Mariners pitching has given up 20 combined runs over the past three games. That’s not something you expect. Also not something you expect: a 7-0 lead that is obliterated, forcing the Mariners to play their fourth-straight extra-innings/walkoff potential contest in a row, barely snatching victory from the jaws of no seriously this should have been a pretty easy victory, what the heck guys.
For as odd as this stretch of games has been, the Mariners stretched the definition of “anything can happen in baseball” to close to its breaking point today. After a quiet first three innings, the Mariners suddenly remembered they were facing Jordan Lyles in the fourth inning, and proceeded to hit four (4) homers. The homers were hit by Eugenio Suárez, Ty France, Teoscar Hernández, and [squints] Josh Rojas? Good for Josh. This is the first time since 2002 the Mariners have hit four homers in a game, and while I can’t choose among any of my favorite children, I have to give Ty the “most impressive homer” award of the group, partly for it being the leader in distance (437 feet), but also for Ty’s sweet bat drop. You know that had to feel good, as Ty finally crosses into double-digit homers for the season.
Teo’s homer gets credit as the hardest-hit, at 111.5 mph, and also was a two-run homer, as Cal Raleigh was aboard, having taken a four-pitch walk from a clearly shaken-up Lyles. Josh Rojas’s homer gets credit, though, for being his first of the season. Look at him signal for the ball as he comes around third base.
Rojas has been on arguably his hottest streak of the season over the past week or so, and has also found the direct line to my heart. Okay, Josh Rojas, okay.
Josh Rojas homers as a part of a big inning for the Mariners. He's 6-12 in his last 5 games.— Jen Mueller (@JenTalksSports) August 16, 2023
Told me a conversation with Edgar Martinez on Friday helped him feel better about the swing changes he's been working on and took away any worry about fitting in here.
Here’s all the homers, for your enjoyment, that led to the Mariners holding a 7-0 lead heading into the bottom of the fifth.
What’s better than three home runs in an inning?— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) August 16, 2023
But alas, it was not to last. Like last night’s recap which felt like recapping several different games all at once, tonight’s game also has several movements. If Part I was the joy of a 7-0 lead, Part II was the part where someone gets stabbed behind a curtain, and “by someone” I mean “us, in our guts.”
The word we’ve used to describe Emerson Hancock’s Double-A season has been “confounding,” and that confoundedness seemed to follow Hancock up I-49. While with Arkansas, once every few starts, Hancock would run into a buzzsaw of an inning, always with it starting off seemingly innocuously: a few weak-contact hits, some walks, maybe a defensive play not made behind him, and suddenly Hancock would find himself with the bases loaded, and then the real trouble would begin, as the zone-loving Hancock would find a little too much zone and allow a grand slam.
Despite a strong start tonight, history repeated itself some for Hancock in the fifth inning. Up until that point, he’d been able to hold the Royals off the board entirely, skirting trouble with weak-contact ground balls that turned into double plays and getting soft flyouts. He only struck out one batter, but he also didn’t walk anyone, as Hancock continues to transform more into the contact-managing crafty righty that looks to be his final form. He continues to work on commanding the changeup and slider, but was able to survive tonight on his fastball-sinker combo, getting the uber-aggressive Royals hitters to make a lot of bad contact on the two.
But in the fifth inning, the wheels came off for Hancock in a familiar way. MJ Melendez opened the inning by attacking the first pitch he saw for a ground ball base hit, and two batters later, Matt Beaty was able to reach when Josh Rojas and Teoscar Hernández miscommunicated, allowing a fly ball to drop between the two of them. Two batters after that, Kyle Isbel got jammed but managed to place a ground ball right out of the reach of José Caballero, who did smother the ball to keep a run off the board; that run would score anyway when Maikel García also got jammed, but also managed to get a ground ball single out of it to make the score 7-1. That brought Bobby Witt Jr. up with the bases loaded, and as Hancock has done in the past, he left a four-seamer low but too much in the middle of the plate, and Witt drove it over the fence for a grand slam.
[Another thing as far as Hancock’s bad-luck inning: MJ Melendez should have been called out after rounding third and retreating on Isbel’s infield hit, as the third base coach made contact with him, which is prohibited—but apparently it’s not a reviewable call, and the umpires didn’t see it.]
