The old Jarred Kelenic would’ve never watched the first pitch — a 92 mph fastball from lefty Brad Hand just below the strike zone — go by him without taking a hack so vicious he would’ve needed to re-tie his shoes.
“Pretty hard,” he said with a chuckle.
And if he did somehow take it, he was certainly going to win the game with a “nuke” into the stands on the second pitch even though it wasn’t a strike either.
How about the pitches on 2-0 or 3-0 — all fastballs that he would’ve wanted to reduce to vapor trails, despite not being strikes.
But in the educational process that is adjusting to life in the big leagues as a ballyhooed prospect with lofty expectations, Kelenic has learned that sometimes you can be the hero without having to swing the bat.
The maturation of the Mariners’ prized outfield prodigy is starting to mirror his confidence and talent. It’s a delicious possibility for the Mariners and fans, who hope for so much from the 21-year-old rookie.
With the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth and a Friday night fireworks crowd of 28,207 roaring for Kelenic to drive home the winning run with a walk-off blast of some sort, he displayed his growing patience and plate discipline by refusing to swing at any of Hand’s pitches, excitedly taking a four-pitch walk to give the Mariners a big 3-2 win over the Blue Jays.
“They say a walk is as good as a hit,” he said. “I was just going to take what he was going to give me. And that was kind of my mentality going into that at-bat.”
It was a walk that has come through failure and the education that can be found in it.
“Jarred Kelenic has a learned a lot,” manager Scott Servais said. “He’s learned the value of slowing it down, not being in a hurry to be the hero. And just working through a good at-bat there. It’s a heck of a job by a really young player in that moment. It’s awesome to see him growing and getting to enjoy it. That’s about as excited as I’ve seen anybody ever getting a walk, but it was a big one tonight.”
With the win, the Mariners have won three in a row and improved to 62-55. They remain 4.5 games out of the wild card but picked up a game on the Blue Jays.
Seattle got a bit of a break. After Puyallup grad Adam Cimber got two quick outs to start the inning, he issued walks to Kyle Seager and Abraham Toro and then couldn’t field a comebacker off the bat of Luis Torrens that turned into an infield single to load the bases.
It brought Kelenic to the plate with Hand coming in for the left-vs-left situation.
“It’s been crazy because I feel like I’ve been in a lot of pretty big situations as of recently, especially the second time I’ve been up here now,” he said. “I feel like I’ve really been able to control my breathing and just slow it all down. You can really let your heart rate go up and make emotional decisions just because you want to be the hero. I really think that recently, even in those big situations, I’m more comfortable than I am when it’s my first at-bat of the game, and there’s nobody on base.”
And while Kelenic got to celebrate on the field like he’d deposited a ball off the Hit It Here Cafe for the win, it was first baseman Ty France, who proved to be the hero of the game.
With the score tied at 2-2 in the ninth, Drew Steckenrider — the part-time closer since Kendall Graveman was traded and with Paul Sewald on paternity leave — entered the ninth inning and gave up back-to-back basehits to Alejandro Kirk and pinch-hitter Corey Dickerson. A sac bunt from Santiago Espinal moved both runners up a base and put speedy pinch runner Breyvic Valera at third base.
After falling behind 3-0 to George Springer, the Mariners opted to put him on to load the bases and hope for a strikeout or a double play on a ground ball. They got a double play in a different way.
Marcus Semien hit a pop-up into foul territory in shallow right field. France took off after it, making an impressive over the shoulder catch. He immediately turned and fired to home, believing that Valera would tag up and force him to make a perfect throw in that situation.
“Given the situation and I knew he’s a fast runner, I knew he was going to go,” France said. “At that spot in the game, you kind of have to go. I know they had Vlad (Guerrero) coming up after, but I was kind of deep and with his speed, I feel like you’ve got to give it a go right there.”
France did just that, throwing a perfect one-hopper to catcher Tom Murphy, who applied the tag to Valera as he dived head first into the plate.
“They weird coincidence is like two days ago, (the catchers) went out to early work, and worked on that,” France said. “It paid off. I was just trying to give him something he can handle. I knew it was going to be a close play. And I knew it was going to be easiest if it was a one-hop.”
Much to the dismay of the Mariners fans in attendance, home plate umpire Jim Reynolds called Valera safe. Believing that even though the ball beat Valera to the plate, Murphy’s deliberate tag wasn’t on time.
The Mariners immediately asked for a replay review. Reynolds went to the headphones to listen to the ruling from New York. After just over a minute of waiting, Reynolds removed the headphones and made the out signal. His call was overturned, and the inning was over. Teammates mobbed France in the dugout.
The replays shown on the broadcast show a slower than expected tag but also Murphy’s foot blocking the front part of the plate as Valera tried to slide in, preventing the hand from touching before a tag on his forearm.
Seattle got a solid start from right-hander Chris Flexen.
Flexen battled through six innings and a tight hamstring, allowing two runs on six hits with a walk and three strikeouts. Despite his pitch count being at just 75 pitches, manager Scott Servais went to a very rested bullpen — thanks to Marco Gonzales’ complete game effort Thursday — to cover the final three innings.
“I didn’t feel I was as sharp as I would like to have been, but we were still able to make some key pitches when we needed it,” Flexen said. “I was just dealing with a little hamstring tightness there at the end and just wasn’t quite at 100 percent. I felt comfortable enough that to keep us in the ballgame and was able to turn it over to the bullpen and that kind of situation.”
Seattle handed him a 2-0 lead going into the fourth after picking up their only two runs against Blue Jays starter Robbie Ray in the bottom of the third.
Jarred Kelenic led off the inning with a double off the hard-throwing lefty and watched as Tom Murphy yanked a 1-2 fastball left over the middle of the plate into the lower level of Edgar’s Cantina in left field for his ninth homer of the season.
The Mariners did little else against Ray, who allowed just one hit over his final four innings. He finished with seven innings pitched, two runs allowed on five this with a walk with eight strikeouts.