ANAHEIM, Calif. – Hits? Quantity?
Nah, that’s not how the 2019 Mariners do things.
It’s all about dingers and quality.
The team that embodies the three true outcomes of strikeouts, walks and home runs more than any other team in baseball showed that if you have enough of the latter two, you can win a game without tallying a bunch of other lesser hits.
Just when it appeared Mike Trout had destroyed their victory hopes in yet another game Friday night, the Mariners did what they’ve done better than any team this season – smash home runs.
Tim Beckham and Omar Narvaez hit back-to-back solo homers to start the ninth inning off Angels closer Cody Allen, providing the difference in a 5-3 win.
With the scored tied at 3-3, Beckham led off the inning with a line drive into the visitors’ bullpen at Angels Stadium to give Seattle the lead. Narvaez followed with a towering blast to right field for some extra cushion.
“The home run was key for us tonight, no doubt,” manager Scott Servais said.
How important was the homer to the Mariners? Well, they had just six hits in the game. But four of them went over the fence.
“The guys work at-bats really good and when they get their pitch, they can drive the ball out of the park,” Servais said. “It’s everybody contributing to it.”
Seattle pushed its MLB-leading team homer total to 49. The Dodgers are second with 41. The Mariners have hit homers in all but one of their games this season and have scored five-plus runs in their last 11 road games.
“It’s fun to hit homers, but it’s better to win,” Beckham said.
Wearing a T-shirt with his likeness and the words: “Flip it like Beckham” in reference to how he flips the bat after homers, Beckham didn’t get a quality bat flip on his game-winning homer. The low line drive had just enough height to clear the fence for his fifth homer of the season.
“I didn’t know if it was high enough to get out, but I looked at the left fielder and saw him pull up so I figured it was a good swing,” he said.
Lefty Roenis Elias, who is proving more and more reliable in a relief role, worked a scoreless ninth to pick up his fourth save.
“He’s just pumping strikes and forcing them to swing early in the count,” Servais said. “He’s getting good results. Our bullpen was a little bit short tonight.”
Marco Gonzales seemed poised to pick up his fifth win of the season and become the first pitcher in Mariners history to win five games before May 1. With set-up men Brandon Brennan and Anthony Swarzak unavailable due to heavy usage in Thursday night’s win, Gonzales made sure to work deep into the game. He allowed just one run on six hits over the first seven innings on 89 pitches. Servais let Gonzales go back out for the eighth, trusting his No. 1 starter to hold the 3-1 lead.
“It was on him tonight,” Servais said. “I thought it was his ballgame. That’s why we sent him out there in the eighth. I thought he was throwing great.”
Trust isn’t always rewarded.
David Fletcher led off the inning with an infield single. Beckham made a diving stop, but lost the ball as he tried to make the throw to first. The likelihood that he would’ve thrown out the hustling Fletcher was slim. It brought Trout to the plate. With enigmatic reliever Cory Gearrin warming in the bullpen, Servais chose to stay with Gonzales, who had retired Trout in his previous three at-bats in the game. But baseball’s best player, who had been largely quiet up to that at-bat in the series, made his presence known, golfing a low changeup over the wall in left-center for a game-tying two-run homer. It was Trout’s sixth homer of the season and umpteenth time that he’s come up with a big hit against the Mariners.
“I’m not surprised,” Gonzales said. “He’s the best lowball hitter in the game. Probably the best hitter in the game. You just have to tip your hat. We had him all night with cutters and heaters and I got a little cocky and threw him a changeup. He reached down and got it. In that situation, I didn’t want to let the go-ahead run get to the plate, so I tried to get after him and get a ground ball there. If that pitch is an inch lower he doesn’t swing at it and you are 2-1. His ability to handle pitches on the edges of the zone is exceptional and you have to pick your spots. That was probably the best pitch from me that he got and he made it count.”
Servais lifted Gonzales immediately after the homer. Gearrin came in and got Andrelton Simmons to pop up and then hit Albert Pujols with a pitch to put the go-ahead run on first base. With lefty Justin Bour scheduled to hit, Servais went to lefty Zac Rosscup. What transpired next was something both teams will use as a teaching tool going forward. Bour hit an infield pop-up. With third baseman Ryon Healy shifted over to the right side of the field, he was in position to make the catch. Pinch runner Brian Goodwin retreated to first base while Bour, furious with himself, took a few steps toward first and started walking back to the Angels dugout with Healy camped under it.
Dee Gordon, who was standing a few feet away from Healy, screamed at his teammate: “Let it drop! Let it drop!”
“I had seen that JB didn’t run and having played with him I knew he couldn’t beat it,” Gordon said. “I’ve never done that on the dirt. But I just felt like no matter what happened, he wasn’t going to be able to get to first and Goody wasn’t going to be able to get to second base.”
Healy did as instructed.
“I let it drop,” Healy said. “From there, I picked the ball up. I looked at first and I looked at Dee and I was like, ‘What do I do now?’ He yelled, ‘Throw it to second, throw it second!’ I threw it to second and we had a double play. I jogged off the field not knowing what really happened.”
After the awkward pause, Healy threw the ball to Beckham at second, who threw to first base for a 5-6-3 double play.
“He was going to throw it to first base,” Gordon said with a smile. “I was like, ‘Yo, throw the ball to second base.'”
Healy credited Gordon for the entire play.
“I felt like he was playing MLB the Show and just controlled me on a little controller,” he said. “It was awesome .I looked at first, first. I almost threw it there and I would’ve ruined the whole entire thing. Luckily I had Dee there to help.”
Bour called the play “embarrassing.” But it was more than that. It was costly. Any momentum the Angels had was gone.
“Defense can manipulate momentum for sure,” Healy said. “I think it was a big thing for us.”
The Mariners grabbed a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Jay Bruce smashed a towering solo home run deep into the right-field seats off Angels starter Felix Pena. It was Bruce’s team-leading ninth homer of the season. Bruce added a ground-rule double later in the game, going 2 for 4 on the night, giving him 14 hits on the season. Of those 14 hits, nine are home runs and three are doubles.
A night after reaching base five times on two singles and three walks, Daniel Vogelbach showed his other favorable outcome – the longball. With Mitch Haniger drawing a leadoff walk in the fourth inning, Vogelbach stepped to the plate with one out. He fell behind in the count, including an appealed strike call on a check swing that left him talking to himself. But that conversation must have been a positive one because he jumped on a 1-2 slider that Pena left on the inside half of the plate. He pulled a ball just over the wall in right field for his seventh homer of the season to make it 3-0.
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