For all of their success leading into the All-Star break, which included a 14-game win streak and a stretch of 22-3 baseball, an uncertainty surrounding the Seattle Mariners could be felt, at least outside the clubhouse doors.
For analysts and experts, the incredible stretch of winning belied the awful baseball that bottomed them out on June 19, losing four of five to the Angels at home and falling to 10 games below .500.
For many fans, too many seasons of failure and frustrating falls from such success had incapacitated their hope. Fool them once, shame on you. Fool them for 20-plus seasons, shame on them.
A looming gauntlet of 20 games in 21 days out of the All-Star break, including 13 against the Astros and Yankees, served as an expected reality check.
That 20-game stretch ended Wednesday afternoon with a boisterous crowd of 43,280 fans delivering a standing ovation as Paul Sewald retired the final batter in the Mariners’ 4-3 come-from-behind victory over the Yankees.
The Mariners won the three-game series against the team tied for the best record in the American League. A week ago, they took two of three at Yankee Stadium.
“I think I heard earlier that we hadn’t won a season series against the Yankees since 2002,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “So the times are a changin’, and it’s great.”
Indeed, the Mariners earned the Yankees’ respect along with it.
“I think they’re really good,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “They can pitch, you know, obviously have some good starters, but their bullpen is, I think, about as good a bullpen as we faced. They can make mix and match, they got right and left in their lineup. Obviously, they’re going to get (Julio) Rodriguez back … that team certainly feels for real.”
As for those 20 games, the Mariners finished with a 10-10 record:
- 4-2 vs. Yankees
- 1-5 vs. Astros
- 3-0 vs. Rangers
- 2-2 vs. Angels
They are 61-52 and in control of the second wild card spot.
While 10-10 may not seem all that impressive, the Mariners did so with Rodriguez out of the lineup for 15 of those games. Ty France missing four of those games when Rodriguez was out. Diego Castillo missing 13 games and Dylan Moore out for 10 games. There were days when the lineup felt more Cactus League than major league.
“The stretch that we were in coming out of the break, we knew it was going to be challenging and we knew we were a little bit short handed,” Servais said. “You just need everybody to do their job. They don’t have to be anything special. That’s what it takes if you are going to have a special season.”
The homestand finale wasn’t feeling special in the seventh inning after the Yankees turned the Mariners’ 1-0 lead into a 3-1 deficit on Kyle Higashioka’s two-run homer off Robbie Ray and Aaron Judge’s solo homer off Ray’s replacement, Penn Murfee.
But the Mariners answered immediately off Yankees starter Nestor Cortes, who had limited them to one hit — a Sam Haggerty solo homer in the sixth inning.
France led off with a single and advance to second on a passed ball. Mitch Haniger laced a 3-2 fastball to left to score France from second and knock Cortes from the game.
The Yankees brought in hard-throwing right-hander Albert Abreu.
Mired in a bit of a slump over the past two weeks, Carlos Santana showed why the Mariners still have him on the team and getting at-bats in key situations. He crushed a 1-1 changeup into the right-field sets for the go-ahead two-run homer.
“It seems like there’s been four or five of those since we’ve acquired him,” Servais said. “They’re all big, two- or three-run homers late in games. He gets a pitch, he doesn’t miss it. He doesn’t have the highest batting average, but he gets on base. He’s got power. He’s got a ton of experience and has been in those at-bats.”
Santana had just five hits in his last 56 plate appearances, posting a .104/.196/.208 slash line.
“I never got down,” Santana said. “I’m strong mentally.”
For the first six innings, it looked there might be repeat performance of Tuesday night’s pitcher duel with lefties Cortes and Ray refusing to allow a run.
Cortes, who was briefly a member of the Mariners in 2020, making one forgettable outing, was named to the All-Star team this season and pitched like it. He held the Mariners hitless over the first five innings.
Haggerty broke up the no-hit bid before it became noteworthy. With one out in the sixth inning, he hammered a 2-2 fastball off the foul pole in left field for a 1-0 lead. It was his fourth homer of the season.
After holding the Yankees scoreless over the first six innings, despite issuing four walks — two to Judge — to elevate his pitch count, Ray never made it out of the seventh. He retired Miguel Andujar on a ground out to third to start the inning, but issued his season-high fifth walk to light-hitting Isiah Kiner-Falefa.
Facing Higashioka, Ray fell behind 3-1 in the count. After Higashioka fouled off a couple of quality sinkers on the lower outside corner of the strike zone, Ray fired his seventh straight sinker of the at-bat. This pitch stayed up in the zone and was into The ‘Pen for a two-run homer, ending Ray’s outing.
“I came into this game saying I’m not gonna let Judge beat me,” Ray said. “That was the biggest thing, especially having (Anthony) Rizzo behind him. A lefty-on-lefty matchup, I felt a little better about that matchup than I did against Judge. For the most part, I executed pretty much the way I wanted to.”
Murfee became the latest victim of the Judge MVP campaign.
He retired D.J. LeMahieu but left a first-pitch slider on the inner half that Judge smashed off the out-of-town scoreboard above the bullpens. The solo blast was Judge’s MLB-leading 45th homer of the season.