The Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners should petition for leave to play 162 times per year. While the East Canada avifauna might protest given the Mariners’ recent run of success, particularly in Seattle, there’s scarcely been a dull day at the ballpark between the clubs lately. Playoff thrillers, walk-off wins, rookies flirting with perfectos, seesaw games, simply every manner of exhilarating baseball played by two quality clubs with plenty of history and connection. This one, however, like the last six in Seattle and eight of the last 10 between the teams, went the way hoped by what felt like approximately 25% of the 44,000+ in attendance Saturday afternoon, as Seattle sent a massive Blue Jays contingent back to their hotels with heads hung low with a 9-8 Mariners victory.
Logan Gilbert looked like he might cruise through a stellar start, upstaging Toronto ace Kevin Gausman whose velocity and spin was down for much of the afternoon and was jumped on for four solo homers in six frames, including two by Cal Raleigh in his continued game hunt of the birds in blue. It was not to be for the lanky Stetson man, however, as he was blitzed in the 4th and 5th innings for five runs in total, largely on ill-located meatballs on the heart of the plate. Gilbert’s line isn’t quite “worse than he pitched” per se, as it was a subpar performance, but against a high-octane offense that entered today with the 7th-best wRC+ in MLB (4th in the AL), Gilbert saw almost every mistake punished.
Many days this season, that would’ve been the story, because the M’s offense wouldn’t have earned their way into the front fold. This afternoon, however, there was life. Life in the form of Raleigh, as well as solo shots by Dylan Moore and Julio Rodríguez.
The three-homer inning was impressive, but after the Blue Jays returned the favor in kind in the 5th and added on with an assist from Teoscar Hernández’s defensive misadventures in the 6th, it seemed the M’s might’ve squandered another offensive outburst.
Instead, the Blue Jays turned to former top prospect Nate Pearson, and turned their own victory to ash in their beaks. In 2020, Pearson was a Top-10 prospect in baseball by Baseball America and MLB Pipeline (and again in 2021 for the latter), while Baseball Prospectus pushed him as high as No. 19 overall in 2020. A fellow Floridian to Gilbert and of the same age, though drafted one year earlier, Pearson has faced a far rockier road to the bigs, struggling with command, injuries, and effectiveness. There may be such a thing as a pitching prospect, but Pearson is one such reason to remember that “can’t miss” turning into something lesser doesn’t always look like a catastrophe, but rather a slow deflation. His control abandoned him immediately today, as the now-bullpen-bound fireballer hit Ty France with a pitch, got Raleigh to pop out, and then proceeded to ignite a five-run inning on three consecutive hits to Seattle’s typical middle infielders in Moore, Kolten Wong, and J.P. Crawford.
Flowers await J.P. at the end of this recap, rest assured, but his double here was fortuitous. Firstly, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. made a defensive gambit that could be described best as “nervous”, seemingly spooked by the bag itself. Credit as well, however, to Wong, whose metrics physically have been in clear decline, yet he managed to swipe second base just before Crawford’s hit, pulling Guerrero further off the baseline of what would’ve likely been an easy double play.
The Toronto conundrum for several years has been seeing a stellar young core in the heart of their lineup undermined by a pitching staff, and more specifically a bullpen, that could not hold a lead any more consistently than they could get 13/13 on the “Provinces and Territories of Canada” Sporcle quiz. With the score knotted 7-7, the Bluebirds banked towards Yimi García, a reasonably good reliever they signed prior to the 2022 season who has struggled this year. He immediately hit Julio, but lured Eugenio Suárez into a pop out to put the M’s on the back foot once again, two outs, first and second, Teo to the plate.
Andrés Muñoz and Justin Topa held on by the skin of their teeth, with the latter putting the tying and go-ahead runs on in the 9th. A fly to center could have tied it but the threat (and a strong actual throw) of Julio’s arm kept the runner at third to go to two outs, and a harmless groundout ended the game. It was, in that way, a game of many individual performances alongside a team-wide story. Raleigh continuing his Canada-shredding ways, Teoscar digging a hole and then rocketing out of it against his former club, the bullpen managing to hold the line just enough to give Paul Sewald one (1) day of rest, Dylan Moore and Kolten Wong finding ways to contribute despite years that have gone every way except how they’d have hoped.
And Julio, not even the central figure in many ways, yet clubbing a homer, maintaining the lead with his defense, and securing what would end up being the game-winning run of that lead with his blistering speed to score from first on a double down the left field line, in spite of a clean relay that should have cut down most any runner.