ARLINGTON, Texas – As the thunder boomed outside the stadium, loud enough to draw murmurs from the fans in attendance, and blinding flashes of lightning could be seen through the glass windows that surround the upper decks of Globe Life Field, the first thoughts of most in the building, including the players on the field, was thank goodness this climate-controlled palace was built with a retractable roof.
An hours-long delay before even consideration of ending the game after the seventh inning would’ve been inevitable at the old park across the street.
But with what transpired in the ninth inning, reliving a walkoff nightmare that was less than 24 hours old, would’ve been worth any wait for the Mariners.
For the second straight day, they trudged off the field, feeling the disgust and disappointment of a 4-3 defeat to one of worst teams in baseball. Most of the Mariners on the field were headed for the dugout, eyes affixed on their cleats, before the ball launched from Jonah Heim’s lacquered bat finally landed in the Rangers’ bullpen for his second walkoff homer in as many days.
Bad had gone to worse. Can it get lower?
“Not quite sure how to summarize that game,” manager Scott Servais said. “It sucks. It really does. I thought we were in a great spot. You’ve got give the Rangers credit, they obviously got some big hits against us in the ninth inning on some balls that didn’t get where we wanted to. The last couple nights, those are games that we typically lock down and we’ve been winning all year long. They just flipped the script on us here the last couple of days.”
The Mariners had a 23-8 record in one-run games before this series. Expected regression from such success is logical, but the Mariners didn’t think it would happen to them.
“Really, you don’t ever think there’s going to be a regression,” Servais said. “We’ve just been so good, executing late in games. We’ve been really good as a team doing it throughout the entire season. The last couple of days, we weren’t able to execute the way we have been to finish it off. But when you get on a roll like that, winning all those close games, you just expect it to happen every night.”
The Rangers came into the series battling it out with the Orioles for the worst record in the American League and were without their best hitter, Joey Gallo, who was traded to the Yankees, and their best pitcher, Kyle Gibson, who was shipped to the Phillies.
Facing a cobbled together roster filled with inexperienced mid-level prospects, fringe big-league players and a few remaining veterans indicative of the team’s overall record (38-67), the Mariners looked and played nothing like the team that took three out of four from the A’s on the previous homestand to affix themselves into the American League wild-card race.
Besides the reactionary drama of the two late-inning failures, which will be the subject of continued displeasure and debate in the fanbase after the trade of Kendall Graveman to the Astros, there were baserunning mistakes, missed opportunities with runners in scoring position and overall failed execution on the mound. They don’t have enough talent to play that way and win. While they are a much better team than the Rangers, they didn’t play like it for the last two games of the series.
On a road trip that now heads to Tropicana Field and a three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays, who took over as leaders in the American League East, followed by a four-game series at Yankee Stadium against the team that just moved ahead of them by a game in the wild-card standings, this needed to be at least a series win.
Instead, Seattle (56-50) has now lost four of its past five games.
With a 3-1 lead going into the bottom of the ninth and key relievers unavailable due to usage or trades to other teams, Servais turned to right-hander Erik Swanson to close out a win.
The hard-throwing right-hander never recorded an out in the ninth. He gave up a single to Nathaniel Lowe and then hung a 1-1 slider to Andy Ibanez that was turned into a line drive that was just high enough to get over the left-field wall for a game-tying two-run homer.
It brought up the switch-hitting Heim, the hero of Saturday night’s victory, to the plate. The glow of his performance – two homers, one from each side of the plate, including a walkoff homer off Diego Castillo in the 10th inning – was still lingering around him. It brought the crowd of 23,664 to their feet in anticipation.
With thunder and lightning in the background and usage of instrumental music from the movie “The Natural,” Heim went Roy Hobbs again.
After falling behind 1-2 in the count, he refused to chase an elevated fastball.
With a 2-2 count, Swanson left a fastball in the bottom part of the zone – the same place where Heim hit both his homers Saturday.
Even before the game, Servais lamented that maybe they shouldn’t throw it to Heim in that location anymore.
“We knew it and we just didn’t execute,” Servais said before the game. “If you’re going to go down in the zone, it’s got to be lower than low. Hopefully we get some balls up on him today and go north-south with him a little bit more effectively than we’ve been able to do.”
Heim pounced on the pitch, same swing and almost same landing spot as his homer off Castillo. Heim is the first player in the team’s history to have walkoff homers in back-to-back games and the first rookie in MLB history to do it.
The ninth-inning meltdown overshadowed a solid outing from Marco Gonzales and the heady play from Kyle Seager to give Seattle an insurance run that proved only important enough to allow Heim to play the hero again.
With the Mariners holding a one-run lead in the seventh and looking like they would once again have to finish out another game by the slimmest of margins, Seager stepped to the plate with two outs and runners on first and third with right-hander Jharel Cotton on the mound.
Coming into the game with a six-game hitting streak, in which he had four homers and 11 RBI, another long ball or double to the gap would break the close game wide open.
Instead, seeing the massive shift by the infield to his pull side, leaving the area where a third baseman was supposed to play unmanned, Seager did the opposite. He stunned the Rangers by dropping down a bunt to that vacant spot. J.P. Crawford read the play immediately, racing home to score the run while Seager raced to first. Cotton never even attempted a throw.
It was one of just three hits in 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position. Seattle also stranded 10 runners on base.
Gonzales gave the Mariners one of his best outings of the season, and easily the best showing since returning from the injured list June 1. He pitched six innings, allowing one run on five hits with no walks and four strikeouts.
After a second inning where he allowed a leadoff single to Ibanez, who later came around to score on a fielder’s choice, Gonzales worked the final four innings of his outing scoreless, allowing just two hits.
“I feel like it was some of the best stuff that I’ve had,” Gonzales said. “Certainly command-wise, I felt really consistent. I just tried to go deep in this game and give my team a chance to win.”
Similar to their loss Saturday, the Mariners didn’t provide much in the way of offense, scoring two runs early and not doing much after that.
Facing Rangers starter Mike Foltynewicz, who they roughed up for 10 runs on 16 hits, including five homers, in three previous meetings this season, Seattle got an RBI single from Jake Bauers and a bases-loaded walk from Dylan Moore in the second inning.
The Mariners had other opportunities to pick up more runs, but several of their hardest-hit balls, including line drives off the bats of Crawford, Mitch Haniger and Seager, were all caught. They also made two more outs on the base paths that hurt their chances.
But a perfect example of the bad baseball luck came in the sixth inning against Cotton. Seager worked a leadoff walk and likely would’ve scored from first base on Abraham Toro’s rocket to the gap in deep right-center. But the combination of the ball being hit so hard and the spongy field-turf playing surface helped the ball bounce over the wall on one hop. Seager, who got a good jump, was rounding third when it bounced over. He had to go back to third base where he stayed after Jarred Kelenic grounded out to the pitcher and Cal Raleigh popped out.