The M’s have had a rough start to the season, and by finding a way to complete the sweep of the Rangers, the club found its groove again.
The calculator claims this was no more significant than any of the others. Blowout, comeback, extra-innings thriller — they each comprise .62 percent of the schedule if you don’t look past the math.
But anyone who was at Safeco Field Sunday knows the result carried more weight than a run-of-the-mill Mariners win. That 8-7 victory over Texas reframed Seattle’s season.
“Must win” games don’t exist in April, but that doesn’t mean the M’s weren’t at least calf-deep in quicksand. They entered this series 2-8 and were five days removed from blowing a six-run, ninth-inning lead.
After Sunday’s theatrics, though, they’re 5-8 and fresh off a sweep of the two-time defending AL West champs. More impressively, they got there by using a “Rocky” montage’s worth of grit.
“It’s been a rough start to the season” said Mariners manager Scott Servais, who praised the character his team showed despite trailing 6-1 early. “I talked to the players about dialing up the intensity, the coaches and myself.”
Emphasis on “myself.”
There were myriad moments to choose from if you were looking for a top highlight Sunday. Mariners right fielder Mitch Haniger hitting a three-run, fourth-inning homer off Cole Hamels to cut the deficit to two was certainly among them. But there may have been a more significant occurrence that took place two innings later — one that energized this previously enervated club.
With two outs in the bottom of the sixth, Leonys Marin hit a dribbler to Rangers first baseman Mike Napoli, who scooped it up and stepped on the bag. Only problem was that first-base umpire C.B. Bucknor called the grounder foul.
After a few words from Napoli, Bucknor reversed his call and ruled Martin out. Enraged that Bucknor would do so without consulting the home-plate umpire, Servais ran onto the field and launched into a tirade that got him tossed from the game.
Perhaps that ejection is seen differently if the Mariners don’t come back and win. But for now, players will tell you that their skipper’s passion had a direct effect on their perseverance.
“When skip got tossed, that fired everyone else up,” Mariners outfielder Jarrod Dyson said. “It’s always a good thing to see your skip go out there and battle for you.”
It was also good for them to see Guillermo Heredia pop a solo home run in the seventh to tie the score at 6-6. It was good for them to see Haniger rob Joey Gallo of a two-run blast by reaching over the wall in the top of the eighth
It wasn’t good to see closer Edwin Diaz give up a solo home run to Rangers outfielder Nomar Mazara in the top of the ninth — but that just set up the drama that led to the Mariners’ first walkoff win of the year.
No, the bottom of the ninth didn’t have a memorable swing that will end up on the Mariners’ end-of-the-year highlight reel. It was, however, played in a fashion befitting the focus they showed throughout the afternoon.
A Dyson infield single. A Dyson stolen base. A picturesque bunt by Martin that got him to first and Dyson to third, followed by Mike Freeman walking to load the bases.
Haniger walked on five pitches to tie the score, and two batters later, Nelson Cruz nubbed a grounder to short that got Martin home on an infield hit.
Did the ball find the outfield the entire half inning? No. Did the Mariners still manage to find their groove? Yeah, it seems so.
“It’s huge. We showed a lot of personality,” said Cruz when asked about sweeping a team as talented as Texas. “It’s a good feeling. We feel like now we have a legit shot to go all the way.”
That might be peering a little too far into the future for now, but the point is taken. The Mariners may still be three games below .500, but with that sweep, fans are saying “it’s a long season” instead of “it’s going to be a long season.”
There is still a lot that can go wrong for this team. Don’t go writing them in as division champs yet.
But after Sunday, you’d be smart not to write them off, either.