It may be the season of the step back, but it’s not the season of the give up.
Regardless of the front office’s plan for the roster, the payroll, the players who have been traded and the prospects who will eventually take their place, the current players on the Mariners’ 25-man roster — the ones who ran onto the field in their gleaming white uniforms on the emerald grass of the newly named T-Mobile Park — have no concern for “the view from 10,000 feet” as general manager Jerry Dipoto likes to say.
No, they will compete to win each time they step on the field, regardless of what is expected of them. The overall focus may be on the future, but the 2019 season still has to be played with a level of competitiveness. For big-league players, that mindset is ingrained into them.
Dipoto also made that quite clear when explaining the organization’s shifting trajectory that started this offseason.
“We are still going to try and win every game,” he said.
Thus far, three games into the season, the Mariners have done that. On an afternoon with weather far too comfortable and enjoyable for late March in the Puget Sound area, Seattle smashed five home runs, including three off perennial Cy Young contender Chris Sale, to stun the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox in a 12-4 drubbing in front of a sellout crowd of 45,601.
“A lot has been written about the direction that we want to take this organization, but a lot has been said too from the people internally, and we do like our team,” manager Scott Servais said. “It’s a different look to our team. It’s not the household names that you are used to seeing, but these guys can play. Our guys all have something to prove. When we take the field, it’s about winning the ballgame. We aren’t concerned about the future, the direction, the re-imagination and all that other stuff, it’s about winning today’s game.”
For players, finding success in baseball is difficult enough. Taking the time to analyze the Mariners’ plans over the next three to four seasons is just wasted energy.
“We are ballplayers,” Tim Beckham said. “We come to play the game that night. When you are between the white lines, it’s baseball and you are expected to produce. As far as a rebuild and everything else, we leave that to the front office. It’s out of our control.”
The Mariners rocked Sale, which doesn’t happen too often to the lanky lefty. He came into the game with a 6-1 record and 1.88 ERA in nine starts and two relief appearances vs. Seattle in his career. He also has 38 strikeouts and just two walks in his last 23 innings vs. the Mariners. That success wasn’t replicated Thursday. Sale pitched just three innings, giving up seven runs on six hits with two walks and four strikeouts.
“I’m really excited about our offensive effort today,” Servais said. “I thought it was outstanding. A lot of really good at-bats up and down the lineup all game long. We were running pitch counts up … and we do have power on this club.”
The first inning offered no indication of Sale’s overall struggles. He struck out Mitch Haniger and Domingo Santana for two quick outs.
After an error allowed Edwin Encarnacion to reach base, Sale came back to strike out Jay Bruce to end the frame while having to throw a total of 24 pitches.
Meanwhile, Sale’s teammates had given him a 2-0 lead, scoring a run in each of the first two innings off Seattle starter Marco Gonzales.
The first run off Sale came from an unexpected source. While left-handed hitters struggle against Sale because of his funky delivery, his unique lowered arm angle and his sweeping sliders, right-handers can also struggle against him for those same reasons.
Coming into the game, Beckham had never sniffed success against Sale. In 15 career at-bats vs. Sale, Beckham had gone hitless in all 15 while striking out nine times. There wasn’t an anticipation of success based on those results, but in the Mariners’ first two games in Tokyo, Beckham was one of their best hitters, tallying five hits in seven at-bats, including a homer.
A misplaced fastball on a 1-2 count from Sale stayed on the inner half of the plate to Beckham. The pitch was quickly redirected into the Mariners’ bullpen for a solo homer to cut the lead to 2-1.
“I just wanted to see a ball up on the zone,” Beckham said. “I know the past history and I don’t care about that. He still has to come out and throw the ball tonight. I respect him and he’s a really good pitcher, but I just want to see something up in the zone that I can handle. He normally gets me with the fastball up, and I was looking for the one up.”
The Mariners weren’t finished. David Freitas worked a two-out walk, Dee Gordon blooped a single into left field and Haniger loaded the bases in painful fashion, taking a fastball off his knee.
Because Sale is so dominant against left-handed hitters — they have a career .519 OPS against him — Servais stacked the top of his batting order with right-handed hitters. The move paid off.
Santana punched a double into right field scoring two runs, while Haniger was thrown out at the plate for the third out of the inning. But the Mariners had scored three runs off Sale and led 3-2.
Seattle blew the game open in the third inning. Encarnacion smoked a solo homer into the area still known as The ‘Pen in left field for his first of the season and a 4-2 lead. Sale issued a one-out walk to Ryon Healy, and then Beckham got him again.
This time he ambushed a first-pitch fastball up in the zone and sent a rocket over the wall in deep center. MLB statcast measured the blast at 430 feet.
“Tim Beckham is in a really good spot,” Servais said.
The Mariners made it a four-run inning off Sale. Mallex Smith followed with triple to the gap in deep right-center and scored easily on Freitas’ sacrifice fly to right-center.
A 7-2 lead after three innings against Sale?
It was more than adequate run support for Gonzales, who worked 5 1/3 innings, allowing four runs (three earned) on nine hits with a walk and four strikeouts. Facing a dangerous lineup, Gonzales wasn’t dominant, but he pitched his way out of trouble on multiple occasions to improve to 2-0.
The offense made sure that the only drama late would be to see how many runs would be scored.
Healy clubbed a solo homer to left off reliever Hector Velazquez in the fifth inning for the fourth homer of the day.
Seattle picked up two more runs in the sixth on a bases-loaded walk and an error. Santana clobbered the fifth homer of the day — a two-run moonshot to left field that made it 12-4. In three games, Santana has driven in nine runs, which is a club record for the first three games of the season.
“I’m just not trying to do too much,” Santana said. “I’m just trying to keep it simple. I’m just trying to stay up the middle.”
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