Eight days ago, the Mariners exited T-Mobile Park victorious — an occurrence that hadn’t happened much in the weeks prior. The hope was that it might kick-start a trend of better play on a road trip against divisional foes.
What transpired was quite the opposite, Seattle slogged through six games in seven days, looking even worse than it had before, finding a myriad embarrassing and frustrating ways to lose every game on the road trip, sinking to a new low point for the season.
But the losing finally stopped in the last location the Mariners had won. On an unseasonably warm night, with a sparse announced crowd of 14,135 Monday, the Mariners played perhaps their most complete game in weeks, getting solid pitching from their starter and bullpen, quality at-bats and timely hitting, smart, aggressive base running and clean error-free defense to roll to a 6-2 victory over the Texas Rangers.
“It might be,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said of the complete performance. “Everybody chipped in … everything was involved. It’s hard when you get off a road trip like that, guys are frustrated and they’re struggling. We just have to be consistent with what we are trying to do here. And the message going forward is that we are going to work our tail off and we are going to get better. And if we do that, we’ll take our chances.”
The victory snapped a six-game losing streak and improved the Mariners’ record to 24-32. It was just the sixth victory in the past 27 games for the Mariners. They will try to secure back-to-back victories for the first time since May 13-14. They’ve won back-to-back games just twice since April 25-26, which also came against the Rangers at T-Mobile Park.
And while putting an end to the losing was important to the team, it was overshadowed by something that has now happened just three times in regulation games at the park previously known as Safeco Field.
With two outs in the seventh inning and the Mariners clinging to a 3-2 lead, designated hitter/homer basher Daniel Vogelbach crushed a 3-2 curve ball from Jose Leclerc along the right-field line. The impact of ball off the bat made a frightening sound in the half-filled stadium.
“Just a curveball over the middle and I was able to ride it out,” Vogelbach said.
The towering megablast just kept carrying and going up. The ball finally landed in the first row of the third deck in right field, above the suites that sit above the Hit It Here Café.
“For the ball to go over the top of the foul pole like that, that’s some kind of special power,” Servais said. “He hit the crap out of the ball. I had no idea it would end up in the upper deck. It’s pretty cool.”
Vogelbach took a slow step from the box, watching it go as he started to amble to first.
Would it stay fair? Would it hook foul? Was the baseball dented from impact?
First-base umpire Dan Iassogna tracked the ball carefully. After a brief pause, he made an emphatic signal that the ball was fair and was a home run.
The crowd didn’t quite know how to react. It was stunned by the prodigious power and the hesitation of the call. But once Vogelbach circled the bases, he got his deserved standing ovation.
The umpires did a replay review just to make sure, but it took less than 30 seconds to confirm it was a home run.
“I thought it was going to stay fair,” Vogelbach said. “It was just high. I’m thankful that after replay it stayed a homer and it was two runs for us.”
The third deck in right field is hallowed territory to hit a baseball. Jason Giambi hit several there in the 2001 Home Run Derby, but Vogelbach is just the third player to do it in a game. Boston’s Mo Vaughn was the first back in 1999, depositing a Gil Meche pitch there. Nearly two years later, on Aug. 7, 2001, Toronto’s Carlos Delgado put a ball up in the third deck off Arthur Rhodes.
Unfortunately, MLB Statcast was malfunctioning league-wide Monday evening so there was no distance or exit velocity. You had one job, Statcast.
Vogelbach has dotted blasts off the windows of the Hit it Here Cafe and sent a ball into the suites above it last season. But this was a new feat … in a game.
“Interesting thing about that is that he did earlier in BP (batting practice), third deck,” said Mallex Smith. “And then he followed it up in the game, so he’s not a 5 o’clock hitter.”
Said Mitch Haniger: “He’s done it several times before in BP. He’ll do it off the pitching machine.”
But this new accomplishment might now replace a Vogelbach blast into the third deck that has achieved legendary status among the Mariners players who were there to witness it. Two years ago, when Felix Hernandez was throwing a simulated game as part of his recovery from injury, Vogelbach smashed a ball into the third deck off the erstwhile ace. It left teammates and even Hernandez gasping in disbelief. That ball was farther to the left of the foul pole and landed about five or six rows deep in the seats.
“It’s different in a sim game than it is in a real game,” Servais said. “But, yeah, that one was much farther into fair territory and went farther too. But in a real game, that’s pretty awesome.
And if that wasn’t enough for special feats Monday, Mallex Smith became the first Mariner to steal home since Dustin Ackley on May 20, 2012.
In the bottom of the eighth, Smith stole for the cycle. He worked a walk off left-hander Kyle Bird, stole second base and stole third base. With Haniger on first, Smith then took off for home when Bird attempted a slow pickoff throw to first base. First baseman Ronald Guzman’s throw from first to home was nowhere close to gettting Smith. His gallivanting around the bases gave the Mariners a 6-2 lead.
“When I actually saw him leaning to go to first, I just took off,” Smith said. “I was just like, ‘If he goes to first, I’m going to take off.'”
Smith said it was just the second time he’d successfully stolen home in his career. He’s tried the feat about seven or eight times.
“The other one was last year,” he said.
Mired in a season-long funk, Smith reached base three times with the walk, a pair of singles, one of which drove in a run, and tying a career high with four stolen bases.
Making back-to-back starts against the Rangers, veteran left-hander Tommy Milone gave Seattle a commendable start. He worked 5 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on four hits with a walk and seven strikeouts.
“There’s a benefit for both sides,” Milone said of facing the Rangers two consecutive times. “They can kind of pull tendencies and that’s the one thing I tried to stay away from was being predictable.”
The Mariners grabbed a 2-0 lead in the third off Rangers starter Lance Lynn. Smith led off the inning with a single, stole second and later scored on Kyle Seager’s one-out bloop single to left field. Following a walk to Omar Narvaez, Domingo Santana added to his team lead in RBI, pulling a ground ball through the left side to score Seager. It was Santana’s 42nd RBI of the season.
The Rangers got a run back in the third inning. Milone gave up a two-out single to Joey Gallo and Logan Forsythe hit a ball off the top of the wall in left field for a run-scoring double.
Seattle answered in the bottom of the inning. Shed Long led off with a double into the right field corner and Smith collected his second hit of the night, singling to right to score Long with ease.
The Mariners got brilliant relief work from Cory Gearrin, Jesse Biddle, Austin Adams and Anthony Bass, who combined to hold the Rangers to just two hits over 3 1/3 shutout innings.