ANAHEIM, Calif. — He’s traveled the precarious path to the postseason that most of his teammates have only experienced minimally, if at all.
He’s been to the playoffs on multiple occasions — a destination where the Mariners players yearn to go, but a large portion of them has never been.
And while his appearance and energy belie his age, Carlos Santana understood from the moment he was acquired June 27 from the Royals what is expected and needed from him as a member of the Mariners.
With the Mariners stumbling on the start of this road trip, losing their first three games to the Angels and trying to avoid a four-game sweep with Eugenio Suarez, Julio Rodriguez and Cal Raleigh out of the lineup due to various injuries, the 36-year-old Santana channeled his “Slamtana” nickname and delivered another big blast when his team desperately needed it.
Santana turned a one-run lead and another potential panic-inducing, nail-biter of an outcome into an eventual 9-1 rout of the Angels, launching his fifth career grand slam in the fifth inning and awakening a Mariners offense that had been stagnant the past two games.
“We needed that ballgame,” manager Scott Servais said. “That’s the formula — pitch really well and hit some big homers.”
Seattle avoided an embarrassing and costly four-game sweep at Angel Stadium, while improving to 81-65 on the season. The Mariners finished 9-10 against the Angels in what was a back-and-forth and unpredictable season series.
While Santana’s missile of a 430-foot blast on a 3-1 fastball from Angels starter Jose Suarez will be the highlight shown often, it was the lead-up to that swing that offered an insight into his poise and value.
The Mariners loaded the bases on Curt Casali’s one-out walk, Mitch Haniger’s two-out single and a slider off the back foot of Ty France.
Batting right-handed, Santana didn’t give in to the moment. The losses over the previous three days, the absence of three key hitters, the Mariners struggles to score runs wouldn’t induce him into over-aggression. He refused to chase the first three pitches — a changeup, a fastball and a slider — all out of the zone.
“He’s never in a hurry to hit,” Servais said. “He has a good idea of who he is as a hitter and how the league pitches him. They’re gonna try to off-speed him as much as they can. But if you leave a ball up or if you get behind in the count, he can do real damage.”
With a 3-0 count and with the green light to swing, Santana shrugged off a fastball that bore in on the inside edge of the plate. It was a strike but not the strike he wanted. It would’ve led to a broken bat or a weak ground ball to third or both.
The next pitch was the one he wanted — a 92-mph fastball just above the belt and on the outer half of the plate. That was the pitch to drive. And he didn’t miss it, depositing it into the Angels portion of the double-decker bullpen in left field for his 18th homer of the season. It was his first grand slam since Aug. 11, 2019, while playing with Cleveland.
“The first at-bat I was a little too aggressive in going after the pitcher’s pitch,” he said. “With the bases loaded, I wanted to be more patient and make sure I got my pitch.”
The grand slam came on the birthday of his mother, Nuris Amador.
“This morning my wife [Brittany] told me, ‘If you don’t hit a home run then I don’t l think you love your mom,'” he said. “Well, I love my mom.”
Oh, but Santana wasn’t done. He smashed a solo homer from the left side of the plate in the ninth inning off right-hander Mike Meyers to give him 19 on the season — 15 with the Mariners — and seven in his past nine games.
“A lot of love for my mom,” he said.
The maturity of Santana’s approach at the plate and power potential is why the Mariners acquired him when both Haniger and France were on the injured list. It’s why he’s remained and seeing the majority of at-bats at designated hitter.
But his presence has also brought a calming effect to the Mariners clubhouse. A veteran of 13 seasons, he’s played in 29 postseason games in his career and has been through the rigors of multiple stretch runs. He’s part shaman, part slugger.
It’s what Victor Martinez did for him as a rookie in Cleveland.
“He’s brought a lot of energy,” France said. “He is a great player on the field, but the clubhouse is a little different with him. He brings good spirits here and he started the dance party after wins. You have to give him a lot of credit, he has been playing this game a long time and he knows what it’s like to win and how hard it is to win.”
Can you believe he’s 36?
“No, he acts like he’s 21,” France said. “He’s been great for us.”
From there, the flood gates of offense came from another player that the Mariners desperately need for success.
France, who hasn’t been his normal consistent self at the plate for a variety of reasons, had already doubled in the first inning to score J.P. Crawford from first base when he stepped to the plate in the seventh inning.
Facing right-hander Zack Weiss, France jumped on a 1-1 slider that hung in the top of the zone, sending a deep fly ball directly over the French flag on the Cremily billboard on the wall in center field. It was his 20th homer of the season.
The healthy run support was more than enough for starter Logan Gilbert, who didn’t need much of it with his dominating performance. The lanky right-hander improved to 13-6 on the season, tossing six solid innings and allowing a run on four hits with a walk and a career-high 11 strikeouts.
“I thought Logan was awesome today,” Servais said. “He really set the tone for us.”
Gilbert struck out six of the first nine batters he faced, showing a dominant slider and a lively fastball. He set the tone early, winning a 12-pitch battle with Shohei Ohtani in the first inning with a swinging strikeout.
He’s allowed just two runs over his last four starts, posting a 3-1 record and 0.78 ERA with five walks and 34 strikeouts in 23 innings pitched.
“Every time I go out, that’s my job,” Gilbert said. “That’s what I try to do regardless of what has happened the days before. But I think this team is in a really good place. We’re not really putting pressure on ourselves. We’re just having fun, playing loose and it’s nice to have the win.”