Going into today’s game the Seattle Mariners had a rough April, however you look at it. An 11-16 record, including going 3-9 in one run games. Injuries and bad luck were contributing factors, but nothing more so than the fact that the entire team, top to bottom, was failing to come up big in the moments that mattered most. Or, in games they were able to muster such a moment, they were unable to follow it up with another one. They needed help in pitching, they needed help in hitting, but most importantly they needed a momentum shift to prove to themselves and to everyone that they are less the team that struck out thirty-four times in the last two games against the Blue Jays, and more the team that swept them in the Wild Card series last year. Today, they fought for that moment. When they fell.. they kept fighting. Today, the Seattle Mariners battled, bruised, and blasted their way to a 10-8 win over the Toronto Blue Jays, once again silencing the crowd at Rogers Centre.
Nothing about today’s lineup screamed “this is our chance”. Julio was out with lower back tightness, with still no word on if more time will be missed. Ty France didn’t start due to feeling under the weather. Tommy La Stella, who has been rather toothless with the bat, was the starting designated hitter, and Sam Haggerty who is very much not a first basemen started there for only the second time in his career, and for the second day in a row. There was the good news about Taylor Trammell returning from his rehab stint and getting the start in left field, but without a proven Major League track record and his first game back, who knew how much he could contribute?
If nobody knew before, everybody knows now. How much can Taylor Trammell contribute in his first game back? A LOT. I’d tell you to ask that baseball, but those atoms won’t be reassembling any time soon. That grand slam, his career first, came in the first inning, with two outs. After JP Crawford and Eugenio Suárez both struck out swinging, Jarred Kelenic, Cal Raleigh, and Teoscar Hernández all worked 3-2 counts, and all of them drew walks (albeit a hit by pitch in Teo’s case). Sure, there were some tough calls from the home plate ump that Chris Bassitt was unhappy with and in all honestly probably should have gone his way, but as anyone in baseball knows that is rarely if ever a game decider and it is on the pitcher to maintain their decorum, grind through, and get out of the inning with composure.
Chris Bassitt is NOT happy pic.twitter.com/sblgfiCyo8— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) April 30, 2023
Or give up a grand slam, and... do that. Luckily for Chris Bassitt, the Seattle Mariners quickly fell into the same funk that has stunk up their games most of April, and as nails as Marco Gonzales has been so far this season, the Blue Jays lineup is still the Blue Jays lineup. Bassitt needed 38 pitches to get through the first inning, but Marco turned around and needed 27 to get through his half, and gave up a single and a walk to leave two runners on before Matt Chapman hit a two run double down the left field line. Bassitt was able to buckle down and last five innings, giving up no more runs and striking out seven against only two hits. Marco only lasted three, giving up runs in every inning and only throwing sixty-seven pitches before being replaced by Penn Murfee in the fourth. In all fairness to Marco, three of the runs he gave up ended up being unearned thanks to some sloppy fielding (Sam Haggerty, turns out, not a first basemen), but on the other end of things five of those runs absolutely earned and he finished his night having given up eight hits, one walk, a home run, and striking out two.
Down 8-4 after three innings, it was looking all too familiar to what we’ve seen so far in April from this team. The bullpen and the lineup have both been stretched thin by injuries and inconsistency, and ahead of them was the uphill battle they just haven’t had the stamina for. At least, that was yesterday’s Mariners. Today’s Mariners had something different about them. Sure, after the first inning they quickly fell into their habits of striking out and not drawing much walks, and ultimately they were outhit by the Jays fourteen to seven. But they were not about to be crushed by the moment in some dark alley, they were going to meet the moment in the broad light of day and crush it instead. All but one of their runs came on home runs. There was of course the Taylor Trammell grand salami in the first, but that was fairly in line with what Taylor had been doing on his rehab stint in AAA. Teoscar Hernández, on the other hand, has been struggling bad, going hitless in his last four games.
Okay, so he only went 1-for-4 in today’s game but what a “one” it was, and he didn’t strike out at all. It might not seem like much in a vacuum, but this could be huge for the Mariners if moments like this keep happening, because in my opinion it is one of what has lacked the most. This was a momentum turner. Production not just from one person in the top of the order, not just in one inning, and from a player many were starting to assume would be an automatic out. It also came against Trevor Richards, having taken over for Bassitt, and that is significant because another area of concern is Seattle being unable to capitalize on getting to an opponent’s bullpen early. Still down 8-5 after that home run from Teo, they would need to keep getting at the opponent’s bullpen. Three runs can be a lot to overcome even for good teams at times. The Mariners would need heroics. They would need something Big.
