SEATTLE - All night, there was a buzz in the air. Fans posting pictures of T-Mobile Park’s pristine green grass, clearly energized, clearly excited. A thirteen-year-old nailed the national anthem on an electric guitar, flipping the guitar over after his rendition to reveal a yellow “BELIEVE” placard. Even as the late-arriving crowd of 21,094 filled in, the dread of Tuesday night and early Wednesday evening had dissipated, replaced by a sense of calm.
Last night, the Mariners skipped batting practice to break out of a funk. Tonight, to hear Scott Servais tell it before the game, it was about keeping a good thing going, staying loose, not over-thinking things.
When Marco Gonzales allowed three home runs in the inning from hell, putting the hometown heroes down 4–2 in the third, the Mariners kept loose.
When the Rangers chipped away at a three-run lead with a couple more dingers in the 7th and manufactured a run in the 8th, tying the contest at seven, the Mariners tapped into the resilience that’s been a hallmark of their remarkable run. In the tenth inning, despite the Manfred Man™️ finding his way home, the M’s remained resilient, battling back to tie it up.
And finally, in the 11th inning, that resilience was personified by the team’s unofficial captain, J.P. Crawford.
Number three started out the game 0–4 with a pair of strikeouts. He failed to make the play in the eighth inning that turned into the game-tying run, though it was ultimately called a single. With the tying run already across the plate, and the game-winning run standing just 90 feet away, J.P. stared down a 1–2 count against lefty John King and laced a middle-middle fastball right at a diving Rangers third baseman Josh Jung.
For over two decades now, that ball has found a way to die in the glove. But something is different this year at the corner of Edgar and Dave — exemplified by that ball caroming off Jung’s glove and finding just enough space to score Dylan Moore from third.
The Mariners walk it off in extras! Their magic number is down to 1 pic.twitter.com/pPUvXn2cF9— MLB (@MLB) September 30, 2022
“Jung’s a really good defender,” Crawford said after the game. “Just to see the ball come through and D-Mo come home, I’m like, oh baseball gods, finally!”
Rounding first base, Crawford was mobbed by his teammates before being the recipient of a Dubble Bubble bath. Perhaps tomorrow, he’ll get a real celebratory bath.
Because, after all that, this improbable-yet-somehow-inevitable 10–9 win not only gives the Mariners an 85–70 record, it places this motley crew on the precipice of history. With just a single win over the next seven games or just a single Baltimore Orioles loss over their next six, your Seattle Mariners will break a 21-year playoff drought and play meaningful October baseball for the first time in a generation.
“We fight. We’re not giving in,” Crawford said. “The bullpen keeps us in the game and the offense is as clutch as it could be.”
The fireworks started early. Crafty lefty Marco Gonzales, making his sixth start of the season against the Rangers, struck out the side in the first inning…
Marco Gonzales, K'ing the Side. pic.twitter.com/11k4vZAOk6— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 30, 2022
…but was outdone when teammate Mitch Haniger hit his first home run in over a month, obliterating a baseball to the people waiting in line for food in The Pen.
Mitch Haniger 2-run BLAST pic.twitter.com/KHh9TOTgXO— ROOT SPORTS™ | NW (@ROOTSPORTS_NW) September 30, 2022
At 442 feet, the home run was the second-longest in Haniger’s career and the longest home run hit at T-Mobile Park all season.
We are Mariners fans, however, so our instinct is to return to a default feeling of dread. Remember that hot early start from Marco? That was undone by a third inning that can only be described as dreadful. In the span of six batters, Marco allowed home runs to Sam Huff, Marcus Semien, and Adolis García, putting the Mariners down 4–2. His control was wayyyy off, throwing 33 pitches that tended to miss wide or find their way right down Main Street.
But tonight, power was no object to the boys in blue. Especially for our beloved Mitchell Evan Haniger.
Watch out, world... Mitch is HOT pic.twitter.com/k8FpnoZmQx— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) September 30, 2022
“I told Mitch after the game [that was] one of the biggest pick-me-ups he’s had for me since we started playing together,” Gonzales said. “It’s huge for my confidence.”
Marco delivered from there on out, gritting through five innings that were otherwise unblemished.
One inning later, following a Jesse Winker walk, Jarred Kelenic decided he didn’t want to miss out on the fun, hitting a pretty ridiculous opposite field shot that hung in the air for an eternity before landing in the bullpen. He followed that up with another home run in the sixth, this one a solo blast to right field to extend the Mariners’ lead to three.
Following that second Kelenic homer, however, the Mariners’ lineup cratered. Nine straight outs, six of them via strikeout, kept the game moving along quickly but certainly didn’t help the Mariners’ odds. Meanwhile, the Rangers kept up the pressure, launching a pair of homers against Paul Sewald — curiously inserted after Matt Brash threw to just two batters — to cut the deficit to one.
In the eighth, the Rangers broke through to tie things up. Center fielder Bubba Thompson, he of the fifth-fastest average sprint speed in baseball this season, legged out an infield single that was originally called an error (despite the protestations of one Mike Cameron in the press box). Sam Huff followed it up with a single through the shift, and while Muñoz induced a double play to clear the base paths, the damage was done.
Both teams went quietly into the night in the 9th inning, with J.P. Crawford’s walk the only baserunner between the squads.
In the tenth, dreaded Mariners Killer Kole Calhoun got up to his typical antics, lacing a single to right field that scored Adolis Garcia from second. But that lead didn’t last long, as Eugenio Suárez rifled a single up the middle to bring pinch-runner Sam Haggerty to third and Cal Raleigh launched a sac fly to left that scored Haggerty.
While the Mariners weren’t able to capitalize and end things in the 10th, the fireworks in the 11th proved sufficient.
Those 21 years of futility, of failed campaigns and oh-so-close seasons, remain top of mind for the players and coaches alike.
“I think everyone knows what’s at stake for tomorrow,” Crawford said. “I’ve been waiting for it for four years. I can’t wait…Tomorrow’s going to be fun.”
“We’re on the cusp, the job’s not finished,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about this moment for the past five-something years I’ve been here. These fans deserve some home postseason games, and we want to give it to them.”
For his part, while affirming that the team’s goal is to win the World Series, manager Scott Servais left no doubt about what will transpire this weekend.
“I know everybody is exhausted, we gotta end the drought, we gotta end the drought. I’ve heard it for seven years; every day, when I get up in the morning and I drive to work, that’s what’s on my mind...We will end the drought tomorrow. We’re going to.”