The run of the Mariners’ best baseball of the season continued Saturday night at T-Mobile Park with their fourth consecutive win — a solid 5-3 win over the Texas Rangers.
Does it help that they are playing an awful Rangers team that is worse than them and limping toward the end of the season? Sure. But there should be some level of gratification in that the Rangers were actually trying to put together a viable team for the 2020 season and the opening of their stadium while the Mariners were using 2020 as a developmental season to gain experience for several players.
With Saturday’s win, the Mariners have won 10 of their past 14 games, including four against Texas. Meanwhile, the Rangers have lost 16 of their past 19 games.
Whatever the perspective, the Mariners are playing competent baseball now and putting together a better than expected season by beating two teams in their division who were expected to be better than them, specifically the Rangers (6-2) and the Angels (5-5). The Mariners sit in third place in the American League West with a 17-22 record — 4 1/2 games behind the Astros at 21-17 while the Angels are 15-25 and the Rangers are 13-25.
Over their past four games, Mariners pitchers have posted a combined 1.95 ERA with 37 strikeouts to 10 walks while holding opponents to a .189 (24 for 127) batting average. The Mariners have held opponents to three runs or fewer in those four games and in nine of their past 11 games.
“The thing that excites me most about this group of young players, we talked about way back in March: They’re going to get an opportunity,” manager Scott Servais said in a postgame video call. “And the goal here was just get better along the way, and you’re seeing that play out. It’s been fun to be a part of it.”
Seattle broke a 2-2 tie in the eighth inning, scoring three runs against the Rangers’ hard-throwing right-hander Jonathan Hernandez.
It started with Kyle Seager taking a pitch off his foot to start the inning. It was the second time he was hit in the game and third time in the series. Ty France followed with a single up the middle to put the go-ahead run in scoring position. After having three pretty good at-bats and no hits to show for it, Jose Marmolejos hammered a line drive past a diving Nick Solak at second base to score Seager. The Mariners continued to tack on runs, which is needed for their inexperienced bullpen.
Evan White laced a line drive to center to score France and newcomer Phillip Ervin, who was playing his first game with Seattle since be claimed off waivers three days ago, doubled to left field to score pinch runner Dee Strange-Gordon.
“Their eighth-inning guy, Hernandez, is really good,” Servais said. “He’s got great stuff. You know, he’s 97 to 99 miles an hour, with a really good slider. Evan had a great at-bat. Marmo timed him up and smoked the ball for a big hit. Ervin turned one around to the pull side. We had a lot of really quality at bats the entire night.”
Ervin, a former first-round pick, struggled with the Reds, hitting under .100 and leading to his departure. He was self-deprecating about the double and his stumble around first base that almost got him thrown out at second.
“To be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve had to turn at first,” he said with a smile.
With Taylor Williams and Dan Altavilla traded and Yoshihisa Hirano having thrown 30 pitches the night before, Servais turned to rookie right-hander Yohan Ramirez, the Mariners’ Rule 5 pick, for the save situation. He had earned a save in his last outing in Anaheim, and he followed it up with save No. 2, despite giving up a solo homer to Shin-Soo Choo.
But the key to this victory and really this run of good baseball from the Mariners was the starting pitching and the defense to back it. Rookie left-hander Justus Sheffield bounced back from a subpar outing by pitching a career-high seven innings, allowing two runs on eight hits with a walk and six strikeouts.
“Shef was dynamite tonight,” Servais said. “For the most part he kept the ball on the ground. They did have some ground balls for singles and balls that got through the infield. But awesome outing by him again.”
Sheffield had eight groundball outs and also took advantage of the aggressiveness of the Rangers hitters, using his change-up more and getting first-pitch strikes on 16 of 28 batters he faced. And strikes on eight of 12 batters with 1-0 counts.
“With them being aggressive, I was able to get some early quick contact and my defense played great behind me all around,” Sheffield said in a postgame video call.
The Mariners gave Sheffield an early lead, scoring two runs off Rangers starter Kyle Gibson — all with two outs — in the third inning
With runners on first and second, Kyle Lewis smacked a line drive to center to score J.P. Crawford for a 1-0 lead. Seager was hit by a pitch to load the bases for France, who worked a seven-pitch walk to force in a run and make it 2-0.
The Rangers got a run back in the top of the fourth. Nick Solak led off with a single, advanced to second on Choo’s one-out bunt single against the shift, stole third and scored on Scott Heineman’s ground out to shortstop.
Sheffield was one out away from exiting with a 2-1 lead and be in line for the win. With two outs in the seventh, he threw a 1-0 sinker into the bat path of Anderson Tejada, the Rangers’ No. 9 hitter. As the line drive solo homer cleared the fence, Sheffield screamed in anger, using a common word of frustration. It was Tejada’s second homer of the season and it tied the game. Obviously irritated with the mistake pitch, Sheffield rechanneled his anger into leadoff hitter Leody Taveras, whom he made look silly on nasty slider in the dirt for a swinging strike three.
“I tried to go heater away and just pulled it in,” Sheffield said. “He put a good swing on it and it went over the fence.”
As he left the mound, having thrown more innings in an MLB game than he has in his career, Sheffield was still bitter about the pitch to Tejada, slamming his left hand on his glove multiple times and muttering that oft-used word.
Even though Sheffield had thrown just 87 pitches after seven innings, Servais went to rookie right-hander Joey Gerber, who gave the Mariners a scoreless eighth inning.
“I definitely wanted to go back out,” Sheffield said. “But Skip came up to me and talked to me and pretty much told me that I threw a hell of a game and we’re going give it to the bullpen and the guys were gonna get a win in the end. I’m just glad that we got the win.”