There is nothing to be ashamed of in a slightly sloppy, somewhat shaky 6-5 victory. Not now, not ever. Not before nor after the Seattle Mariners squandered winnable games against the abysmal Texas Rangers and the moribund Kansas City Royals in the past 3-4 weeks. Not while the Athletics blew an 8-2 and 10-8 lead tonight, not while the Mariners have scraped nigh-inexplicable series wins from Oakland and Houston in the past 10 days. No, tonight’s victory over the burrowing snakes that are the 2021 Arizona Diamondbacks was a win worth every bit of celebration.
The extra-inning victory came thanks to the offense, in spite of the bullpen, a total reversal of roles from much of the season. Seattle had opportunities, especially early, to make this a laugher, as Madison Bumgarner struggled with his command and loaded the bases on a pair of singles and a hit by pitch, then walked Tom Murphy in for a run. Jarred Kelenic (more on him later) smoked a ball, but got well under it and flew out to quell the threat.
Frustrating? Yes! Damning against a better or luckier team? Often! But not enough bend to break the M’s today.
That’s because Seattle’s outfield came to play. Mitch Haniger finally crested 30 home runs, part of an excellent 3-4 with a walk day at the dish for the M’s right fielder. In his return to the park where his MLB career began, Haniger seemed to settle in with comfort to a matchup with MadBum.
Haniger hasn’t been All-Star caliber this year, but he has been solid. Most importantly, he has been present, extending his career-high home run total in his 130th game of the season. It’s clear some of Haniger’s athleticism has either been lost or is tactically being called upon with extreme scarcity as an intentional effort to ensure long-term health. Whatever it’s been, Haniger has been able to be more than Seattle could have realistically hoped for, and this blast stretched tonight’s lead to 3-1.
Meanwhile, another outfielder out in center made up for a mistake that cost his team a run. Jarred Kelenic failed to run down Nick Ahmed’s 405 foot blast to deep center, or more accurately, he successfully ran it down but failed to ensconce the ball within his grasp upon arrival. Instead the falling meteor clanked off his glove and onto the warning track, creating a leadoff triple that Arizona converted into that first run of the game. Jarred, who went 2-5 tonight, got revenge.
It’s one of those swings and home runs so nice you remember that at some point, every player on the field was the best player on their team, and for many of them, it was not too far in the past. Kelenic is hopefully getting himself closer to a place where he can one day become a player of that caliber in the big leagues, and for a player who has struggled to punish mistakes, it was a delight and relief to see this absolute obliteration to make it 5-1.
Starter Tyler Anderson was nails again, quickly racing alongside Abraham Toro up the ranks of best quasi-contending trade deadline additions in M’s history. With his 6+ innings, 3 earned runs, and comfortable efficiency today, Anderson once again gave Seattle a chance to win, even if his struggles going a third time through the order were the pilot light for Arizona’s game-tying four-run seventh inning rally. While Sean Doolittle relieved and seemed to struggle from the jump with his landing spot and command, and a hastily roused Paul Sewald escaped catastrophe by the skin of his teeth, Seattle yielded the lead but did not give more than a 5-5 tie.
There it would remain until the 10th, with Drew Steckinrider and Justus Sheffield navigating scoreless innings until the M’s got first crack at the ghost runner on second. Could they have added more? Yes. Was it a sight for sore eyes to see Jarred Kelenic come up huge once again in an important moment? Absolutely.
Could Jake Bauers have advanced to third so that Kelenic might get a double and threaten further scoring? Almost certainly! But a line drive spraying 97 to the side of the field where it was pitched is workable, workable stuff. And, more to the point, it was the difference.
One run, you see, was enough. Scott Servais managed his bullpen well once again, using Paul Sewald in the bottom of the seventh to attempt to douse the flames of a rally that might’ve made any possible future save situation nonexistent. It only somewhat worked, but it was the right move, and using Drew Steckenrider in the 8th also made sense. It did, however, leave Seattle with a more limited array in the bullpen. And yet every lever Servais pulled from the 8th inning on came up
With Diego Castillo and Anthony Misiewicz still on the IL, Scott gave LHP Justus Sheffield the 9th, and despite being new to the bullpen game, Sheff worked a 1-2-3 inning with a strikeout and little drama. No velocity bump yet, but working back from an arm injury, that could still be on the horizon. Then came the 10th, and a move that strikes me as both fascinating and entirely understandable.
Staring down Ketel Marte, Carson Kelly, and Christian Walker, with the courtesy runner on second and a fragile 6-5 lead to win the game, Servais opted not for fly ball specialist Erik Swanson, nor breaking ball demon Casey Sadler, nor even veteran funkballer Joe Smith. Instead Servais went with the young, little proven fireballer Yohan Ramírez. Oh my goodness it was perfect.
Ramírez is an imperfect reliever, and he’s still somewhere between multi-inning bulk and hope and a prayer high-leverage man from night to night. But in a moment where Seattle could not afford contact, or if there was contact it had to be wretched, Yohan was impeccable.
73-62, one game behind Oakland, four back of Boston. 62-73 Pythag, but guess what? Every win counts the same once that 27th out goes in the books. No shame, no sorries, just smiles.