For the sixth time in their only six games of the 2020 season, the Mariners allowed more than six runs in game. Numerology aside, it’s a dubious distinction to be certain. But given the limited pitch counts for their starters and some of their inexperience or past inconsistency, and a bullpen that is anything but shutdown, it also isn’t a stunning occurrence. Seattle has allowed 46 runs — the most in Major League Baseball.
But swallowing more pitching woes Wednesday night was made slightly more tolerable by an offense that banged out 13 hits, worked five walks and hung a 10-spot on the scoreboard.
Led by shortstop J.P. Crawford, third baseman Kyle Seager and utility player Dylan Moore, the Mariners rallied from deficits in the sixth and seventh innings and tacked on two more runs late to outlast the Angels 10-7 in a 3-hour and 47-minute marathon at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California.
It was the Mariners’ second win of the season. They’ll go for a series win Thursday evening with lefty Marco Gonzales getting the start.
Crawford, who batted in the leadoff spot for the first time in his career, reached base four times with two singles and two walks. But it was his 10-pitch at-bat with two-outs that produced a two-run single in the eighth inning off lefty Ryan Buchter that turned an unsettling, one-run lead into a workable, three-run cushion while providing tantalizing hope for the Mariners.
“He was just not going to give in,” manager Scott Servais said during a Zoom video call with reporters. “J.P. is as good of a competitor as we have on this ballclub. You can just see the confidence growing, day after day. He was pretty upset about the error back in the fourth. It was really bugging him the whole game, so it says a lot about our young players to put that away, come back and do something on the positive side.”
Crawford fell behind 0-2 on the first two pitches, fouled off a slider, spit on two chase pitches away, fouled off two 93-mph fastballs, refused to bite on a slider down in the zone, fouled off another fastball before smacking a fastball up in the zone to center.
“We had a good scouting report on him, and I faced him (Tuesday) night,” Crawford said on a Zoom call. “He was attacking heavy with the fastball. I was just trying to put together a good AB.”
It was a relentless plate appearance from Crawford, who would not give in to the typical lefty tricks that have dogged him in the past. Entering Wednesday he had 178 career MLB plate appearances vs. lefties and posted a .140/.266/.167 slash line vs. left-handed pitching.
“I think my overall approach this year has been good so far,” Crawford said. “I just hope to stay there, stay within myself and stay where I’m at.”
Could this be a sign of progress?
“The fight has always been there,” Servais said. “I think he’s been able to slow things down in the batter’s box and maybe not swing quite as hard. There were some really good breaking balls that Buchter threw him in that at-bat, and he was able to foul them off and stick with them because he wasn’t trying to take swing so hard. He’s trying to make contact. You love to see the competitiveness of those at-bats; they don’t often end up in a two-run single, but it’s nice to get for him to get rewarded on that one.”
Meanwhile, Seager, a notoriously slow starter in the first months of the season, is not having a slow start to this 60-game season shortened by the coronavirus shutdown. Perhaps the season starting in late July has confused his production schedule. Seager had a pair of RBI singles and the go-ahead sacrifice fly in the seventh inning, which was ultimately the decisive run.
“Mariners fans for a long time are used to seeing Kyle Seager always get off to the slow start,” Servais said. “But we’re starting the season in July, I think it’s more about the months with him, and he’s been really good — just doing what he does in the batter’s box, not trying to hit homers or anything, just having quality at-bats.”
Moore, playing in just his second game, smashed a key three-run homer in the Mariners’ five-run sixth inning that answered the combined four runs the Angels scored in the fourth and fifth innings.
All that offense helped alleviate a shortened start from Justin Dunn and a shaky relief outing from Bryan Shaw.
Like the five other starters before him, Dunn, the last member of the six-man staff to make his first start of 2020, gave a shortened outing, sullied by one bad inning — the fourth.
Dunn worked through the first three innings without allowing a hit. His only base runner was a first inning walk to Anthony Rendon.
“Justin Dunn was outstanding in the first three innings — the best we’ve seen in a long time terms of his presence on the mound,” Servais said. “He was attacking hitters and being aggressive. He ran into some trouble in the fourth.”
Indeed, it came undone in the fourth. Crawford started the inning with a throwing error on a ground ball from Mike Trout. Dunn walked Anthony Rendon to bring Shohei Ohtani to the plate.
After tossing two quick strikes to get up in the count, Dunn tried to throw a slider at the back foot of Ohtani to tie him up for a swinging Strike 3. Instead, the pitch had early bite and not enough depth. The pitch fooled Ohtani, but he was still able to make an awkward pause as he started his swing, move his feet and rear end back to adjust to the pitch and somehow put the barrel of the bat on the ball. Ohtani’s size and strength took over, sending the ball over the wall in right field for a three-run homer that made it 3-1.
“He threw him two good sliders before that,” Servais said. “He was trying to bury that one, and I think if he didn’t hit it, it probably would have hit the dirt before it got to the catcher. Somehow, I just don’t know if I’ve seen a left-handed hitter (do that). Obviously the lefties like it down and in, but to stay inside that ball and get it in the air and hit it out of the ballpark — not too many guys I’ve seen do that. That was pretty crazy, and you got to tip your hat. He’s a very talented player.”
Dunn shook his head in disbelief.
“It honestly caught me by surprise when he hit it,” Dunn said. “I was upset with myself. I got away from my game plan there. That wasn’t what I was trying to do. But it was the pitch I felt the most conviction with at that time. If I was going to get beat, it was going to be with the pitch I had the most conviction with.”
He would face one more batter, walking Justin Upton, which ended his outing at 65 pitches and no outs recorded in the inning. Lefty Nick Margevicius came in and cleaned up the mess, getting Tommy La Stella to ground into a double play and Jarred Walsh to pop up.
“I think put a little too much emphasis on having a shutdown inning,” Dunn said. “I got a little timid and didn’t stay on the attack like I had before.”
In six games, the fourth inning of each game has produced a combined 15 runs on 13 hits, including a double, a triple, three homers and a total of seven walks for Mariners opponents.
The Angels pushed it to 4-1 in the fifth inning on Brian Goodwin’s solo homer off Margevicius.
The Mariners erased the three-run deficit in the sixth inning, roughing up reliever Mike Mayers, who entered the game after Heaney walked Crawford to start the inning. Mayers later gave up an RBI single to Seager, a run-scoring double to Tim Lopes and a two-out, three-run homer to Moore.
But Shaw couldn’t hold the two-run lead, giving up a three runs in the inning, including a two-run double to Goodwin.
Editor’s note: The Times declined to send reporter Ryan Divish to Anaheim for this game because of COVID-19 safety concerns.