They needed a Big Beef Boy Blast, and Cal Raleigh was more than happy to oblige. Cal Raleigh has seen his own struggles on the year so far, but I’m sure no time existed between now and last year’s Wild Card game series for the Blue Jays fans, who were quickly silenced with the reminder of just what this Mariners team can do to a gracious multi-run lead. Still, there was hope for the people of Toronto. They thoroughly trounced the Mariners in the first two games of this series, and they were still up by one. The top of the ninth inning rolled around, and they had former closer Yimi García on the mound to face Tommy La Stella to start the inning.
If you have spent any kind of time in a Mariners social space, you know how fans feel overall about La Stella. His inclusion on the lineup is almost as confusing as it is frustrating, as he has failed to bring a bat and they refuse to use him in the field, likely for good reason. This is a problem with the 2023 Mariners so far. These moments are where they have failed, and failed again, simply not built to handle these moments. And yet... Tommy La Stella started out with a 3-0 count, and was able to work the walk. Ty France came in to pinch hit for Haggerty, and thanks to a good jump from pinch runner José Caballero when France hit into a fielder’s choice, Caballero was safe at second with only one out. One 3-2 swinging strikeout from Kolten Wong later, and the Mariners were once again back on the ropes and one out from losing a one run game. JP Crawford ended up in a 2-2 count, and so the Mariners were down to their last strike.
JP Crawford has been quietly one of the best hitters in the lineup, flashing an elite eye and patience at the plate that has translated not only into walks, but some clutch hitting as well. He is the Captain of the Good Ship Mariner, and he steered the ship against the current here and through the dangerous waters to give his team a chance. Just a chance. They were still facing the Blue Jays, who were playing at home. Getting through the bottom of the ninth would be no cake walk, especially with Matt Chapman up to the plate first. In comes Paul Sewald, and the tension was palpable. Paul was able to get ahead of Chapman and get him 1-2, but then Chapman scorched a ball into left field for a double, his second of the night and near identical to his first one.
If you can count on Matt Chapman getting doubles, you can equally count on Paul Sewald not letting it get to him, but things were still grim. Kevin Kiermaier came in with the intent of sacrifice bunting to move Chapman to third, and while it was enough to put the Mariners on their toes, in hindsight it probably wasn’t the best idea to try to bunt against a pitcher that specializes in high fastballs and a sweeping slider. He popped it into shallow foul territory and Eugenio Suárez added to his growing defensive highlight reel of great plays this season by making an impressive sliding grab. One out down, two to go. Alejandro Kirk steps up, and hits a hard liner up the middle.. right into Kolten Wong’s glove for the second out. Daulton Varsho managed to draw the walk, and up came Danny Jansen. On the first pitch Danny hit it ninety-seven miles per hour off of the bat, to deep left field, it was going... going... to be a foul.
It was going to be. Then it wasn’t. One impressive leaping grab from Taylor Trammell later and there were three outs and the Mariners were taking the Blue Jays into extra innings. Again, an area where the Mariners had struggled. Again, the Blue Jays with an advantage with the home field and a deeper lineup who has been playing significantly better.
Again, Cal Raleigh, with a two-run Beef Boy Blast, silenced the crowd at Rogers Centre. The Blue Jays held the Mariners there but the damage had been done. The damage had been done, but I can guarantee almost no Seattle fan felt comfortable. Matt Brash was brought in to close out the game and attempt the save, and there was that pesky automatic runner on second. It started out good enough, with Brash able to get Santiago Espinal to strike out swinging on a foul tip on a 97.9 mph fastball perfectly dotting the top of the zone. Toronto had their most lethal threats coming up though, and a little luck on their side when George Springer hit a hanging liner just soft enough to find grass for a single, runners now on first and third with only one out, and the winning run for the Blue Jays up at the plate. Bo Bichette came up, and yes, the very same that hit a three run home run in the game earlier. The long ball has plagued Brash before. The world fell still from the collective held breaths of both fanbases. Three pitches and one filthy slider later, and the Blue Jays were now the ones down to their final out.
Matt Brash, Unfair Sliders. pic.twitter.com/x53e0f0Mnb— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 30, 2023
Matt Brash got Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to fly out to Kelenic in center field, and the Mariners successfully pulled off a come from behind, 10-8 victory over the Blue Jays. They prevented the sweep, and they can carry those good vibes into an off day and a week ahead of what should be much easier opponents. It is impossible to not wonder though, if this game held more than that. Seattle has struggled, and when challenged, fallen short. Today they did struggle. There were errors, miscues, strikeouts. But when challenged, they met moment after moment. When down, they were not out. It is nothing new for fans in Seattle to experience the April showers of a rough start to a season, but perhaps just this once, they might lead to May flowers.