Mike Leake sauntered toward catcher Tom Murphy to shake his hand as those remaining in the announced crowd of 13,652 rewarded him with a standing ovation for his superior work. His face showed no emotion – no anger, no happiness, no satisfaction – just a blank stare at the ground in front of his feet as he moved. It’s the Mike Leake look. You never really know if he’s pitching perfectly or poorly. But as he neared Murphy, Leake broke into a sly grin.
He’d thrown the Mariners’ first complete game of the season, leading Seattle to a 14-1 victory while snapping a four-game losing streak.
For a night, the Mariners looked like a competent baseball team. It was the type of win they put together in those early days of April where they pummeled opponents with a barrage of base runners and home runs. That version of the Mariners hasn’t been seen much in the last 40 games.
“Yay for us,” manager Scott Servais said with a smile and a laugh. “We’re finally on the good side of one of those games. We were due. We’ve certainly wore a few of those this year. It was really a nice win. Mike Leake threw the ball really, really well.”
Leake pitched nine innings, allowing one run on six hits with two walks and five strikeouts on 119 pitches to improve to 5-6 on the season. It was his fifth complete game of his career.
“That’s who I feel like I am,” he said. “Maybe not getting nine all the time. You are fortunate to get that once in a while. But if I can eat up innings and save the bullpen for a day, it’s a good day.”
That Leake made the start on Wednesday evening wasn’t a given. In the days leading up to his start and even into the evening hours on Tuesday, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto worked to finalize a trade that would’ve sent Leake to the Arizona Diamondbacks per MLB sources. Obviously, the deal fell apart before the finish because Leake would’ve never taken the mound if there was a possibility of the deal happening.
“I hadn’t heard of anything about a trade,” he said. “But I understand it.”
Maybe his performance against the Astros could reopen the talks with Arizona or generate other interest.
The parameters of the possible deal weren’t made known, but the Mariners would have to eat a fair amount of money left on his contract. He’s owed $15 million in 2020 with a $5 million buyout of an $18 million mutual option in 2021. He’s also got a full no trade clause, but given his comments about the direction of the organization, he’d likely waive it for a better opportunity at winning this season and next. Arizona would’ve represented that since he makes his home in Deer Valley just outside of Phoenix.
“It depends on the team and the situation,” he said. “I really don’t like leaving a team, but if it the circumstances were right. I would.”
In the season of the “stepback,” where players on guaranteed big-league contracts are expected to be moved, the Mariners have shown a willingness to eat a fair amount of money if there is some saved. The trade of Jay Bruce to the Phillies is a perfect example. Leake isn’t part of the plan going forward so there will be a cost to move him.
The Mariners have won two games on this homestand and Leake started and got the win in two of them. He pitched seven innings, allowing two runs on five hits with no walks and two strikeouts in Seattle’s 4-3 win over the Angels on Friday. In his last two starts, he’s 2-0 with 1.69 ERA, 16 innings pitched, 11 hits, 3 earned runs, two walks and seven strikeouts. That can’t hurt his trade value.
Leake might not be dominant, but there is a belief that his style plays better in the National League and that he could have success. He’s a known commodity in terms of what he brings – starts, innings and health.
In 12 starts this season, he’s pitched six or more innings in 10 of them. The other two were five-inning starts. Yes, he gives up hits and runs, but he also takes the ball every fifth day.
He found himself in early trouble in the first inning as the Astros loaded the bases with one out. But he limited the damage to just one run on a sac fly from Tyler White.
“I would say that inning and the inning that (Josh) Reddick led off with the double,” Leake said, mentioning his scoreless sixth inning. “Those were the two big innings where they had a chance to keep it a game.”
Down 1-0, Seattle broke through against Astros starter Brad Peacock in the fifth inning. The Mariners loaded the bases with the first three batters of the inning, but then looked like they might waste the opportunity when Murphy struck out and Dylan Moore hit into a force out at home.
But with two outs, Mallex Smith dumped a single into right field. Domingo Santana scored from third, while Shed Long ran through the stop sign of third-base coach Chris Prieto and tested the ultra-strong arm of Josh Reddick in right field. Long dove headfirst into home to give the Mariners a 2-1 lead. They would never trail again.
With Peacock at 89 pitches and tiring, Astros manager A.J. Hinch went to his bullpen. A Mariners offense that has been stagnant more often than stellar finally erupted via the long ball.
Daniel Vogelbach worked a leadoff walk against lefty Reymin Guduan. With one out, Hinch let Guduan pitch to the right-handed-hitting Santana. It didn’t work well. Santana launched a moonshot of a homer into the seats in deep right-center to push the Mariners’ lead to 4-1. It was Santana’s 11th homer of the season while giving him 44 RBI.
After Shed Long singled to center, Hinch called on right-hander Brady Rodgers. He was greeted by Murphy’s shot into Edgar’s Cantina for another two-run homer.
But the most memorable blast of the inning came with two outs and a pair of runners on base. Rodgers gutted an 89 mph fastball that Edwin Encarnacion smashed into the upper deck in left-center that made it 9-1. MLB statcast measured the drive at 442 feet with a 111 mph exit velocity. It was Encarnacion’s 17th homer of the season. And if he continues to produce at this level, it’s difficult to imagine him being with the Mariners by the All-Star break.
The Mariners continued to pour it on in the eighth. Mac Williamson hit a pinch-hit two-run homer in his first at-bat as a Mariner to cap a wild day. He flew into Seattle from North Carolina at 3 a.m. Wednesday morning, took his physical and signed a minor-league contract with the team, reported to Class AAA Tacoma and prepared to play later that evening, was notified during batting practice that he’d be joining the Mariners instead and drove to Seattle.
“It’s been a crazy 36 hours,” he said.
With the Mariners up big, Servais wanted to get Williamson an at-bat since he hadn’t played in a game in two weeks. After falling behind 1-2, he smashed a homer over the wall in center.
“I struck out eight of my last nine at-bats in San Francisco and I’m down 1-2,” he said. “I was like, ‘I just need to put a ball in play to the outfield and a sac fly gets us a run.”
It got the Mariners three.