ARLINGTON, Texas — Usually when a Major League Baseball manager calls together a team following a game, it’s after an ugly, noncompetitive loss during a stretch of struggles and failures.
But manager Scott Servais has done it a little different in this season of unexpected success. His postgame team meetings have come after victories when his team that always “believes it can” finds a way to pull out a victory.
The latest meeting came Thursday afternoon after he watched his team give away a five-run lead and a seemingly easy win over the Rangers in the ninth inning and put the possible three-game sweep in doubt by going to extra innings.
The team that seemed so intent on losing yet another game to the depleted Rangers also turned a ridiculous double play in the bottom of the 10th inning to get one more at-bat, which resulted in Ty France’s decisive two-run homer in the 11th inning and an eventual 9-8 win.
Even though the game lasted four hours and two minutes, and the team was flying to Houston immediately, Servais called a team meeting after the game.
“I don’t have a lot of team meetings,” he said.
He had a message for his players as they improved to 66-56 on the season while continuing to defy expectations and remain in the hunt for the franchise’s first postseason berth since 2001.
“For me, that is the ultimate gut-check game,” Servais said. “When it’s falling apart, and it gets away from you. It would be so easy just to pack it in, but our guys didn’t do it. The offense had to step up, and we made a huge defensive play on a day where maybe our bullpen wasn’t quite as sharp.”
In a season where they’ve always seemed to bounce back from losing streaks and struggles with mini-winning streaks and late-game execution, the Mariners have defied outside expectations. They’ve played in an inordinate amount of close, tension-filled games where they are now 11-4 in extra innings games and 26-14 in one-run games. And of their past eight wins, six have come with them scoring three runs or fewer.
Servais has often called this team the most competitive he’s been around as a manager.
“As I told the team after the game, the character that we show day in, day out, it’s really incredible,” he said. “It would have been so easy to just pull up, pack up the tents and say, ‘It’s not our day, we gave it up and let’s just pack it in.’ But we don’t do that. It’s a credit to all of our guys.”
Servais pointed to veteran reliever Paul Sewald, who picked up the save in the 11th inning. It was his third appearance in three days, something he hadn’t done all season.
“We typically don’t do that,” Servais said. “He gave me a heads up before the game and was like, ‘Hey, skip, if you need me today, I’m good to go.’ And I told him only in an emergency. And it was an emergency. We got the lead. I said, ‘If we get the lead in this ballgame, let’s shoot Sewald in there, and he did a great job to finish it off for us.”
France wasn’t surprised when Servais called the team meeting.
“He’s done it a few times this year, where he’s pulled us aside and just let us know he appreciates our work and all the work we put in and how proud he is and how far we’ve come,” France said. “A lot of people weren’t expecting us to be where we are right now, so it’s just a testament to how hard the guys have worked in there and gone about their business.”
When asked if the meeting was to show appreciation for his players’ efforts, Servais grew emotional, fighting back tears and a baseball-sized lump in his throat.
“It’s exactly what it was,” he said. “It was just me personally letting them know how proud I am of this group. It’s a special group. It really is. That’s a long day. So pardon me for getting emotional, but I really love this team. I really do.”
— The Mariners claimed infielder Kevin Padlo off waivers from the Rays and will send him to Class AAA Tacoma. To make room on the 40-man roster, right-hander Justin Dunn was transferred from the 10-day injured list to the 60-day injured list. Dunn is already near 60 days since going on the IL with a shoulder strain.
Padlo, a right-handed hitting corner infielder, has played in 69 games with Triple-A Durham this season, batting .194 (49 for 253) with 40 runs, 11 doubles, 12 home runs, 37 RBI, 5 stolen bases and 25 walks.