With their postseason hopes taking a painful combination of body blows and haymakers over the past three days, most of them coming from the bat of Salvador Perez, the Mariners came into Sunday’s game needing a victory to stop their slide from relevance.
In their time of desperation, the one player who has worn a Mariners uniform longer than anyone else on the field and has never played a game past the regular season, allowed his team to dream for another day and added a few more fans to the growing contingent who want the organization to bring him back for another season.
When it seemed like the Mariners were trending toward a disastrous four-game sweep, Kyle Seager smashed a two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning, providing the difference in the Mariners’ much-needed 4-3 win over the Kansas City Royals at T-Mobile Park.
With the Red Sox (75-57) blowing a 4-0 lead and losing 7-5 to Cleveland, the Mariners (70-61) stopped losing ground and trimmed a game off the lead. Seattle is now 4.5 games back for the second wild card.
“Obviously, Seager had a huge homer, (Jarred) Kelenic with a big homer and I have to give credit to Jake Bauers — he made a couple outstanding plays (two diving catches in left field) — big outs in the game in the eighth and ninth. We needed every out today,” manager Scott Servais said. “We hung in there in a very tight game. You’ve got find a way to win those games when there’s not a lot of offense going on. We got it done today.”
The last time the Mariners were in this sort of wild-card race was in 2018 — the season before the stepback. That veteran-laden team, which was expected to contend for a postseason spot, held a double-digit lead over the A’s for the second wild card in late June and lost it, fading when Oakland surged and eventually eliminated in the final week.
The only remaining players from that team are Seager, Mitch Haniger and Marco Gonzales.
“The turnover has been a lot,” Seager said. “There’s a lot of new faces. It’s a constantly evolving lineup and the roster changes a lot. That’s something we’ve kind of grown to understand and deal with. But we didn’t get there in ’18. We’ve got to figure out how to do better. It ultimately comes down to — we’ve got to play better and do better.”
All three played a role in Sunday’s win.
Gonzales delivered yet another solid start in August, pitching seven innings and allowing two runs on five hits with two walks and four strikeouts.
In four starts in August, Gonzales has a 1.58 earned-run average with seven earned runs in 40 innings pitched. He has a 1.97 ERA in eight starts since the All-Star break.
“The mindset has been: Get the ball and go, have good tempo, fill up the strike zone, have confidence, just get ahead in the count and let myself play,” Gonzales said.
But the outing didn’t end as he wanted.
Given a 2-1 lead in the sixth on Kelenic’s solo homer to deep right-center off Royals starter Brady Singer, Gonzales went into the top of seventh knowing it was likely going to be his final inning. With one out, a 2-2 fastball to Michael A. Taylor intended to go up and in stayed in the middle of the plate. With one quick swing and a fly ball into the upper deck, the Mariners’ 2-1 lead was gone.
With just three hits in the game, Seattle hadn’t mustered much offensively to inspire confidence in a comeback. But with Singer out of the game after six innings of work, right-hander Tyler Zuber offered a reprieve. With two outs, Haniger reached on a hustling infield single to shortstop, bringing Seager to the plate.
After lower-back stiffness kept him out of the starting lineup Saturday before being asked to pinch hit later in the game, Seager returned to the starting lineup for the 127th time in the Mariners’ 131st game of the season. He sat on a 1-1 changeup, hammering a blast deep over the wall in right-center for his 31st homer of the season.
“Who else but Kyle Seager?” Gonzales said.
It’s the most homers he’s hit in his 11 seasons at the big-league level, eclipsing the 30 he hit in 2016.
“It’s definitely special,” Seager said. “It’s always nice to have a career high in anything. That’s always a positive. That’s been part of my job. That’s something I’ve kind of prided myself on is playing defense and trying to do the damage-type stuff — knocking in runs and doubles and home runs.”
Seager has played in all but two of the Mariners games this season, missing two before the All-Star break with a leg contusion. He has played in every game since the All-Star break (40 games) and has five doubles, 15 homers and 35 runs batted in.
“Kyle has been huge,” Servais said. “Certainly, after the All-Star break, he has found the home run swing and we’ve needed him. We’ve seen him hit for higher batting average, but it’s impact of what he’s done for us offensively and being able to write him in the lineup every day. There’s been days where he does not feel anywhere near 100 percent, but he grinds through it. We’re going to lean on him here down the stretch for sure.”
The Royals made it close in the eighth. Perez, who homered in every game in the series, including a solo shot off Gonzales in the sixth, missed another homer by a foot on a line drive to right-center off Paul Sewald.