If the Mariners finally get to the Eden that is baseball’s postseason, a place where they haven’t ventured in 20 frustrating years, this chaotic and wonderful mess of a baseball game that featured disappointment and frustration, then a glimmer of hope that triggered belief followed by impossible joy and sprinkled with bitter anger over 3 hours and 54 minutes will be looked upon as the moment when they went from wannabe believers to actual achievers.
And thousands of Mariners fans, vastly more than the announced crowd of 15,162 Monday night at T-Mobile Park, who have been so starved for the team’s success will now happily lie and tell everyone they were there that night to see it.
Down seven runs after three innings, and seemingly destined to be blown out and bullied yet again by the Houston Astros, the Mariners somehow found a way to come back for their most preposterous victory of the season.
Dylan Moore’s grand slam in the eighth inning off left-hander Brooks Raley capped the impossible comeback and gave Seattle a stunning 11-8 victory.
“You could talk all night long about that game and everything that went into it, but you really have to start with the heart of this ballclub,” said Seattle manager Scott Servais, his voice raspy and emotional at the same time. “They truly believe they’re playing for something bigger than themselves. They believe in each other and are growing confidence in all parts and all facets of our game.”
Seattle improved to 55-46 and is one game back of Oakland, which was idle Monday, for the second American League wild-card spot. It was Mariners’ largest comeback since they overcame a 10-run deficit June 2, 2016 in San Diego.
Down a run in the eighth, Seattle loaded the bases with a leadoff single from Ty France and tough two-out walks from Jarred Kelenic and pinch-hitter Tom Murphy.
With the remaining fans standing in anticipation, the excitable Moore stepped to the plate. In a season he expected to be more consistent of a contributor at the plate, he delivered “the best moment of my baseball career so far.”
“You just have to do what you’ve been doing your whole life, which is playing baseball — see ball, hit ball — and just stick with your approach as best you can,” Moore said. “In situations like that, with the crowd the way it was, I was just thinking that the pressure is on him and not so much me. He’s the one who’s got to come out and throw me strikes. So I’ve just got to be able to be on time and hit a good pitch. I was able to do that.”
He crushed a 1-1 cutter Raley left up in the zone. Moore immediately dropped his black bat upon making contact. He and everyone in the stadium knew it was gone way past the left-field fence. Bedlam ensued and Moore pointed to the Mariners’ dugout that resembled a mosh pit as he trotted to first.
“There was chaos everywhere,” said J.P. Crawford, Seattle’s shortstop. “I blacked out. I was screaming on deck. I turned around to yell to the brick fence wall thing we have right there. Oh my goodness, moments like that you just dream of when you’re a little kid in the batting cages.”
Crawford didn’t dream of taking a Raley fastball to the shoulder when he got to the plate. The Mariners felt Raley did it as retaliation with Servais screaming at the pitcher and the Astros dugout. After an umpires meeting, Raley was ejected.
“I can’t speak to what’s going on in the pitcher’s mind,” Servais said. “Certainly, with all the emotion in that game and how we were celebrating, you can take it for whatever it’s worth. You can’t let pitches get away like that and hit somebody after you give up a grand slam. Was it on purpose? I don’t know. But things happen in the game. It was a very emotional game and I’m glad he got ejected.”
Crawford said he didn’t think it was on purpose, saying the Astros always pitch him inside. But he also enjoyed seeing his manager and teammates angry at the situation.
“That was cool,” Crawford said. “That fired me up a little bit. It just shows you what type of team we have this year. We have each other’s backs. To have a winning, successful team, we’ve got to have that. We’ve got to have people fighting for one another.”
It’s a Mariners team that has shown more fight this season than in past years. These Mariners won’t be intimidated by the Astros despite being handled by them the past few seasons, including 2019 when they went 1-18 against Houston when Moore and Crawford were in their first full seasons.
“Hell, yeah, we’re a different team this year,” Crawford said. “We’re competing with everybody, and we go into the game knowing that. We go into every game knowing that we can beat any team that steps on the same field as us. If we keep that mentality throughout the whole year, we’re going to be a problem.”
Said Moore: “We’re definitely not afraid of anyone. We want to be able to keep this style of baseball going. We know we can play with anyone in the league.”
Darren McCaughan’s first MLB start for Seattle began with promise and a swinging strikeout of Astros leadoff hitter Jose Altuve. It was McCaughan’s first MLB strikeout and it drew cheers almost as loud as the boos that rained down on Altuve as he came to the plate.
But when McCaughan mistakenly tried to field a ground ball back to the mound from No. 2 hitter Michael Brantley, sending it off the end of his glove and past the Mariners’ middle infielders who were poised to make a routine play, it led to an infield single. It would be five batters and six runs later before McCaughan would get his second out. A walk to Yuli Gurriel, a run-scoring single from Yordan Alvarez, a run-scoring double from Carlos Correa, a three-run bomb to right from Kyle Tucker followed by solo homer from Abraham Toro completed the carnage.
McCaughan finally ended the inning by getting Myles Straw to fly out to right and Martin Maldonado to ground out.
To McCaughan’s credit, he remained in the game and pitched scoreless frames in the second and third, which was vital for any sort of comeback.
Down 6-0 after one inning isn’t ideal in any game. But with the Astros starting right-hander, Luis Garcia, it made the premise of a comeback much less believable.
The 24-year-old is a leading candidate for the AL rookie of the year award. In 16 starts and two relief appearances, he is 7-5 with a 2.86 ERA and 105 strikeouts in 91 1/3 innings. One of those defeats came against the Mariners at Minute Maid Park on April 29. He allowed one run on three hits over five innings with six strikeouts and no walks, but Yusei Kikuchi tossed seven shutout innings, allowing one hit and Anthony Misiewicz and Kendall Graveman completed the 1-0 shutout with scoreless frames.
Garcia carved up Seattle for the first three innings Monday, allowing a leadoff single to Crawford and then retiring the next eight hitters in a row.
Seattle broke through against Garcia the second time through the batting order. The Mariners loaded the bases with one out in the fourth and Cal Raleigh cleared them, ambushing a first-pitch fastball for a double into the right-center gap to cut the lead to 7-3.
A run allowed in Keynan Middleton’s second inning of work made it 8-3, dampening the hopes for a moment.
Kyle Seager reinvigorated the Mariners in the fifth. Following a leadoff single from Shed Long Jr. and Crawford’s one-out single, his third hit of the night, Seager came to the plate with two outs. After falling behind 0-2, he wouldn’t chase a changeup in the dirt. Garcia made the mistake of coming back with a fastball. Seager was ready for the 95-mph heater, pulling a line drive over the wall in right for a three-run homer. Seager’s 19th homer of the season made it 8-6. It ended Garcia’s outing. He was charged with five earned runs in 4 2/3 innings. The five runs were the most he’d allowed in an outing this season.
An inning later, Seattle cut the lead to one-run when Long bounced a two-out single to left field off Bryan Abreu to score Luis Torrens from second.
Erik Swanson provided two key innings of relief after Middleton and then Servais used Graveman and Paul Sewald for the eighth and ninth.