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Goonie Mariners never say die, rally back to sweep series from Blue Jays and advance to ALDS

Chaos Ball is dead, long live Chaos Ball

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Toronto Blue Jays John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Writing about baseball involves being wrong a lot. You take your best guesses, you look at the stats, but at the end of the day, what happens in between the lines isn’t something that can be predicted with complete certainty—there are just too many moving parts, and every pitch is an opportunity for something to happen. But then, that’s why we go to the games. If there were no surprises, no underdog stories, no thrilling comeback wins, there wouldn’t be any of the beauty that makes us love baseball.

The Yiddish saying is Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lach; man plans, and god laughs; maybe the baseball version is Manfred Tracht, Un Frazier Lach. To be honest, I didn’t have the Mariners sweeping the Blue Jays in two games, but plenty of others had the Jays sweeping the Mariners in two. Even those who granted the Mariners one win saw them as eventual losers in three games, noting how much the Mariners were outgunned at every position. Pretty much everywhere, the Mariners were underdogs in this series: in Vegas, among the baseball-writing intelligentsia, and in the mean Twitter streets.

Images the Precede Fortunate Mariners Events

But there was one place the Mariners weren’t underdogs: in their clubhouse. This team believes in each other, in the brotherhood they’ve built, and in the specialness of the players on the team, whether they get the national recognition they deserve or not. We’ve talked a lot about the importance of belief lately, and of faith, and today’s game was an object lesson in not losing faith—not in yourself, not in your team.

Forgive the long recap, but this game was three separate games, so we need to cover each of them.

Game One: Mariners lose 4-1

Everything the Mariners did to secure a thrilling win yesterday appeared in reverse today. Today it was the Blue Jays who got on the board early, bringing their raucous domed fanbase behind them, with a two-run homer of their own off the bat of Teoscar Hernández. Outside of a first inning where he came out and mowed the top of the Blue Jays order down 1-2-3 with two strikeouts, Robbie Ray did not fare well against his former team. He left too many pitches in the fat part of the plate, giving Alejandro Kirk, on the seventh pitch of the at-bat, a juicy slider Kirk turned on for a ringing double before serving Hernández a chest-high slider he deposited into the seats at 104 MPH.

Ray was able to escape that inning without further damage, but the trouble started right back up in the third when Santiago Espinal led off with a double. Ray was able to get the next two outs, getting Springer to chase after the same slider he’d struck him out on in the first inning, but after a missed call on what should have been strike two to Guerrero Jr., Ray tried to get on the plate more and Vlad barreled a 96 MPH sinker right back up the middle.

After giving up another home run to Hernández to lead off the fourth—trying to steal a strike, Ray left 94 right in the middle of the plate and Teoscar was ready for it, walloping a ball at 113 MPH. That was enough for Scott Servais, who lifted Ray to summon Matt Brash in full-on bombero duty. Brash was able to throw some water on the Blue Jays’ offense, getting Chapman to pop out, striking out Danny Jansen, and coaxing a groundout from Whit Merrifield.

Meanwhile, the Mariners didn’t get a hit off Kevin Gausman until the fifth inning. They did hit some balls hard off of Gausman, but the BABIP gods were not on their side. In the second inning, Adam Frazier put a great two-strike swing on a Gausman fastball and spanked a ball but directly at Bo Bichette. Julio’s lineout in the third was the fourth hardest-hit ball of the game, with an xBA of .710. In that same inning, Haniger hit a 388-foot flyout right into one of the deepest parts of the Rogers Centre. Finally, in the fifth, Adam Frazier—hitting higher in the lineup today thanks to his track record of success against Gausman—was rewarded for his efforts, poking a single into left field. But then the BABIP gods crooked their frozen fingers and took a home run away from Carlos Santana, turning what looked like a two-run jack into a humdrum double instead, meaning the Mariners would have to come up with one more key hit to score. They got a sac fly from Kelenic, shallowly hit but Frazer scampered home like there was a fresh-baked pie awaiting him there, but that’s all the Mariners could come up with, as Julio grounded out (weakly, for him—a mere 91 MPH off the bat) to end the inning.