With the game suddenly looking winnable, the Royals decided to bounce Jordan Lyles from the game and brought in Max Castillo, who hit Mike Ford with a pitch but then got three low-stress flyouts to send the Mariners away without lengthening the lead.
Scott Servais countered by ending Emerson Hancock’s day, bringing in Gabe Speier, whose inning went like this: five pitches, one hit (MJ Melendez stinging a slider into right field), three outs (Pérez lining out on the first pitch he saw and Freddy Fermin grounding into a double play on that same slider).
The Mariners were able to extend the lead some against Castillo in the seventh, as Eugenio led off with a walk to be driven home by a double from Teoscar Hernández to the deepest part of the park, making it 8-5 Mariners. Unfortunately, pinch-hitter Dylan Moore struck out against new pitcher but old friend Taylor Hearn to strand two important runners on base and keep the game close. Despite the best efforts of José Caballero in the eighth (an 11 pitch at-bat ending in a double that just missed a home run; he followed that up by stealing third base), the Mariners couldn’t bring him in from third, maintaining the lead at just three runs.
After Speier struck out Melendez to lead off the seventh, Drew Waters got a lucky bounce-off-the-mound single, prompting Scott to bring in Justin Topa to face pinch-hitter Samad Taylor. He struck out Taylor looking and García swinging, then came back out in the bottom of the eighth, getting Witt to line out by then giving up a single to Massey, bringing up Pérez with one on and prompting Scott to get Muñoz up in the bullpen. Pérez singled, and Servais brought in Muñoz to try to put down the threat, facing MJ Melendez, who was 3-for-3 on the day with three singles up to that point.
Muñoz got ahead of Melendez 0-2 before getting him to pop out softly, retiring Melendez for the first time today, bringing up the catcher Freddy Fermin. Muñoz fell behind Fermin 3-1 but got him to chop out easily to Rojas—who, it should also be said, made a tremendous play a pitch earlier, laying out to snare a wayward Cal Raleigh pickoff throw. But that still left the question of who would cover the final three outs.
The answer: Andrés Muñoz. His ninth got off to a tough start when Rojas—who giveth and taketh—sailed a throw to Ty France on what should have been an easy first out. That brought up Waters, who flew out, and then Muñoz walked Taylor, turning the lineup over. Another ground ball out from García got the runner at first, but put runners on second and third for Witt, who Muñoz, already showing some signs of fatigue with his velo down and his command wandering, walked. Muñoz got back in the zone against Massey, but ultimately couldn’t put away the free-swinging Royal, who made contact on a slider that wound up on the fat part of the plate for a two-run single, cutting the Mariners lead to just one run.
In retrospect, it was probably a gift that Salvador Pérez only hit a single, poking 98—elevated but in the middle of the upper zone—into left field. Credit here to Dominic Canzone, who made a good, hard throw to get the runner Dairon Blanco, inexplicably loafing it to third, to end the inning—but not before Witt had crossed the plate to tie the game. Does this throw erase the sting of the little league homer yesterday? Not entirely, but it does help.
To extras, then, again. Tucker Davidson started by hitting José Caballero—and not in the way where Cabby usually gets hit by a ball, but a big, ouchy, plunk on the forearm/wrist area. Haggerty pinch-hit for Rojas to do about the same thing he would have done, sacrifice the runners into scoring position, and then the Royals opted to walk Julio to load the bases for Eugenio Suárez. Geno couldn’t catch up with Davidson’s sweeper, though, cutting through it for the second out. But wait: take that “France executes Royals” joke down off the shelf, baby, because it’s Tymas:
Would two runs be enough for Tayler Saucedo trying to get his first save opportunity? For the first time since the fourth inning, the answer was an easy “yes.” This wasn’t the souped-up Saucedo we’ve seen in other emergency high-leverage spots, nor the sleepy Saucedo sent out to keep the game close and provide middle-inning relief: this was Just Enough Sauce.
Thanks for the low-stress outs, Sauce, and everyone else, let this be a lesson to you.
Zach Mason suggested the title of this recap be “Mariners win thriller in extras, Mariner fans too worn out to care” and while I couldn’t go that nihilistic with it, I do feel that. When Salvy hit the game-tying single I was just like “oh, of course.” The incredible amount of world-weariness in my bones over these past few games, y’all. So I appreciate Sauce up there being just the right amount of quirked up or goated or whatever the TikTokism is, although not as much as I appreciate Zach for volunteering to take tomorrow’s cap.