The pitching ranged from filthy to unhittable at times, including a parade of relievers making life miserable for hitters. Runs were scarce, needing to be manufactured 90 feet at time and scored on sacrifice flies. Defensive plays were impeccably executed late in the game to save runs and end innings
The tension in a packed T-Mobile Park grew as each inning passed with the outcome in doubt Friday night. The excitement and emotions were on display from players and fans alike — elation, frustration and ultimately celebration.
And the player who said this offseason, “We’re going to end this (expletive) drought” without the postseason made sure they didn’t fall another game behind in the wild-card race in a series that could be a preview of a wild-card series.
Mitch Haniger’s hard single to right-center in the bottom of the 11th off Guardians closer Emmanuel Clase scored automatic runner Dylan Moore from second base, giving the Mariners a 3-2 walkoff victory over the Cleveland Guardians.
“That’s a really good baseball game with a lot of good pitching,” manager Scott Servais said. “Certainly a great crowd tonight behind us. It’s fireworks night. It’s Ichiro weekend, all that other stuff put together. And then you play a ballgame like that. I think everybody got their money’s worth.”
Everything about the evening and the 11 innings of baseball felt like a place most of them have never been in their careers and will do anything to get there this season.
“It’s fun,” Servais said. “It’s why we play. It’s what you play for. You’ve got guys that are stepping up, getting opportunities and situations maybe they’ve never been in before. And to see them handle it the way they do, and just keep executing and keep playing the game one pitch at a time, I enjoy it. That’s what we play for is the competition.”
Perhaps no player embodies that mindset more than Haniger, the longest tenured with the Mariners on the roster.
Since 2017, he hasn’t felt the highs quite enough while enduring so many lows. A year ago, his bounce-back season of 39 homers and 100 runs batted in was a major reason why the Mariners won 90 games and played until the final day of the regular season with a hope of the postseason.
“It kind of changed last year,” he said. “A lot of Seattle Mariners fans have been showing up every night and it doesn’t matter who we play and the energy is just different. They’re a lot more into it than you know a couple years ago and rightfully so, we’re trying to make the playoffs tournament and win a World Series. And it’s been a blast to play in front of these fans.”
This season, a nasty high-ankle sprain kept him out of the lineup for three months, but his return as a healthy and immediately producing hitter in their order will be critical in the games that follow. If there was a captain of the team, it would be Haniger. His intensity and preparation is unmatched and well-respected. He’s added an emotional component to his on-field play that started last season.
“It’s fun to win and it’s fun to play for something,” he said. ” I feel like I’ve gotten knocked for being a little bit like robotic and rightfully so, but I want to win. I want to win just as much as anybody in this entire building. In the close games, I’m gonna get fired up.”
The two starting pitchers — Seattle’s Logan Gilbert and Cleveland’s Shane Bieber — performed to a playoff level. Using his typical mix of nasty sliders and biting curveball with a located fastball to keep hitters honest, Bieber didn’t get a ton of help from his defense, which committed two errors.
Bieber pitched seven innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits with no walks and nine strikeouts.
Gilbert pitched 6 1/3 innings, giving up two runs on eight hits with no walks and two strikeouts. While he’s had better pitching lines this season, it was a strong outing considering the peskiness of the Guardians hitters.
“I love it,” Gilbert said of dueling with another team’s ace. “That makes it a fun game for me. It’s really competitive and challenging. I like the quick games and when I get off the mound and I’m getting right back out there. I mean, I love when we score runs even more, but it’s kind of fun when it’s just going back and forth like that.”
Austin Hedges doubled off Gilbert to start the third inning. He advanced to third on a fly ball to right field and scored on a deep fly ball to center off the bat of Steven Kwan.
The Mariners tied the game in the fifth inning when Carlos Santana singled up the middle, advanced to second on Adam Frazier’s sac bunt that was misplayed for no out and then tagged up and took third when Kwan made an unbelievable catch on Cal Raleigh’s pop foul down the left-field line.
Kwan, a talented rookie, made a leaping dive into the stands to make the improbable grab. Santana and Frazier alertly moved up a base on the play as Kwan, who was in obvious pain, threw the ball in to the infield. It allowed J.P. Crawford to tie the game with a hard line drive to center deep enough for Santana to tag up and score.
Following his highlight-reel catch, Kwan led off the top of the sixth with a single to left and Amed Rosario followed with a single to left off Gilbert. Jose Ramirez’s deep line out to right field allowed Kwan to move to third, setting up Josh Naylor’s sacrifice fly to right field to make it 2-1.
Gilbert pitched into the seventh but couldn’t finish it. He allowed a one-out double to Tyler Freeman and a single to Hedges. With runners on the corners, Servais went to his bullpen. Rookie right-hander Matt Brash retired the next two hitters on short pop-outs to end the inning without a run scoring.
The Mariners tied the game in the bottom of the seventh. Eugenio Suarez worked a leadoff walk and Santana singled into the right-field corner to put runners on the corners, setting up Frazier’s sacrifice fly to center to make it 2-2.