ARLINGTON, Texas — As much as the Mariners wanted to immediately escape the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex after Sunday’s second straight walkoff defeat and a disappointing series loss to one of the worst teams in baseball, they had to sit at Globe Life Field for an extra few hours before heading to the airport. They had to wait for a massive thunderstorm that hit the area in about the seventh inning of their game to clear out.
It will likely be a quiet evening flight to Tampa Bay, where they will start a three-game series with the Rays on Monday at Tropicana Field. Losing a series to the lowly Rangers is less than ideal for a team that has played above expectations all season and tries to remain in the wild-card race.
Unlike Saturday night’s loss on Jonah Heim’s walkoff homer, where they didn’t lose ground because of an Oakland loss, the Mariners’ defeat Sunday on another Heim walkoff homer dropped them to 56-50 and 3.5 games behind the A’s (60-47), who hold the second wild-card spot. The Yankees (56-48) moved a game ahead of the Mariners in the wild-card race, completing a three-game sweep of the Marlins on Sunday. The Blue Jays (54-48) are tied with the Mariners after completing a three-game sweep of the Royals, highlighted by their first start from Jose Berrios on Sunday.
It’s probably illogical to be watching the standings so closely on the first day of August with more than 50 remaining in the season. But it started on the last homestand with whether the team was in position in the standings to seem worthy enough to convince ownership and general manager Jerry Dipoto to be buyers at the Major League Baseball trade deadline. While they weren’t sellers as in past years, they were more browsers and swappers than buyers at the deadline.
“We’ve got a lot of games left to play,” manager Scott Servais said. “There’s no question about it. We’ve put ourselves in a situation where all these games are very meaningful. That’s great. It’s huge for our young players. It’s huge for everybody here and we enjoy it, coming to the ballpark every day when you’re playing for something. There’s not one guy in our clubhouse that shouldn’t be upset about what happened in the last couple of nights. But I do know something about this group: They’ve got a lot of grit and they don’t quit. We will show up in Tampa. We will come up with great effort and we’ll go into that series expecting to win it even though they’re playing good baseball.”
When the Rays were swept by the Mariners in a four-game series at T-Mobile Park (June 17-20), they were not playing good baseball. It was part of a seven-game Tampa losing streak.
But since Shed Long Jr.’s walkoff grand slam off new teammate Diego Castillo on June 20, the Rays have posted a 20-12 record over the span despite placing a multitude of pitchers, including six relievers, on the injured list.
The current Rays lineup now has outfielder Kevin Kiemaier back patrolling center field after an IL stint and MLB’s consensus No. 1 prospect Wander Franco at shortstop. And there is also the addition of this guy named Nelson Cruz to the middle of the order as the designated hitter.
A sweep seems unlikely.
But the Mariners have shown the ability to play well against the better competition, picking up road series wins over the White Sox, Blue Jays and A’s, home series wins over the Giants and A’s and sweeps of the Rays and Indians.
They’ve also shown resiliency after bad stretches of play. After losing four of their past five games, will they bounce back against the Rays?
“This group has been through a lot of adversity,” pitcher Marco Gonzales said. “We’ve been counted out a lot and we’ve responded well. To be honest, it’s been a tough week. I think you can just tell the vibe in the clubhouse. It’s just been a tough week.”
Gonzales was referencing last Tuesday’s trade that sent closer Kendall Graveman and reliever Rafael Montero to the Astros for infielder Abraham Toro and reliever Joe Smith. Graveman was a respected team leader and popular throughout the clubhouse. It led to some hurt feelings and discontent among the players.
Veterans such as Gonzales and Kyle Seager have said the team’s job is to move forward and focus on the next day’s game. But they were hurt.
“We’ll do our best to bounce back,” Gonzales said. “We have a couple of big series with a couple of really good teams coming up. It would have been nice to win tonight and take a series win into the rest of this road trip. We need to get that momentum going into Tampa and New York here soon.”
- Abraham Toro had three more hits — two doubles and a bloop single — on Sunday. In five games since being acquired by the Mariners, he has nine hits in 19 at-bats. Counting his last two games with the Astros, he has hits in his last seven games and is 11 for 24 with three doubles, four homers and seven RBI.