CHICAGO — A season-opening trip that began with a postponement due to a snow/sleet mix ended eight days later Thursday where winds in the Windy City, a nickname that has more to do with politics than the gusts coming off Lake Michigan, measured up to 45 mph.
And in those days and games in between, the Mariners played in games with wind chills in the mid-20s, two more where the temperature never got above 40 degrees and another with driving rain followed by a constant drizzle.
But while they still have to click offensively, they smacked three homers and got a quality pitching performance to salvage a windswept 5-1 victory over the White Sox.
After winning the first two games of the season, the Mariners went on a four-game losing skid and finished the seven-game trip on a positive note with a much-needed victory. They’ll return to Seattle for Friday’s home opener vs. the Astros at T-Mobile Park with a 3-4 record.
Meanwhile, Mother Nature remained undefeated in stadiums without a roof.
“We’re very much looking forward to going home and not have to play in the conditions we’ve played in the last couple days,” manager Scott Servais said. “It happens early in the year and certainly today, the wind played a big factor in the ballgame.”
While playing with some form of wind is expected on Chicago’s south side, what the two teams endured at Guaranteed Rate Field is a different level. A high-wind advisory alert from the National Weather Service for parts of Illinois and Indiana proved to be correct with the winds ratcheting up from 20-plus mph into the 30s around first pitch. When gusts pushed into the 40s in the middle innings, players were visibly trying to maintain balance and focus while looking hopelessly confused on pop flies in the infield.
“It was the worst I’ve ever played in,” said shortstop J.P. Crawford.
The wind didn’t seem to bother Mariners starter Logan Gilbert and his reed-like 6-foot-6 frame. He worked five innings, allowing one unearned run on four hits with no walks and four strikeouts.
“It was really blowing and there was actually one pitch where I kind of got off balance and felt like I was about to fall but didn’t,” he said.
His teammates provided him with minimal run support. Jarred Kelenic broke out of an early-season funk, smacking a two-run homer off the foul pole in right field in the second inning off Chicago starter Jimmy Lambert.
Gilbert made the 2-0 lead stand through the first four innings. Unafraid of a lineup filled with power, the young right-hander attacked hitters early with his fastball.
“That was the focus, especially this whole year,” he said. “Every game, I’m trying to win the 0-0, 1-1 counts like we always talk about. I did a bad job in my last start. So I tried to recommit to it and do the best I could. The fastball really helped out.”
Gilbert’s fastball averaged 94.9 mph, which is a tick or two lower than he would like. But he was able to command it all four quadrants of the strike zone.
“I didn’t feel like I had my best fastball ever, but it was working so we’re going with it and mixing enough off it,” he said.
With a rested 10-man bullpen and the Mariners still cognizant of the shortened spring training leading up to the season, they pulled Gilbert after an extended fifth inning that would be difficult to believe to those not in the building.
Seattle dropped three infield pop-ups, two of which allowed runners to reach base and score a run. With two outs, Adam Engel hit a pop fly that started by shortstop and ended up in foul territory, leaving third baseman Eugenio Suarez confused and shaking his head when he couldn’t make the play.
Three pitches later, Engel hit another pop-up that was headed for foul territory by the Mariners dugout and was pushed back toward the area between home plate and the pitcher’s mound. Catcher Cal Raleigh tried to make a catch with the ball tailing away, but it bounced off his glove and toward the vacant home plate. Engel alertly made it to second on the error.
“Obviously, there’ll be some highlight reels or some ESPN blooper reels on that today,” Servais said. “But when you’re in the ballpark, you understood how hard it was to catch them once they got up that high. It was really swirling today.”
The next batter, Jake Burger, hit an infield pop-up that looked like it might be caught by first baseman Ty France. But the wind blew it all the way back toward Crawford, who had sprinted in toward the grass and then tried retreat back to his original spot. The ball went between his arms on the over-the-shoulder-catch attempt for an RBI single.
“Both teams were struggling to catch them; that’s how you know it’s bad,” Crawford said.
Gilbert’s expressionless poker face never changed in the chaos even after he allowed a single to Tim Anderson to put the go-ahead run on base. But when he pumped a 94-mph fastball that Luis Robert foul tipped into Raleigh’s glove for strike three, the docile Gilbert gave a small fist pump while exploding off the mound toward the dugout.
“Those guys are awesome out there,” Gilbert said of his defense. “So if something like that happens, it’s probably not their doing. We were just trying to stay with it and find a way out of the inning.”
Up 2-1, Raleigh hit a solo homer in the seventh to left, and Mitch Haniger hammered a two-run homer in the eighth to provide some cushion that wasn’t needed.
Relievers Andres Munoz, who hit 103 mph with two fastballs while striking out the side, set the tone in the sixth inning. Drew Steckenrider, Diego Castillo and Paul Sewald followed with scoreless innings to close out the win.
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