CLEVELAND — Perhaps those who like to say, ‘There are no bad days at the ballpark,” never spent more than 15 hours there, waiting out an endless rain delay that everyone saw coming, dealing with the interpretive strike zone of Angel Hernandez where a ball can be a strike and strike isn’t always a strike, playing on a surface that’s more swamp than sod and all the while knowing there was a four-hour flight home awaiting followed by a midafternoon game on Labor Day.
Oh, and let’s sprinkle in two extra innings of baseball for good measure.
If you are going to endure all of that, then losing isn’t an option or even a consideration, no matter how easy it might have been to pack it in and call it a day.
The 2022 Mariners simply don’t play that way. They don’t give games away. If you are going to beat them, particularly in a close game, you have to earn it.
So after a seemingly endless rain delay of 4 hours and 33 minutes and seeing their normally lockdown bullpen lose a two-run lead while using every available arm, the Mariners scored three runs in the top of the 11th with former starter Chris Flexen closing out a 6-3 victory in 11 innings that could’ve very easily been a loss.
When J.P. Crawford fielded Steven Kwan’s ground ball and fired to Ty France at first base for the final out of the game, the clock at Progressive Field read 11:01 p.m. ET
They had won the game, but still lost the battle with Mother Nature, who remains undefeated.
“This team, and really it’s been the last couple of years, they fight,” manager Scott Servais said. “They fight all the way to the end. You don’t know how it’s going to work out and you don’t know who’s going to get the big hit, but we keep grinding and finding ways to put pressure on the opponent. And finally, hopefully, somebody will break through and that’s what happened tonight.”
With the score tied at 3-3, Crawford, who has been mired in a frustrating slump in recent weeks and for much of the second half of the season, singled home automatic runner Eugenio Suarez with one out in the top of the 11th inning off right-hander Trevor Stephan.
But the Mariners weren’t done. On the fifth consecutive splitfinger fastball thrown to him by Stephan, Cal Raleigh crushed a two-run homer into the empty right-field seats for some big insurance runs.
“We finally got some big hits there at the end with J.P. stepping up and the big homer from Cal,” Servais said. “It was a long, long day, but what a road trip.”
Seattle (76-58) swept the three-game series in Cleveland, winning six of seven in the overall season series against the Guardians. The Mariners also went a perfect 6-0 on the road trip while pushing their winning streak to seven games.
With the Yankees defeating the Rays 2-1, the Mariners took over the first wild-card spot in the American League with Tampa (74-58) dropping a game back. The Blue Jays remain two back of Seattle at 73-59.
Never has the postseason seemed more attainable in the last 15-plus years.
“It’s been some kind of year so far for our guys finding ways to hang in there,” Servais said. “What a long day. You sit here for about a four-hour delay. You don’t know what’s going to happen, how guys are going to respond. Give the Guardians a ton of credit. Obviously, they’re fighting for a playoff spot as well.”
The game, which had a scheduled 2:40 p.m. ET start time, which is 90 minutes later than most Sunday afternoon start times because of an air show that was canceled due to the weather, started officially with Cleveland starter Cal Quantrill firing a first-pitch strike to Julio Rodriguez through a warm mist filling the humid air at 2:41 p.m. ET
Rodriguez singled, advanced to second on third baseman Tyler Freeman’s throwing error and scored on Ty France’s one-out double to left center.
Cleveland answered against Seattle starter George Kirby in the bottom of the inning. Jose Ramirez, who had been held hitless in this series, singled and scored from first on Josh Naylor’s double to right-center to tie the game.
The Mariners retook the lead in the third inning when Rodriguez sent a screaming line drive into the seats in deep left-center for his 23rd homer of the season. The solo blast made it 2-1.
The delay came in the top of the fourth inning and the Mariners holding a 2-1 lead as the rain increased from an incessant drizzle to a steady pace. Mitch Haniger led off the inning with a single through the raindrops off Quantrill. As the rain increased, Suarez followed with a single to left.
But still, nothing was done.
After Quantrill fired a first-pitch strike to Adam Frazier, who was trying to bunt the runners into scoring position, Hernandez and the umpiring crew finally seemed to notice what had been apparent to everyone else for about 10 minutes — the rain had already reached downpour status and the field conditions weren’t ideal.
He dramatically called timeout and put the game on hold at 3:35 p.m. ET. The grounds crew rushed on the field to put the tarp they had removed about two hours before back on to the infield.
And the waiting in the rain began. The teams desperately wanted to avoid playing a make-up game later in the season.
An hour later? Still waiting through heavy rain.
Two hours of time? More waiting as puddles formed on the warning track.
Three hours? Yes, more waiting, though there didn’t seem to be much in the way of precipitation falling, which led to some of the fans remaining to start screaming to restart the game. The grounds crew even removed the tarp briefly to prep the infield dirt to provide some hope, only to put it back on and crush that hope.
At four hours into the delay, an announcement was made that the game would restart at 8:10 p.m. ET — weather permitting. The grounds crew pulled the tarp at 7:45 p.m. and the 500 or so fans left from the announced crowd of 17,809 rejoiced in celebration, though there was only one concession stand open for them to use.
With neither starter coming back in after the delay, big lefty Sam Hentges replaced Quantrill, inheriting a minor mess with Haniger on second, Suarez on first and Frazier in the batter’s box with an 0-1 count.
At 8:12 p.m., Hentges fired his first pitch that hit Frazier, who was trying to bunt, between his shoulder blades.
With no outs and the bases loaded, Crawford’s ground ball to shortstop was turned into a double play up the middle but allowed a run to score for a 3-1 lead in the fourth.
Using his relievers inning by inning after Kirby, Servais brought in Diego Castillo in the seventh inning. Andres Gimenez worked a leadoff walk, stole second easily and scored on Austin Hedges infield single that Crawford couldn’t make a play on.
Cleveland tied the game in the eighth inning. Amed Rosario snapped an 0-for-12 streak, leading off with a single off Erik Swanson. He stole second and advanced to third when Suarez misplayed the throw from Curt Casali, allowing Rosario to advance to third. Rosario should’ve scored on Naylor’s high chopper that Swanson calmly gloved and fired to first base.
With two outs, Servais called on Paul Sewald to face right-handed hitting Oscar Gonzalez. The move didn’t yield expected results with Gonzalez dumping a single into left to score Rosario and tie the game at 3-3.
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