TORONTO — Back before Logan Gilbert had thrown a professional pitch, while George Kirby was still firing fastballs at Elon University and Robbie Ray was still trying to sort out his mechanics and harness his stuff for other teams to be the pitcher worthy of a $115 million contract, Marco Gonzales stepped forward to lead the Mariners’ pitching staff.
As the new regime transitioned, albeit awkwardly at times, away from Felix Hernandez, Gonzales, who was acquired in a 2017 midseason trade, became the de facto ace of the staff despite not possessing the typical physical gifts of a starter.
With a nasty competitive streak that belied his boy-next-door appearance and professor’s understanding of how to pitch with his stuff and repertoire, he did everything the Mariners could’ve asked for and more. He performed. He led by example. And he demanded accountability.
Still, with the signing of Ray, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, the emergence of Gilbert as a dominant starter and the debut of Kirby, one of baseball’s top pitching prospects, Gonzales’ accomplishments and contributions have been pushed aside like old toys on Christmas for the shiny new gifts in the rotation.
But there’s a reason why Lego are still popular.
For the second time on this road trip, Gonzales showed he shouldn’t be overlooked or undervalued despite an uneven start to the season.
The Mariners’ stalwart lefty outdueled Toronto ace Kevin Gausman, making sure they avoided a sweep by the Blue Jays with a 5-1 victory.
Facing a strong Blue Jays lineup, loaded with dangerous right-handed hitters, Gonzales tossed six innings, allowing one run on five hits with three walks and two strikeouts to improve to 2-4 on the season.
“A great, great outing by Marco Gonzales tonight and I love the way he used stuff tonight,” manager Scott Servais said. “It was exactly what we needed. We always talk about what a good competitor he is and just he executes and gets the job done.”
Gausman, who came into the game with a 3-2 record and a 2.40 ERA, pitched just five innings — tying his shortest appearance of the season — allowing two runs on seven hits with a walk and three strikeouts. Toronto was 5-2 in his previous seven starts.
Gonzales delivered a similar outing to start the road trip. Matched up against the Mets’ perennial Cy Young Award candidate Max Scherzer at CitiField, Gonzales pitched 6 2/3 innings, allowing one run on five hits with three walks and five strikeouts, but took a no decision, in Seattle’s 2-1 win.
Asked about Gonzales getting overlooked because of the presence of Ray and the seemingly endless potential of Gilbert and Kirby, Servais said something that will likely be on a T-shirt soon.
“Marco’s not sexy,” Servais said bluntly, causing a few immediate chuckles before elaborating. “He doesn’t throw 95. In baseball today, everything is about velocity. Everybody gets excited when Muny (Andres Munoz) is out there throwing 99 mph, and Logan almost hits 100 last night. But there’s a lot of different ways to get people out and Marco takes pride in what he does. When he steps on the mound, he feels like he can throw 100. He locates, he changes speeds and he wins. There’s a lot to be said for that.”
With the win, Gonzales is 49-35 in his time with the Mariners. He’s been effective and available.
When told of Servais comments, Gonzales first reply, “What do you mean I’m not sexy?” But he takes pride in being a reliable starter despite not having eye-popping velocity.
“I’m not sexy,” he said. “But I’m still here and I’m still getting dudes out. So I don’t know what to tell you. If you don’t think I can pitch at this level, then I love it because I’m gonna keep proving you wrong. I’ve done it my entire career.”
Gonzales admitted he’s dealt with the lacking-velocity stigma of being a command pitcher since his high school days at Rocky Mountain High School in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he reached legendary status. He led his team to four straight state 5A titles and was the winning pitcher in all four championship games.
“Everybody looks at what I got, and they say I don’t even touch 90,” he said. “But I don’t know what else I can say: I’m still here and I’m still making big league starts and still getting big league hitters out. So I guess that speaks for itself.”
It was last spring when former M’s president Kevin Mather called Gonzales “very boring” in an infamous Zoom meeting. It later appeared on T-shirts.
And this comment?
“That better not be a on T-shirt,” Gonzales said.
During his six innings of work, Seattle provided two runs of support despite putting constant pressure on the strike-throwing Gausman.
Seattle loaded the bases with no outs on singles from Adam Frazier, Ty France and J.P. Crawford to start the game. Jesse Winker gave Seattle a 1-0 lead with a sac fly that scored Frazier. The inning ended when Julio Rodriguez’s hard ground ball (106 mph exit velocity) to third was turned into an inning-ending double play by Matt Chapman on a nifty snag of a tough hop.
Toronto tied the score in the third inning. After allowing back-to-back singles to start the inning, Gonzales later issued back-to-back walks to Bo Bichette and Vlad Guerrero Jr. to force in a run.
“It’s probably the best bases-loaded walk that we’ve had in a while,” Servais said. “I think they had a feeling that Vlad was sitting on a changeup and we didn’t throw one. It’s really good instincts, understanding what players are doing.”
Always stubborn, Gonzales wasn’t going to give in to the dangerous Guerrero and let him clear the bases after falling behind.
“Once we got behind in the count, the mentality was really just to attack on the corners and see what we can do,” Gonzales said. “I wanted to walk him. So I did exactly what I wanted to do. Then I went out and got the next guy out and that’s exactly what the plan was from that.”
Seattle put him in line for a win when Cal Raleigh hit a first-pitch fastball from Gausman for an opposite field solo homer to left-center for a 2-1 lead. It was the first homer that Gausman had allowed this season. He had faced 192 hitters this season without allowing a homer.
The Mariners broke the game open when Gausman left the game. Ty France, who was battling a sore right hip flexor, crushed a two-run homer off Trevor Richards in the seventh inning and Abraham Toro, a native of Canada, added a solo homer in the ninth inning, much to the delight of his family in the stands.
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