithful screaming every time a fly ball went up in the air on the broadcast, plus some odd calls by the broadcast booth (“CLOBBERED...and the second baseman puts that away in shallow right”), and I honestly didn’t think Haniger’s ball had enough to go until there it was, sneaking over the fence.
The Mariners would need every single one of those runs, as Paul Sewald, on in relief of Diego Castillo, who pitched a sterling seventh inning with two strikeouts on some frankly ridiculous sliders, gave up back-to-back solo jacks to Bogaerts and Devers. Apparently the Red Sox borrowed the Paul Sewald Plan from the Astros, which is a bummer, but that’s what the Red Sox do. Clinging to a one-run lead, Drew Steckenrider came on and dealt with the bottom of the Red Sox lineup 1-2-3, striking out Verdugo and Renfroe and getting Christian Vázquez to fly out harmlessly.
It probably didn’t have to be this close. The Mariners blew scoring chances against a struggling Eduardo Rodríguez and allowed him to get in a comfortable rhythm; they failed to get much going against the non-Brasier part of the Red Sox bullpen despite getting the leadoff man on against rookie pitcher Kaleb Ort. Once again, the Mariners were bailed out by their pitching, who recorded 15 (!) strikeouts total against a powerful offense. But on a night brimming with excitement in the ballpark, the team did enough to get it done and record the win. They continue to walk a razor-thin line coming down the stretch, the margin as narrow as Haniger’s home run sneaking over the fence, maybe cheered on by a few extra thousand Mariners fans at the ballpark willing it—and the team itself—over the line. J.P. Crawford, in his walkoff interview, noted how the ambiance at the ballpark felt like a weekend, and asked Mariners fans to come out and support the team. “We’re in the hunt!” he crowed. “Come on out!”