Game Two, Mariners lose 8-1

Instead of burning one of his young starters in Gilbert or Kirby, Servais opted to hand the game over to his bullpen earlier than usual. That meant Paul Sewald appearing a couple innings earlier than he is used to, and Sewald had, to put it bluntly, a disastrous inning. Santiago Espinal led off with a single where he essentially just threw his bat at the ball, and despite striking out Springer on an awkward check swing, it seemed like Sewald was fighting his command. He left 92 MPH up for Bichette, who lashed the ball into right field for a double. Servais then opted to intentionally walk Guerrero Jr. to try to set up a double play with the contact hitter Alejandro Kirk up next, but Sewald lost the handle on his pitches—he and Cal Raleigh were crossed up on what was ruled a passed ball, allowing Espinal to score, but then he walked Kirk and hit Teoscar Hernández with the bases loaded to allow another run. A sac fly from Chapman brought in another, and then Danny Jansen reached all the way across the plate to tap what was a pretty good pitch from Sewald just to the right of Ty France and down the right field line, further deepening the deficit for the Mariners.

That was the end of the line for Sewald, and Diego Castillo came in and promptly lost the handle on a slider and hit Whit Merrifield in the helmet; thankfully, the damage would be capped there, but the vibes...they were bad. After holding off the powerful Blue Jays lineup yesterday, today was a glimpse at the worst-case, scariest version of the Blue Jays that had every national outlet picking them as the victors of this series, a truly deep lineup of power-hitters and contact-makers alike.

Game Three: Mariners lose, 5-9

After being defeated soundly by Gausman’s splitter/elite fastball combo over the first half of this game, the Mariners finally were able to battle back against him in the sixth. Ty France, Eugenio Suárez, and Cal Raleigh hit Slow Boi Singles to load the bases with no outs, but with Haniger and Frazier making outs, the Mariners were in danger of leaving the bases loaded for the approximately 5,297th time this season. But! This is the post-season, bbs, and the old rules do not apply! (The old rules may somewhat apply). Tim Mayza came in for Gausman and immediately threw a wild pitch, allowing Ty France to lumber home from third and proving that chaos ball is still the Mariners’ thing, thank you very much.

Not chaotic, but inevitable: Carlos Santana homering against the Blue Jays:

With the Mariners suddenly within three, the Mariners bullpen just had to hold the door. First up was Matt Festa, who had a clean sixth but got caught by the Kirk Contact-Monster to begin the seventh. Penn Murfee came in with one out and had to deal with the better speed of Teoscar Hernández, who had hit into a fielder’s choice and immediately stole second. He also got his own swiping with the claws of the BABIP monster when Chapman chopped a weak single—a whopping 65.1 MPH off the bat—to put runners at the corners, and eventually surrendered a run to the Jansen Contact-Monster, who reached all the way out to parachute a slider located well off the plate—64.2 MPH—into left field for an RBI single. Remember how Mike Petriello said the Blue Jays’ catching duo of Jansen and Kirk was their biggest single positional advantage over the Mariners? That will be important, later.

Game Four: Mariners win, 10-9

After Yimi Garcia put the top of the Mariners lineup away in the seventh, John Schneider brought in Anthony Bass, the former Mariner who’s been solid for Toronto this year, for the eighth. Perhaps getting a little revenge for the way the Jays treated ex-teammate Ray—who started this game! people forget that (me I am people)—Eugenio Suárez led off with a double. (I know Suárez and Bass were never teammates in Seattle, but Suárez has basically built a time machine and traveled back to 2001 and made himself a Mariner, so thoroughly has he embraced Seattle and taken ownership of this drought.) Next up was Cal Raleigh, who laced a fastball into the right-field corner—just foul. Argh. But no worries for Cool Cat Cal, who calmly awaited Bass’s next pitch, this time reaching out and making hard contact with a slider off the plate, slashing it into the center-field gap and notching another run for the Mariners to make it 9-6.

