Once seemingly unbeatable in one-run games, a major reason why they’d pushed themselves into wild card contention when it never seemed realistic, the Mariners recently hit a spate of luckless losses and deflating defeats in those games decided by the minimum margin.
After rolling up a 23-8 record in one-run games, which was the best in Major League Baseball, their expected regression had been abrupt and ugly, losing their last six one-run games during a stretch of brutal baseball that has put their postseason hopes in doubt.
But Wednesday night, facing a Texas Rangers team they should rarely lose to but had lost their last three games against (all by one run), the Mariners finally returned to their one-run winning ways in a game they needed to win.
Luis Torrens, who might have been the Mariners’ least productive hitter over the past two weeks, stepped to the plate with one out in the bottom of the ninth in a tie game, needing only to get a fly ball into the outfield to allow Jarred Kelenic to score from third base
Torrens did more than that, crushing a 3-1 sinker off the wall in dead center that allowed Kelenic to trot home and the Mariners to celebrate a 2-1 walkoff victory before the ball made contact with the wall.
“With these tight games with not a whole lot of offense going on, you never quite know how it’s going to work out,” manager Scott Servais said. “It’s so nice to get back in the win column. It hasn’t been easy. It certainly feels much better after last night’s loss to come through tonight.”
The Mariners entered the ninth inning, having shown minimal results other than a few solid at-bats and offering little reason to think it would change.
But Kelenic led off the inning with a hustle double off right-hander Dennis Santana, lacing a hard groundball into the right-center gap and never considering anything other than going to second.
“I got to get to two,” he said. “That was going to put some pressure on them. And I was going to be scoring on a base hit. So out of the box, even if it was going to be right at the center fielder, I was going regardless.”
Kelenic has displayed that sort of mentality since spring training. And it won’t change regardless of the score or other circumstances.
“Absolutely, it was definitely a tight spot in the game,” he said. “But I feel like with the way I play the game is that if I even sniff a double. I’m going.”
Kelenic was able to advance to third when Jake Fraley’s check swing groundball to the right side of the infield turned into an infield single.
With runners on the corners, Torrens came up looking to end a miserable stretch at the plate that included an .091 batting average in his previous 10 games and featured just one hit in his previous 23 plate appearances.
“It’s a big moment for me,” Torrens said. “The past week probably has not been the best, but I tried to make an adjustment, finally a good thing happens.”
He didn’t want a double play on one of Santana’s many sinkers. He wouldn’t get himself out on some of the sinkers in on his hands, the place where pitchers have attacked him of late.
“They are always trying to throw me in,” he said. “You’re trying to see something up in the top of the zone and put a ball in the air. I just didn’t want to hit a groundball double play.”
Making his third start since being acquired at the trade deadline, Tyler Anderson pitched 5 1/3 innings, allowing one run on six hits with no walks and four strikeouts. His only run allowed came in the second inning when Nathaniel Lowe led off with a double and eventually came around to score on a D.J. Peters’ bases-loaded sac fly to very deep center. With two more runners still left on base, Anderson struck out Curtis Terry looking to end the inning.
The veteran lefty worked into the sixth inning, giving up a leadoff double to Adolis Garcia, balking him to third base, a call he didn’t agree with, and then striking out Nathaniel Lowe to end his outing.
Manager Scott Servais went to veteran right-hander Joe Smith to get the final two outs of the inning. On his way to the dugout, Anderson let home plate umpire Mark Ripperger know what he thought of the call in a back-and-forth featuring some anger and a few colorful words.
Smith did his job, striking out Andy Ibanez and then showing that he’s still spry at 37 years old, sprinting off the mound to make a running catch on Jonah Heim’s pop up in front of the Rangers dugout.
He has yet to allow a run in six appearances and five innings pitched since joining the Mariners along with Abraham Toro in that now somewhat infamous trade with the Astros that sent Kendall Graveman and Rafael Montero to Houston on July 27.
Seattle tied the game in the sixth inning. Knowing his team was down a run and hadn’t scored, J.P. Crawford wore a 2-0 slider from lefty Taylor Hearn, letting it hit him on his elbow guard as he pulled his arm back. The heady play gave the Mariners a leadoff runner. With two outs, Ty France singled to move Crawford up a base, and Toro worked a nine-pitch walk to the load the bases for rookie Jarred Kelenic.
As he’s done more in his second stint in the big leagues, the talented slugger showed patience in the key situation. He wouldn’t swing at a 1-0 fastball that was low and inside, just out of the strike zone. It changed the entire plate appearance. Hearn fired two more balls that weren’t close for a four-pitch walk and a run for the Mariners.
Seattle got solid relief work from Casey Sadler, who looked dominant with a 1-2-3 seventh inning. Diego Castillo followed with a scoreless eighth inning aided by the strong arm of his catcher. Castillo hit Isiah Kiner-Falefa with a 1-2 fastball to start the inning and then sort of ignored him on first base, allowing a huge jump for a potential stolen base. But Cal Raleigh used a high fastball to deliver a perfect throw to J.P. Crawford to get Kiner-Falefa and erase the go-ahead runner.
“I thought it was the biggest out of the game,” Servais said. “When the leadoff guy gets on like that, you’re at the top of the order, and I felt good about Diego and the matchups coming up there. But it was obviously a huge shot the arm for him to get that out and then move on to the rest of the order.”
The Mariners pitchers aren’t great at holding runners, and Raleigh is still a work in progress behind the plate. But that throw left his manager impressed.
“Cal’s got plenty of arm strength,” Servais said. “It was a good pitch to throw on, but you’ve still got to execute it, and you’ve got to put it right on the bag because Kiner-Falefa had a good jump. You’ve got to make those plays in the big leagues, and that was a huge one tonight.”