Winning is great, of course. That’s the end goal, always.
But in a season they knew would largely be defined by other measurements, and by other outcomes, the Mariners are showing they can and will enjoy themselves during the victories that do come.
Fun was the operative word the Mariners used after an 8-5 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday night at Angel Stadium, giving Seattle its first series victory of this strange, truncated, rebuilding season.
The Mariners (3-4) combined to score 18 runs to win their final two games in Anaheim, California, and the youngest team in the majors now heads home bubbling with confidence for their season-opening series starting Friday night against Oakland.
“We learned a lot about ourselves here over the last week, and guys are really excited to get back home and get back in T-Mobile,” manager Scott Servais said in a Zoom video conference. “It is going to be process throughout the year, but I am super, super excited about where we’re headed. … We’re just seeing the confidence shoot through the roof right now.”
Jose Marmolejos hammered his first career home run 412 feet over the wall in right field in the first inning — a three-run blast — and Marco Gonzales was superb into the seventh inning.
Shed Long hit his first homer of the season, a solo shot 408 feet to right field, to spark a five-run ninth inning.
J.P. Crawford and Kyle Lewis continued their torrid starts to the season, each adding a two-run bloop single later in the inning to help the Mariners build an 8-2 lead.
Marmolejos, a 27-year-old rookie, made his major-league debut with the Mariners last week after nine seasons in the minor leagues. He had his first major-league hit Sunday in Houston on a hard hit to right field, and coasted into second base believing he had a clean double. Except, he was thrown out at second after a masterful deke by Astros shortstop Carlos Correa.
Marmolejos was allowed a casual jog around the bases Thursday night after his no-doubt blast off Angels starter Dylan Bundy. That scored Crawford and Kyle Seager and gave the Mariners a 3-0 lead.
“It means the world to me, working so hard to get this opportunity; I’m definitely very thankful and very blessed for it,” Marmolejos said in a Zoom call.
“There’s a lot of guys with hunger that want to prove that we belong here and that we can come together as a team and have fun,” he added. “That’s the main thing — have fun. We’ve been playing this game — not at the big-league level — but we’ve been playing this game for quite a bit and we’ve just got to go out there and have fun.”
Gonzales was sharp in his second start of the season. Facing an Angels lineup playing without superstar Mike Trout — who began his paternity leave Thursday — Gonzales faced the minimum through three innings, allowing only one walk.
Gonzales was particularly sharp working the inside corner on right-handed hitters. He struck out Anthony Rendon swinging at a high, inside fastball in the first inning, and struck out Juston Upton twice looking at inside fastballs.
“Physically, I feel really good, so I’m just trying to hold onto that feel that I have and trust my body to be able to go deep (into games),” Gonzales said via Zoom.
“Skip asked if I could go one more (inning) and I said, ‘Absolutely. This is what I want to do; this is what I’ve been training for the entire year.’ ”
An error by Long at second base extended the fifth inning for the Angels, and Max Stassi followed with a two-run, opposite-field home run on a Gonzales curveball, cutting the Mariners’ lead to 3-2.
Those were the only runs Gonzales would allow.
With one runner on and one out in the seventh, Carl Edwards Jr. relieved Gonzales and struck out Albert Pujols and got Taylor Ward to ground out to end the inning.
Gonzales’ final line: 6.1 innings, 3 hits, 2 runs (0 earned runs), 1 walk and 6 strikeouts on 94 pitches. Servais proudly noted that when Gonzales got into a 1-1 count — with advanced data showing that the next pitch in that situation is the most important pitch in any at-bat — he threw a strike two to 13 of 14 batters.
“He’s got so many different pitches he can take to different parts of the zone, and see him ride a ball up once in a while is really beneficial for him,” Servais said. “He’s a pro. When he takes the mound, he can really go after a (lineup) because he’s got so many different weapons.”
Crawford, the second-year shortstop, hit leadoff for the second night in a row — after getting on base four times in the Mariners’ 10-7 victory Wednesday. He had two more hits Thursday, including his two-run single in the ninth.
Crawford is hitting .375 and has a .516 on-base percentage through the first week of the season.
Lewis has been just as impressive, and just what the Mariners needed in the middle of their lineup. After striking out in his first two at-bats against Bundy, Lewis had two singles late in Thursday’s game, including another opposite-field single in the ninth that scored two more runs.
Lewis hitting .448 and has a .500 OBP so far.
Dan Altavilla, who notched his first career save Wednesday, struggled in the ninth inning Thursday, serving up a three-run home run to Shohei Ohtani to cut the M’s lead to three at 8-5.
But Altavilla got Ward to ground out to Long to close it out.
Editor’s note: The Times declined to send a reporter to Anaheim for this game because of COVID-19 safety concerns.
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