Mitch Haniger then put a really good swing on a slider for a single on his own, putting runners on at first and second with no outs and causing Schneider to pick up the bullpen phone again, this time to summon Jays closer Jordan Romano. It was a reminder that despite their lead, the pressure was on the Blue Jays in this win-or-go-home scenario.

Apologies to Jordan Romano, who wandered in perhaps not knowing he was in the Adam Frazier game, as Frazier laced a Romano fastball that was at his eyeteeth into left field to load the bases with no outs.

Ah, but then the Mariners’ old enemy: bases loaded, no outs. Carlos Santana swung so hard at a pitch he seemingly pulled a hammy; he stayed in to battle, because Hero Leadership, but eventually struck out, as did DMo. That brought up J.P. Crawford, who had one job: somehow get the lineup turned over to Julio.

But J.P. had his own designs on this Romano slider that wound up in the middle of the plate:

The “P” stands for “post-season,” apparently. That tied up the game, 9-9. (Here we must extend good wishes to Bo Bichette and George Springer—although we want the Mariners to succeed, we never want it to come at the expense of player’s careers. What a hero move by Springer, already banged up, to go full-on after that ball—that’s post-season baseball, and it’s wonderful and also terrifying.)

Then it was time for Andrés Muñoz’s hero moment. I’m not sure if it was just fatigue or what Muñoz was fighting through, but he didn’t seem entirely comfortable on the mound, and he wasn’t at all as sharp with his command as he’d been yesterday. However, he gritted through the bottom of the eighth, just like Santana ground through his at-bat, striking out Jackie Bradley Jr., then walking Bichette, but getting a pair of groundouts to end the inning.

Schneider opted to send Romano back out to face the Mariners again in the ninth, and at first it looked to pay off, as Romano got Eugenio to chase his slider three times in a row for a quick first out. However, Cal Raleigh—who I will take over Kirk and Jansen combined, thank you very much—took a Romano fastball in the upper part of the zone and crushed it (111 MPH EV) to the center field wall, setting up the thrilling climax of the Adam Frazier game:

It’s no secret Frazier has had an uneven season and has been on a particular patch of rough road lately. After seeing Frazier struggle and still come to the park every day with a smile for his teammates and a willingness to put in extra work to try to get back on the right track, it was incredibly satisfying to watch him have the game of his life. You earned it, Adam.

With a 10-9 lead, Teoscar Hernández, Matt Chapman, and Danny Jansen were the only things standing in the way of the Mariners and an ALDS berth. George Kirby, making his first appearance out of the bullpen since short-season ball in his draft year, wasn’t entirely crisp, walking Chapman, but rebounded to strike out Jansen on a check swing, and then got Tapia to fly out harmlessly to send the Mariners to the ALDS.

Albert Einstein, in his Essays Presented to Leo Baeck, writes: “Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.” Not even one week ago, I called for the end of the Chaos Ball moniker, thinking this team, with its rotational depth, generational superstar, and overall talent level didn’t need to rely on chaos to win games. A Mariners blogger, shipwrecked on the laughter of the baseball gods, indeed. It’s okay. I’m laughing too—in between the parts where I’m crying.

“This is what the team does. We stay together, we stay fighting,” says Frazier.

“That game felt so long, but everyone just had a feeling we were gonna do it,” says Matt Brash.

“Adversity doesn’t build your character, it reveals it,” says Scott Servais. After a tough postgame meeting when they were ten games under .500, when some of the player leaders stepped up to offer words of positivity and encouragement, Servais says he realized, “wow, we’ve got more character than I thought.”

It takes some chaos to snatch away a series—sweep a series—from the team that’s the better team on paper, and make the biggest road comeback in playoff history. It takes chaos, but it also takes character, and today the Seattle Mariners showed the entire baseball world that they have both those things in spades.