The Seattle Mariners were only 90 feet away from disaster.
But the Mariners escaped Friday night in Anaheim, stranding the tying and winning runs on base and winning 6-5 over the Los Angeles Angels behind some excellent pitching from starter Chris Flexen and home runs from Mitch Haniger and Kyle Seager.
Entering the bottom of the ninth with a 6-2 lead and with closer Kendall Graveman on the mound, the Mariners and manager Scott Servais seemed to have the game firmly under their control. Then, it quickly wasn’t.
“Quite the finish, wasn’t quite what I was looking forward to there,” Seattle’s manager said.
Graveman quickly notched the first out via strikeout, but a single and then a throwing error by second baseman Dylan Moore, attempting to turn a double play to end the game, put runners on second and third. A single off the glove of Kyle Seager at third scored one to cut the lead to 6-3 and bring up Shohei Ohtani with two runners on.
In a matchup worthy of the All-Star Game in Denver a few days ago, the Angels two-way star, who had been held hitless the entire game, delivered. Ohtani lined a single up the middle to score two and end Graveman’s night, pulling Los Angeles within one run.
“The ninth inning was not really indicative of how we played,” Servais said. “We gave them some extra outs obviously with a couple errors. I thought Graveman threw the ball just fine, we just didn’t make plays behind him.”
Servais turned to reliever Paul Sewald, but the veteran righty gave up another base hit to move Ohtani to third, just 90 feet away from tying the score. However, Sewald came through, getting the Angels’ Phil Gosselin to line out to Mitch Haniger in right, securing the win, earning his third save of the season and saving the Mariners from a collapse.
“It’s a tough spot for Sewald to come in but he got the job done,” his manager said. “It’s a W, it’s a great way to start the second half, and we’ll build off that. Hopefully we’ll get the series win tomorrow.”
While the Angels were finally able to get their offense going against the Mariners’ bullpen, it was the effort of Flexen that gave the M’s the cushion they needed in the ninth.
“Heck of a job by Chris Flexen,” Servais said. “He’s on quite some roll, and tonight he was really sharp, thought the command of his fastball and his cutter was outstanding. He did exactly what he needed to.”
Early on though, it seemed like Flexen might struggle. After the Mariners grabbed an early 1-0 lead in the first, The Angels (45-45) struck back. With one out in the bottom of the second, L.A. catcher Max Stassi teed off on Flexen’s 1-0 pitch, hitting a solo shot to right-center for his seventh home run of the season, tying the game 1-1.
Stassi’s homer seemed to continue the righty’s woes on the road. Flexen (9-3) entered Friday night’s game with a 1.76 ERA at T-Mobile Park, and a 6.97 ERA away. Instead, he locked things down. Flexen went seven innings, allowing six hits and just one run. He struck out two and gave up one walk. It was the eighth time in his past nine starts that he has pitched at least six innings.
“I’ve had my struggles on the road and it’s just about trying to figure out how to get it done,” he said. “Tonight I was able to do that, we were able to execute, the guys got me an early lead as well. Pitching ahead with a lead is key for us so it was great teamwork.”
While Flexen dominated on the mound, the Mariners (49-43) found him some run support. Haniger doubled to start the fourth, before a nice piece of hitting by France, who took Heaney’s outside pitch the other way, scored the Seattle right fielder for the second time in the game, extending Seattle’s lead to 2-1.
France’s base hit brought up Seager, who punished LA starter Andrew Heaney (5-7) by unloading on a pitch and sending it deep over the wall in right-center. It was Seager’s 17th homer of the year, and his second in his past three games. The feat was particularly impressive considering the Mariners’ third baseman missed the final two games before the All-Star break with a bruised right shin. Haniger believes his teammate’s control of the strike zone helped him refind his home run stroke.
“He’s looking good, he’s swinging at good pitches,” Haniger said. “Kyle always hits the ball hard and I think that’s key for any hitter really – know what you can control, know what pitches you like, and typically those hot streaks come if you’re not missing those pitches. Seager’s been swinging the bat really well, and he’s one of those guys who has a great second half so I think we’re gonna see a lot more of those.”
Heaney didn’t last much longer, getting pulled after the fourth inning. The lefty allowed six hits and four runs, all earned.
The Angels bullpen was able to stifle the M’s offense for a few innings after Heaney’s departure, but the three-run lead seemed enough for Flexen. The righty’s extended outing was even more valuable as the Mariners played their first game without Héctor Santiago, who’s foreign substance suspension was upheld on Thursday. Seattle will play its next 10 games with just 25 players on its roster instead of the normal 26.
Fittingly, it was Haniger who wrapped up the scoring for the Mariners. A two-run home run against Angels’ reliever Dylan Bundy capped a 3-for-5 night for the M’s right fielder. He scored three times and added two RBI, coming up just a triple shy of the cycle. The Halos scored a run against M’s reliever Anthony Misiewicz in the bottom of the eighth, setting the table for the hectic ninth, but the Mariners were able to just hang on.
Seattle will try to clinch the series Saturday when its takes on the Angels for Game 2. First pitch is scheduled for 6:07 p.m. Lefty Yusei Kikuchi (6-4) is the projected starter for Seattle, though he pulled out of the All-Star Game on Tuesday, while right-handed pitcher Alex Cobb (6-3) will take the hill for the Angels.
- Outfielder Jake Fraley was a late scratch Friday due to sickness. Servais said it was the flu, and Fraley will be reevaluated on Saturday.