OAKLAND, Calif. — With his star center fielder in the training room, forced out of the game with an aching lower back, and his starting pitcher, who is one of the best in baseball at throwing strikes, unable to find the strike zone while allowing the Oakland A’s to turn Seattle’s three-run lead into a two-run deficit in an interminable third inning, a frustrated Scott Servais glanced skyward with his arms crossed for a moment.
Was he counting the number of fans in the largely empty concrete mausoleum?
Was he asking the baseball gods what he did to deserve such a curse?
Perhaps he was checking to see if the cloudless blue sky in the Bay Area was indeed falling on him and his scuffling team.
Would this awful road trip turn abysmal with yet another loss, which meant getting swept by the remnants of the Oakland A’s? The panic and pressure of possibly blowing their expected spot in the postseason would only increase.
Nope, Jarred Kelenic wouldn’t let that happen.
Yes, the one-time prospect and forgotten foundational piece of this team’s future success, offered a tantalizing glimpse of what he can still be as a player and what he could mean to this team in the final weeks of the season in Seattle’s much-needed 9-5 victory over the Oakland A’s.
Recalled from Tacoma on Wednesday and starting in left field on Thursday, Kelenic erased the A’s 5-3 lead by himself. Kelenic crushed a solo homer off Oakland starter Adrian Martinez in the fourth inning and laced an RBI double in the game-changing sixth inning to tie the game at 5-5.
“I’m really happy for Jarred Kelenic,” Servais said. “It’s not been easy for him in his time here. But we talked when he got in yesterday, it’s just about, do whatever you can to help us win the game. And he did more than that today.”
With two outs, Adam Frazier gave the Mariners a lead for good. He punched a low and away slider from lefty Kirby Snead for a ground ball down the third-base line for a double that scored two runs.
Seattle continued to add on runs late with a sac fly from Ty France and another RBI single from Frazier.
In the Mariners’ two wins on the road trip, they’ve scored nine runs in each game, an improvement over the four total runs — one each — in their four losses.
“We put up nine runs and we needed it,” Servais said. “In the third inning when I made the pitching change, I said, ‘There’s a lot of game left, guys. It’s going to be a crazy finish today.'”
Perhaps nothing more “crazy” than Kelenic leading the comeback. It’s not that the 23-year-old isn’t talented enough to do it, but his struggles this season have been a source of great frustration and disappointment for fans and the organization. But it’s nothing compared to what Kelenic has felt in a year where he expected so much and achieved so little. His reaction to his success was measured.
“I’m just trying to focus on just doing my job and that’s it,” Kelenic said. “Eliminate all the distractions and just kind of go to work, just like everybody here. I think that’s when we are all at our best. So we’re just gonna keep it rolling, keep it going to Kansas City with a ‘W.'”
The reports on Kelenic’s improved approach at the plate and shorter swing were verified for Servais. He noticed it in Kelenic’s first plate appearance — a five-pitch walk with runners on second and third — in Seattle’s three-run first inning, mentioning it to assistant coach Carson Vitale. Kelenic refused to chase anything out of the zone.
“He was very calm,” Servais said. “After he took the second pitch, I said to Carson, ‘He looks much calmer.’ He was in control.”
It helped that Kelenic had faced Martinez in two games with Tacoma. He had a homer and a triple off the right-hander.
“I kind of had an idea of how he was going to pitch me just from the times that I faced him,” Kelenic said. “So I just kind of stuck with my gut, went with it, trusted it and let the rest take care of itself.”
Leading off the fourth, Kelenic ambushed the first pitch he saw from Martinez for a towering homer to right-center to cut the lead to 5-4.
An inning later, France led off with an unexpected triple to right field. With one out, Kelenic worked a 3-0 count on Snead, refusing to chase off-speed pitches away. Given the green light, he laced a line drive into right-center to tie the game.
While some hitters would’ve settled for a single, Kelenic always thinks double on every hit. Sprinting out of the box, he made it with ease.
It’s that sort of intensity, mixed in with the talent, that could be useful for Seattle.
“He’s gonna play hard all the time,” Servais said. “I love it. I love what he brings in that regard. He’s not gonna back off. That’s just how Jarred Kelenic is wired. I think getting a couple of big hits today in the game in a couple big at-bats that he was able to handle really well, hopefully it does wonders for his confidence. We’re gonna need him. He’s gonna get a lot of opportunities.”
Given a 3-0 lead before he fired a pitch, George Kirby suffered through the worst outing of his MLB career. Known for his consistent command and pinpoint accuracy, the rookie right-hander suffered through a rare outing where the baseball wouldn’t do what he wanted it to do.
It was apparent from the first inning when a two-seam fastball left up in the zone to Tony Kemp was turned into a leadoff double. That was followed by a walk to Vimael Machin that had Kirby shaking his head in disgust.
After a brief timeout for Julio Rodriguez to exit the game due to a recurrence of lower back discomfort, Kirby retired the next three batters to keep the inning scoreless.
The second inning had a similar pattern. Kirby allowed back-to-back one-out singles but managed to get out of the inning unscathed.
But Kirby couldn’t do the same in the third. He allowed a double to Machin, a single to Sean Murphy and walked Seth Brown to load the bases in the first three batters he faced. It was the first time Kirby walked more than one batter in a game this season.
The bases didn’t stay loaded for long. Veteran catcher Stephen Vogt, who resides in the Olympia area and announced he would retire after the season, laced a triple into the right field corner to tie the game.
It only got worse. A one-out walk to Conner Capel and a double from Shea Langeliers gave Oakland a 4-3 lead and ended Kirby’s outing.
His replacement, Matt Brash, entered the game with runners on first and third. He walked Nick Allen to load the bases and gave up a single to Kemp that made it 5-3. When Brash finally ended the inning, the A’s had 11 batters come to the plate.
Kirby’s final line: 2 1/3 innings, five earned runs allowed on seven hits with three walks and one strikeout.