It was exactly week ago, the Mariners were cratering into baseball irrelevance at an alarming rate. They couldn’t hit. They couldn’t win. The everyday lineup had at least two or three players that might not start for most Triple-A teams. The bullpen they had relied upon so often early in the season was decimated by a positive test for COVID-19 and the contact tracing that followed.
They had played themselves into a six-game losing streak that included getting swept in a lopsided fashion by the Padres where the talent and performance gap was so strikingly noticeable that it was fair to wonder if the Mariners would truly be a contender.
More losing and anguish were sure to come in their trip to Oakland where the division-leading A’s were waiting.
A visibly frustrated and emotionally exhausted manager Scott Servais tried to spin positives at the time, noting the work of Justin Dunn and the improved at-bats.
But the words felt hollow and Pollyannish based on how the team had been performing. The Mariners were 21-26 and headed toward seasonal irrelevance faster than expected.
A week later almost to the hour, the Mariners were on the field of T-Mobile Park, shaking hands and celebrating a 4-2 win over the Rangers that completed a rare four-game sweep. They had won six of their past seven games and were back at .500.
Yusei Kikuchi delivered a brilliant outing for Seattle. He took a no-hitter through five innings and produced his sixth quality start in a row – allowing two runs on three hits with a walk and five strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings — to improve to 3-3 on the season.
Ty France drove in three runs on a pair of hits and Kyle Seager hit a solo homer to provide all the offense needed for Seattle.
The last time Seattle swept a team in a four-game series was last season (Sept. 4-7) in Seattle. The Mariners have now beaten the Rangers in 12 consecutive games at T-Mobile Park. Seattle is also 21-8 in games when scoring four runs or more.
“Obviously, we had a lot going on in San Diego with the COVID situation,” Servais said. “We did have a team meeting in San Diego after the final game there. I talked to the team a little bit about where we were at. You don’t know how guys are always going to respond. But there are about three to four times throughout the course of the season that you do need to kind of circle the wagons a little bit, and make sure everybody’s on board for what we were about to go into.”
The meeting wasn’t all one-sided, though Servais did most of the talking. But it wasn’t the caricature concept of meetings where the manager dumps over a table or throws equipment, screams and yells and threatens.
“No, it wasn’t,” he said. “The only time you get loud for me is when you don’t see the effort level, or the concentration with the work and the focus. That’s never been an issue with this team. If it is, then we’ll get loud. But that’s never been an issue. And I don’t expect it will be there. These guys are wired the right way there. We have a lot to play for. I’ve said all along from day one, we will continue to get better as this season goes along. And we’ve got a lot of baseball yet ahead of us.”
Kikuchi was dominant from the first pitch, displaying an increased intensity that matched his stuff. With his fastball touching 99 mph, particularly in two-strike counts, and his cutter darting and sitting around 92 mph, he carved up Rangers hitters.
He retired the first 11 batters in a row with only one hard-hit ball. J.P. Crawford broke the string of outs with a throwing error on a routine ground ball, but Kikuchi calmly retired the next four hitters to have a no-hitter through five innings.
“Obviously, I realized that there in the fifth inning,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Kevin Ando. “But I tried not to let that affect me. I was just taking each hitter, focusing on each hitter that I was facing, one hitter at a time.”
His teammates provided him with immediate run support. With two outs in the first inning, Kyle Lewis singled to left field off Texas starter Hyeon-Jong Yang and later scored on France’s ringing double to left field.
In the third inning, Lewis doubled with one out and Seager dropped a broken bat single into right field just out of the reach of a diving Joey Gallo and alertly advanced to second when Gallo threw past the cutoff man toward home. France drove both runners home with a single up the middle that made it 3-0.
Seager, who came into the game with just two hits in his previous 24 plate appearances, made it 4-0 in the bottom of the fifth when he hit a towering fly ball to right field off Demarcus Evans that carried just over the wall and out of the reach of Gallo’s leaping attempt.
Kikuchi lost his no-hit bid to the first hitter of the sixth inning when Willie Calhoun’s ground ball to the right side got through the shift and just past the glove of a diving Jack Mayfield.
The Rangers finally broke through against Kikuchi in the seventh. He allowed a soft single to Nick Solak and then gave up a one-out missile off the bat of Gallo that landed in the center-field seats for a two-run homer.
Kikuchi faced two more batters, retiring Khris Davis and walking Nate Lowe before being lifted with 104 pitches thrown. It earned a standing ovation from the crowd of 11,198.
“I thought his intensity level and competitive level was as good as we’ve seen it,” Servais said.
The Mariners have pushed Kikuchi to throw the ball with the intent of putting hitters away to the point of nastiness. They saw it Sunday. They could actually hear it.
“The intent today with the stuff is probably as good as we’ve ever seen it,” Servais said. “I don’t know if you can hear it in the press box, but we can hear it on the field. He is grunting. And when he does that, he quits thinking and the ball jumps out of his hand. It’s electric.”
In his past six starts, he has a 2.77 ERA with 11 walks and 41 strikeouts in 39 innings pitched.
The Mariners bullpen finished the rest of the game without incident.
J.T. Chargois struck out Brock Holt to end the seventh. Paul Sewald pitched a scoreless eighth and Keynan Middleton needed just five pitches to retire the heart of the Rangers order in the ninth for his fourth save of the season.