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Mariners show some grit, earn comeback victory over Nats 8-4

Effective at-bats and two-out RBI, oh my

Washington Nationals v Seattle Mariners
smiling through it all, can’t believe this is my life
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

There’s always some weirdness with interleague opponents, and tonight was appropriately weird. The Nationals are a team that doesn’t homer much and doesn’t strike out a lot; tonight they were handed 12* strikeouts by Mariners pitching, but also hit two home runs. Thankfully, those two solo shots accounted for half of the Nationals offense tonight; meanwhile, the Mariners did something they haven’t done very often this season and stacked a big inning up against the Nats en route to a 8-4 win. It feels like this 2023 Mariners team either loses or cruises to a blowout victory; it was nice to see them tonight work good plate appearances, make productive outs and keep the line moving, and get clutch hits big and small while working back from a deficit for a somewhat rare come-from-behind win.

*lol it was really 11 but thanks ump

Luis Castillo didn’t have the best start to his night, struggling with the strike zone and getting into deep counts with the Nationals hitters, who as mentioned above, are very strikeout-averse. He was greeted rudely by Lane Thomas, who took advantage of an ill-located sinker on the fat part of the plate to give the Nats a 1-0 advantage three pitches into the ballgame. J.P. Crawford would immediately answer back with a leadoff homer of his own:

That’s only happened four times in Mariners history, with the last time being 2013 and involving Brad Miller, and that’s enough said about that.

Weirdly, Luis Castillo had never registered a win against the Nationals before tonight, which seems...impossible? But it seemed like things were trending in the wrong direction when Dominic Smith, who has an ISO that’s lower than the price of a stamp, snuck a slider over the wall for a solo home run.

That would put the Nationals up 2-1, and they’d extend the lead in the third on a bit of bad luck, when J.P. Crawford attempted to throw out the speedy CJ Abrams on an infield hit and instead made a poor throw, allowing Abrams to take second. Luis García then sent a changeup straight back up the middle to score the lightning-quick Abrams from second.

Castillo continued to fight his command in the fourth inning, giving up a leadoff ground ball double to Joey Meneses and walking Smith, who had homered, on four pitches, but he battled back to get a strikeout of Derek Hill to end the inning and from there, it was like a switch flipped for Castillo. He pitched all the way through the seventh inning, striking out the side in the fifth despite allowing two singles and then mowing through the bottom of the lineup in the sixth and seventh, striking out Lane Thomas to end a laborious but effective night.

Maybe what helped Castillo power through the back half of the game was the lead he’d been given by his offense, who blew some opportunities for scoring early—they had the first two hitters reach in the third only to get nothing out of it—but went ahead in the fourth. First, Eugenio drew the Mariners to within a run with his eighth big fly of the year:

Julio would then tie it up by scoring Jarred Kelenic, who had walked, with this nice piece of hitting in a 1-1 count:

It’s so good to see Julio do something like this; pitchers will continue to try to jam him inside so he can’t get those long arms extended, so it’s key that he’s able to inside-out a swing like this and work up the middle, taking what the pitcher is giving him rather than trying to go big.

In the fifth inning, the Mariners did something we haven’t seen them do a lot of this season: they took the lead in a big inning by stringing together hits, not just putting the ball over the fence. Teoscar Hernández reached by blasting a ball right back at new pitcher Cory Abbott, summoned from the bullpen after the Mariners hitters pushed starter Trevor Williams’s pitch count over the first four innings (another things we love to see). Dom Smith then forgot that Abbott was in a world of hurt and not necessarily hustling to cover first base, and relayed the ball over one, allowing Teo to take second. A Cal Raleigh groundout moved Teo to third, and then Suárez just missed a second homer, but did put it deep enough that Teo could essentially crawl home, giving the Mariners their first lead of the day. It feels weird to celebrate small things like moving the runner over and sac flies, but this team has so consistently gone empty at the plate this season that these are very encouraging signs even if they’re not the sexiest run-scoring events.

But! The Mariners weren’t done yet. Even with two outs, Abbott apparently had no interest in pitching to Jarred Kelenic, walking him on four pitches to bring up Mike Ford. Jarred promptly stole second while Ford was batting because Trevor Williams has the crisp tempo of Seattle traffic to the plate, and was foolishly ruled out before a very quick overturn. Mike Ford, showing the wisdom you’d expect from a Princeton man, recognized he needed to take advantage of this opportunity and singled the speedy Kelenic home to give the Mariners a 5-3 advantage, giving Kolten Wong an opportunity to do something very funny:

A Kolten Wong home run would have been funny, but Kolten Wong hitting a double to a very deep part of the park and forcing Mike Ford, who is built like three Rubbermaid Roughneck containers stacked on top of each other, to chug around from first and score, is even funnier.

The Mariners would extend their lead in the eighth, having exhausted Cory Abbott’s pitch count with back-to-back walks for J.P. and Julio. The Nats brought in Thaddeus Ward, 2022 Rule 5 Draft pick, and Ty France greeted him with an RBI single to make it 7-3, while Teo hit a sac fly to make it 8-3. Again: not sexy, but effective.

The Nats got one more run back in the ninth off Tayler Saucedo, who was a little bit ineffective and a little bit unlucky, loading the bases and forcing Servais to call in Sewald for the one-out save, which is the only real mar on tonight’s victory. But that feels like an okay tradeoff for all the good things the Mariners did tonight—making productive outs, keeping the strikeouts to single-digits (barely, but still), swiping bases, working long at-bats, hitting clutch two-out RBI, and supporting their solid-but-not-perfect starter. This is the anniversary of the infamous fight against the Angels last year, something many people pointed to as a crystallization of the team identity; I’d rather tonight’s game define these 2023 Mariners as a team that plays together, can work from behind, and comes up clutch. And no one even had to get suspended for it.