If or perhaps when — depending on your current mood and outlook — the Mariners fall out of this unexpected quest for the postseason, these late-inning failures and regrettable losses to what’s left of the Texas Rangers will be highlighted as one of the fatal blows in their eventual demise to a now familiar fate of watching the postseason in October.
Facing a team that they had dominated in all of 2020 and early in this season, which had lost its best hitter to the Yankees and its best starting pitcher to the Phillies, the Mariners needed to use this three-game series to open the homestand as a recovery from a difficult and largely unsuccessful series in New York.
Even if Seattle didn’t gain ground in the race for the second wild card, at least not falling back further while playing the team with the second-worst record in the American League was vital to their dimming postseason hopes.
Instead, the Mariners found multiple ways to turn a victory into an awful 5-4 defeat in 10 innings, suffering one of their worst losses since, well, Jonah Heim hit walk-off homers in back-to-back games on the previous road trip.
“We’d really had the Rangers’ number,” manager Scott Servais said. “Last year, we played very well against them. Early in this season, we were all over them. The last three games we have not done much offensively. I say all that, and the game was there to be won in my opinion. So everybody’s shaking their head a little bit about this one tonight. It’s disappointing. There’s nothing we can do about it right now. We’ve got to learn from it and come back at them tomorrow.”
Following their stunning come-from-behind win July 26 over the Astros, the Mariners, now 59-55, have lost nine of their past 13 games. It was their sixth loss by one run, including three to the Rangers. They’ve gone from one game back for the second wild card to 5.5 games back of the Red Sox, who are 65-50. The Yankees (62-51) and Blue Jays (61-51) have moved ahead of them by 3.5 and two games, respectively.
“We were right there in the heart of it,” Kyle Seager said. “We were right there in the thick of it. We were definitely watching the standings there for a little while. It hasn’t been very good especially in the last two weeks. We’ve got to turn that around and start winning some games.”
How did it go so wrong Tuesday night?
It started with their inability to score more than two runs over the first eight innings of baseball. Before the ninth inning, Seattle mustered just two runs on six hits against three Rangers pitchers with a walk and four strikeouts.
The two runs were back-to-back solo homers from Mitch Haniger and Seager in the fourth inning.
“We really didn’t get too much going,” Seager said. “We had a couple guys get on base, but we really weren’t able to string a bunch of walks and hits and everything get to going. We just had the two homers in the first eight innings.”
In the ninth inning with the game tied at 2-2, closer Paul Sewald, who seems to have taken over part-time closer duties with the trade of Kendall Graveman and until Diego Castillo gets comfortable with his new team, gave up a solo homer to Adolis Garcia on the first pitch of his outing. A first-pitch slider broke right into into the middle of the plate and was crushed by the ultra-aggressive Garcia into the Mariners’ bullpen.
“It’s the first pitch, and you’re coming in there and you’re trying to steal a strike,” Servais said. “And, obviously, Garcia had different ideas. He was all over the slider, and he smoked it.”
The Rangers tried to gift Seattle a walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth when veteran reliever Spencer Patton simply couldn’t throw a strike.
He walked Jake Bauers and Jarred Kelenic to start the inning. He would’ve walked pinch hitter Cal Raleigh, but the big catcher dumped a single into right field to load the bases. Jake Fraley, the Norse God of Walks, of course, worked a walk with the bases loaded to tie the game at 3-3.
But the Mariners, who came into the game with a .300/.356/.563 slash line with bases loaded couldn’t push across the winning run with the top of their order coming up. J.P. Crawford and Haniger both struck out swinging in at-bats that didn’t please Servais in their approach. Seager flew out to center off lefty Brett Martin to end the inning.
“Disappointing,” Servais said. “I thought we had enough there to walk this one off. We’ve done it so many times this year. We just didn’t finish it off.”
No pitches that Crawford and Haniger swung at were strikes per Statcast data. It was frustrating for Servais.
“Certainly Patton was struggling command-wise,” Servais said. “He does have a really good riding fastball, and we helped him out a little bit. It does happen once in a while. But we got away from what got us into that position, and that’s trusting the guy behind you and really forcing that pitcher into the strike zone. That was really the key to the inning, and it got away from us there.”
The Rangers scored two runs off Erik Swanson in the 10th inning on a pair of singles that pushed their lead to 5-3.
Seattle answered with a run in the bottom of the inning on a lead-off single from Ty France that scored Seager, the designated runner at second. But Abraham Toro grounded into a double play. Bauers singled with two outs, but Kelenic’s hard one hopper was gloved by Andy Ibanez for the final out.
The Mariners got a quality start from ever-improving rookie Logan Gilbert, who was facing the Rangers for the third time this season and the second time in three starts.
Gilbert pitched six innings, allowing two runs on five hits with no walks and five strikeouts. While Servais discussed Gilbert’s offspeed pitches and their improvement extensively during his pregame meeting, not many were thrown in the game.
Working with veteran catcher Tom Murphy, Gilbert relied heavily on the fastball, throwing it 72 times with just 19 sliders, four changeups and two curveballs.
With two outs in the second inning, Jason Martin ambushed a 94 mph fastball that was left in the middle of the plate, sending a rocket off the windows of the Hit It Here Café for a 1-0 Rangers lead.
Seattle answered with two runs in the fourth inning against Rangers starter Kolby Allard to give Gilbert the lead.
After sending a deep drive to center field only to see it caught near the top of the wall by Adolis Garcia, Haniger made sure that the only Ranger with a chance of catching the ball in his next at-bat was in the visiting bullpen.
Haniger pulled a hanging curveball from Allard into the visitor’s bullpen though none of the Rangers relievers seemed interested in catching his solo blast that tied the game at 1-1.
It was Haniger’s 26th homer of the season, tying his career-high set in 2018 when he was an All-Star.
Seager kept pace in the battle for team home run leader, making it back-to-back homers with a solo blast of his own into right field. It was Seager’s 25th homer this season. His career high is 30 homers, which he hit in 2016.
But Gilbert and the Mariners couldn’t keep the one-run lead for long. Their nemesis that is Jonah Heim led off with a single to start the fifth inning. With one out D.J. Peters hit a double into the right-center, third base coach Tony Beasley made the aggressive decision to try and score from Heim from first base. Second baseman Toro delivered a strong relay throw from just off the infield dirt in right field. Murphy caught the one-hopper and wheeled around to tag Heim, who had an awkward slide on his knees. But when Murphy tagged Heim in the midsection, the impact knocked the ball out of his glove. The sure out was now the tying run.