NEW YORK — Of course, the reeling team that had lost 12 of its past 15 games and seemed to be trending toward another year of postseason irrelevance would somehow find a way to beat one of the best teams in baseball that was starting perennial Cy Young Award contender Max Scherzer.
Behind a solid start from Marco Gonzales and the timely hitting of Ty France, one of two players who have consistently produced at the plate all season, the Mariners picked up an unexpected and much-needed 2-1 victory over the New York Mets on Friday in their first game ever played at Citi Field.
“We’ve been struggling a little bit,” manager Scott Servais said. “This is a great way to start the road trip and we’ll take it.”
Struggling a little bit?
After a lackluster 2-5 homestand, which was better than a previous 2-7 road trip, the Mariners made wholesale changes to the roster before opening the 10-game, three-city road trip that started with the Mets, who lead the National League with 22 wins on the season. They might have made more if there was more help in Triple-A Tacoma. Something had to be done to stop a downward slide that felt familiar to seasons past.
It was the longest-tenured active Mariner who put a stop to the losing and offered a reminder of how good he can be and has been in his time with the team.
“That was vintage Marco Gonzales tonight, awesome job,” Servais said. “Obviously the Mets are playing good baseball. He came in and really competed his tail off, going back and forth with the fastball and changeup and kept them off balance.”
Gonzales pitched 6 2/3 innings, allowing one run on five hits with three walks and five strikeouts. The performance was that much more impressive considering Gonzales threw 48 pitches in the first two innings.
“I didn’t know that until now,” he said of the early pitch count. “This is my first time pitching here. I didn’t even know where the pitch count was in the stadium, which was a good thing. Because if I would have seen it, it probably would have gotten in my head.”
He allowed a single, a double and a sac fly, which required a diving catch by Julio Rodriguez in center, to start the game. After walking Pete Alonso, Gonzales retired the next two batters to end the inning. A 14-pitch battle with Jeff McNeil that ended with an infield single to start the second inning elevated Gonzales’ pitch count quickly. But he retired the next three batters to close out the inning.
The Mariners tied the game at 1 in the fourth inning, scoring their only run off Scherzer in his seven innings of work. France was hit by a pitch with one out, advanced to third on J.P. Crawford’s single and jogged home on Jesse Winker’s hard single to right-center.
Gonzales was clearly irked with himself when he couldn’t close out the full seven innings. After retiring the first two batters of the seventh with easy fly outs, Gonzales walked No. 9 hitter Thomas Nido, the Mets’ light-hitting backup catcher. With left-handed hitting Brandon Nimmo coming to the plate, Servais left Gonzales in the game for one more hitter. It appeared like Gonzales had gotten another fly out to end the inning. But Nimmo’s short fly ball to center couldn’t be caught on Rodriguez’s sliding attempt.
With runners on second and third, Servais went to his best reliever in the key situation. Right-hander Paul Sewald, who pitched four seasons for the Mets, came in and struck out Starling Marte to end the inning. The negative reaction from the crowd of 36,629 fans was similar to his time in New York but for different reasons.
The Mariners took the lead in the eighth inning against Scherzer’s replacement, right-hander Drew Smith, who hadn’t allowed a run in 13 innings pitched this season.
Pinch-hitter Abraham Toro worked a six-pitch walk after falling behind 0-2 on two pitches. Smith then walked Adam Frazier on four pitches to bring France to the plate.
France calmly stayed with a 1-1 slider away, punching a single through the right side to score Toro.
“The game will tell you what you need to do,” France said. “In those kinds of situations, they usually play me to pull, leave that (right) side open. He left a slider up and away and I just put a good swing on it.”
With runners in scoring position, France is now hitting .483 (14 for 29) with 20 runs batted in.
“I’m glad he’s on our team because I don’t really know what I would do against him,” Sewald said of France. “There was absolutely no doubt he would come through once we got a couple guys on. I knew we were scoring and I was ready to go.”
Sewald pitched a 1-2-3 eighth and Drew Steckenrider picked up the save with a scoreless ninth.