With the AL-leading Orioles in town, King Félix in the building, the stadium lit up in the City Connect colors, and 36,203 paying fans eager to see some fireworks on and off the field, the Mariners opened Félix Weekend with a decisive 9-2 victory where the game outcome was never really in doubt. It was the eighth straight win for the Mariners, the first time they’ve recorded eight consecutive wins since their 14-game winning streak last July that helped propel the team to the playoffs.
The Mariners made some noise off Kyle Gibson early, opening with Julio cracking a ball to deep center that Cedric Mullins made an athletic leaping play on, throwing up the “no fly zone” sign to the J-Rod Squad. After Eugenio Suárez singled, though, Mullins couldn’t do anything about this monster blast off the bat of Cal Raleigh:
The Mariners kept the pressure on Gibson in the second, although they didn’t manage to manufacture a run out of a one-out infield single from Cade Marlowe followed by a single from José Caballero, pressed into service as a Dylan Moore was a late scratch with a personal issue, as Josh Rojas grounded into a double play to end the inning.
However, those early stress pitches for Gibson paid off in a big way in the fourth, when the Mariners hung five runs on the O’s, making it back-to-back games where they’ve scored five or more runs in an inning, something they hadn’t done since June of last season. Ty France led off with my favorite thing for Ty France to do: reach on an infield hit. It’s like watching a dog play the piano and it will never cease to delight me. Dominic Canzone then singled past a diving Gunnar Henderson at short, and Cade Marlowe attacked a first-pitch curveball for a single. Josh Rojas then got his first hit as a Mariners, breaking an 0-for-14 stretch that probably felt longer to him than anyone else.
With the lead up to 4-1, Julio decided that wasn’t quite enough breathing room and put one where Mullins couldn’t take it back:
Julio Rodríguez, oppo— Daniel Kramer (@DKramer_) August 12, 2023
The Mariners have opened the floodgates against the team with the best record in the American League. pic.twitter.com/DNzKB12EWz
The O’s opted to make Gibson wear tonight’s start rather than tap into the bullpen early, and an inning later, Ty France opted to make Brandon Hyde pay for that decision:
Ty France putting some backing to "hitting is contagious" ... His ninth of the year, absolutely destroyed into Edgar's Cantina. pic.twitter.com/UP3MqmUkmJ— Daniel Kramer (@DKramer_) August 12, 2023
To me, given the power in the O’s lineup, I didn’t feel like the game wasn’t quite in “laugher territory” yet, even with an 8-1 lead. Josh Rojas’s first “double” as a Mariner an inning later did, in fact, make me laugh (can one have a sun double when it’s dark outside?), and also pushed the game into indisputably laugher territory when Julio brought Rojas home on a double to make it 9-1 and finally knock Gibson, who had been left to twist in the wind the past few innings, out of the game. Jacob Webb managed to contain the damage to just the one run, striking out Eugenio and Cal, and Triple-A callup Nick Vespi worked a scoreless inning-plus as well, but by that point, the damage was, like the way Kyle Gibson probably likes his steak, well done.
Of course, tonight a lead of just one run would have been safe in La Piedra’s hands, as Luis Castillo handled the Orioles’ powerful lineup with aplomb, working six innings and allowing just one run, a solo homer, while striking out eight. He also passed another career milestone, reaching 1,000 innings pitched with this game. On a weekend where we remember a franchise great for his contributions to this team, it’s nice to also see some history being made before our eyes.
Castillo didn’t have the most efficient first couple of innings despite only allowing a walk while racking up five strikeouts: those six outs cost him 43 pitches total. Castillo’s velocity in that first inning was electric, touching 99, but even more excitingly, he threw three changeups and got three swings, with two whiffs. Castillo’s changeup, once a central part of his repertoire, has taken a backseat to his other pitches of late, but tonight he was able to use it to get several weak groundball outs, tempting the Orioles into swinging at it over half the time.
After a quicker third inning where Castillo worked around the Orioles’ first hit of the night—a squibber down the first-base line off the bat of Ramon Urias, with a whole .220 xBA—Castillo opened the fourth by surrendering a first-pitch homer to Anthony Santander, who pounced on a slider at the bottom of the zone. However, that would be all the Orioles could do against Castillo tonight, as he baited the O’s hitters into reaching after pitches for easy groundouts or low-stress flyouts, in addition to getting them chasing for strikes, either on an elevated fastball or chasing after the slider. After needing 43 pitches in those first two innings, Castillo cleared the next four innings on 58 total pitches, settling into a comfortable rhythm even as the Orioles hitters got more aggressive.
Castillo is fond of saying that the game talks to him, and he listens, making adjustments as he goes as he sees how batters are reacting to his pitches. That might be partly the reason he seems to have longer first and second innings, as he’s feeling out his repertoire and also how the batters are responding to it—and, he says through team interpreter Freddy Llanos, the fans’ response plays a role too.
Tayler Saucedo took on the seventh and worked a stellar 1-2-3 inning including this sensational barehanded snag that wouldn’t have looked out of place across the street at Lumen Field last night. Sauce, a huge Seahawks fan, was in attendance, so maybe he picked up some tips at the game.
With the Mariners enjoying a comfortable lead, Servais was finally able to summon Ryder Ryan from the bullpen. Ryan, who has a little brother who also plays baseball named River, was called up back on the 8th but had to wait until tonight to make his MLB debut at last, after eight years in the minors and four different organizations. He made it in style, as well, striking out Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson.
An offense that’s seemingly firing on all cylinders even when missing a couple key parts, a strong performance from the pitching staff, a feel-good debut, and fireworks? So often as Mariners fans we don’t get to have it all, but tonight, with the Mariners drawing within half a game of Toronto in the Wild Card race with the Blue Jays’ loss to the Cubs, it really felt like the cup of gratitude was overflowing. No, like really: Julio homered and this fan won 100K free miles on Alaska Airlines!
That’s the way this team has been: when things are good, things are great. And when those good things are being driven by your franchise stars and young core, things are even better.
But don’t tell Julio that it’s just a hot streak.
“I don’t think we’re hot. I just feel that we’re playing now the baseball that we all knew we can play. Because we had the talent, it just wasn’t happening. Well now, it’s happening. Everybody’s doing what they need to do. And I feel like that’s what everybody’s seeing now on the field: the Seattle Mariners team that we knew we could be.”