With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the 10th inning and Kyle Seager at the plate, reliever Dylan Floro balked in the winning run for the Mariners.
It was going to happen eventually. He wasn’t going to remain perfect even though he had been for the better part of three months. And even though it was inevitable, it was still so stunning and unexpected, that you wonder how the pitcher or his team recovers in the gut-punch moment.
But Edwin Diaz did, and his teammates did as well on Saturday night, getting a little help from the Dodgers in a bizarre 5-4 extra-innings victory. The Mariners’ All-Star closer blew his first save since June 1, giving up the game-tying homer in the top of the ninth inning. But his teammates, like they’ve done in the other rare occasions when he’s blown a save, responded by still finding a way to win the game.
This time it was a balk-off victory.
With the bases loaded and one out and Kyle Seager at the plate in the bottom of the 10th, reliever Dylan Floro bothered by some movement from Cameron Maybin, who was the runner at third base and third baseman Justin Turner. Before stepping off the rubber to reset, Floro flexed his back knee and moved his hands, which by rule is breaking from the set position and deceiving the runner. First base umpire Andy Fletcher saw the movement, called the balk, forcing the winning run home.
“A balk-off victory,” manager Scott Servais said. “You don’t see that every night at the ballpark. Crazy game.”
Floro stood on the mound in disbelief, hands raised. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts argued with Fletcher briefly as the umps tried to exit the field.
“That was a tough one,” Roberts said. “It’s obviously when you’re trying to deceive the runner. Right there, there was obviously no intent. I thought he stepped off in time, but I looked back at the replay and there was a little bit of a buckle of the knee. But that’s the way Andy (Fletcher) saw it and as the rule states, he gave up a run.”
And the Mariners?
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“I think Turner tried to deke me a little and when he did his little move I kind of jumped a little bit and I think it might have startled (Floro) a little bit,” Maybin said.
Standing in the batter’s box, Seager knew something wasn’t right.
“Something weird was happening out there and I don’t know necessarily what was going on,” Seager said. “And then I heard Nellie (Cruz) screaming balk. And there was a party afterward.”
To be fair, Cruz apparently screams “balk!” after any awkward looking pickoff moves or pitcher movements with runner on base.
“He’s been doing it as long as I’ve known Nelson,” Servais said. “He screams balk every opportunity he can. And tonight he finally got it right. That’s Nellie’s thing. He’ll yell it when he’s on the bases, in the dugout or even in the batter’s box any time the pitcher does anything looks a little different.”
It’s become a bit of an inside joke because of his high-pitched, echoing voice and that’s he’s rarely right.
“Sometimes he’s right,” Seager said.
Said Cruz proudly: “I was right tonight.”
The Mariners celebrated the gifted win like it had been a walk-off homer, dousing Maybin with Gatorade at home plate. Seattle is now 12-1 in extra innings games this season.
“We caught a break at the end,” Servais said. “We’ll take it.”
They needed it after seeing Diaz actually seem human and not unhittable. After converting his last 28 save opportunities and 47 of 50 in a stellar season, the Mariners closer had a rare hiccup in the situation he’s been absolutely stellar in this season — a one-run game. Diaz has closed out 24 of those games this season with no room for error.
Brought in to close out a one-run lead, Diaz retired the first hitter faced and quickly got ahead of left-hander slugger Max Muncy on three pitches. But the 1-2 count was worked full, which started the problems.
Not wanting to bring the go-ahead run to the plate by walking Muncy, Diaz didn’t give in, firing a 98-mph fastball at the bottom of the strike zone. Muncy was sitting on it, slamming a solo homer into the right-field seats. It left the outnumbered Mariners fans in the crowd of 43,264 deflated and the vocal Dodger fans in pandemonium.
But instead of pouting, Diaz came back to strike out Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson to end the inning and keep the game tied instead of completely imploding.
“We’ve come back and won those games when Eddie has given up the lead,” Servais said. “It hasn’t happened very often. Part of that is he doesn’t just fall apart out there. He knows he has to finish the inning and keep us right there. That’s what you do. You aren’t going to get it done every night.”
That Diaz only had a one-run lead to work with was the product of another unexpected failure the inning before.
Reliever Alex Colome, who came into the game riding a streak of 20 scoreless innings, served up a solo homer to Justin Turner and a mammoth solo homer to Cody Bellinger off the facade of the upper deck in deep right field. A 4-1 lead had been reduced to the slimmest of margins.
“Their power showed up,” Servais said. “They certainly turned around some pretty good fastballs from our backend guys, who have been just awesome.”
The Mariners offense was also at fault for the situation, failing to add on after scoring all four of its runs in the first inning off Dodgers starter Rich Hill.
Nelson Cruz dumped in an RBI single and Seager followed with three-run homer deep into right field for a 4-1 lead. The Mariners did little against Hill or the Dodgers bullpen in the innings that followed.
Seager has racked up seven consecutive seasons with 20 homers or more. It was also his sixth homer of the season vs. left-handed pitching, second-most in baseball for a left-hander hitter.
Even better than the result was the swing. Seager got on a fastball from Hill, pulled it hard to right field. It’s something that has waned in his search to beat the constant shifting by opposing defenses.
But the offense ended after that despite plenty of traffic on the bases. Hill pitched six innings, allowing just the four runs on four hits with five walks and eight strikeouts.
Mariners starter Erasmo Ramirez pitched five pitch-filled innings, allowing one run on three hits with four walks and three strikeouts. The one run came in the first inning on an RBI single that could’ve been avoided if Seager had turned a routine double play earlier in the frame. He atoned for the mistake with the homer in the bottom of the inning and made two outstanding defensive plays later in the game.
Seattle got an inning of scoreless relief work from Nick Vincent and Zach Duke to keep the lead at 4-1 before Colome’s struggles in the eighth.