Mariners manager Scott Servais has some advice for fans as his resilient team is setting an early tone for this season with its myriad of come-from-behind wins.
“I don’t think anybody should turn the TV off early in our games,” he said.
For the fifth time this season, the Mariners fell behind early and somehow fought their way back to victory.
With runners on first and second and two outs, Ty France stayed on top of an elevated 96 mph fastball, sending an uncatchable fly ball to deep left-center for his first career walk-off hit and a 6-5 Mariners’ victory over the Houston Astros.
The ball bounced over the wall, but France didn’t get credit for a ground-rule double since he didn’t touch second base.
It was the only time the Mariners led in the game.
“I don’t know about you guys, but I think it’s pretty fun,” Servais said. “It’s fun to watch.”
So much fun that he might want to spot opponents a few runs to start game so the offense gets going early?
“No, I’d prefer not to spot them two or three early,” he said.
In front of a “sold-out” crowd of 8,967 socially distanced fans who were intent on booing every Astros player in every situation without mercy, and facing a Houston lineup missing several key players including Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve, the Mariners improved to 9-5 and sit atop the American League West standings.
The vitriol toward the Astros turned into a celebration as teammates tried to tackle France.
“That was awesome,” France said. “Having fans back and hearing the roar, it was incredible. It sounds like there’s a full stadium in there. The fans are doing a great job bringing the energy.”
Evan White set up France’s heroics in the eighth inning with the Mariners trailing 5-4. Battling a sore quad and a slow start to the season, White tied the game with his first homer of the season. Facing lefty Blake Taylor, White sat on a 2-1 curveball and sent a laser of a line drive over the wall in left field that registered a 111 mph exit velocity.
Simplifying his approach of not trying to hit home runs in batting practice and even in games and thinking only singles, he got perhaps one of the biggest hits of his season.
“I’m just trying to stay easy and staying within myself,” he said. “When I get frustrated with myself is when I don’t do that.”
Four of White’s nine MLB homers have come against Houston.
“White’s been killing us ever since he’s been in the league,” said Houston manager Dusty Baker.
Yusei Kikuchi cruised through the first four innings, allowing just one base runner — a leadoff walk to Yuli Gurriel to start the second inning. He was quickly erased with a double play. The Astros’ plan was to swing early and try to take advantage of Kikuchi’s aggressiveness in trying to get early strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to nine of the first 13 hitters he faced with six of them being swings and misses or balls put in play.
But his brief no-hit bid ended after striking out Gurriel in the fifth. With one out, Carlos Correa singled to left field. It would not be the only hit allowed by Kikuchi that inning.
He walked Kentwood-grad Taylor Jones and gave up an RBI single to Alex De Goti, who looked overwhelmed in striking out on three pitches in his first plate appearance. The line drive was fielded by Dylan Moore. With no play at home, he fired awkwardly to third base. Kyle Seager had no chance of catching it. Jones scampered home to make it 2-0. A double to the gap from Chas McCormick made it 3-0.
Seattle as it has been known to do, found its offense after falling behind.
Starter Jose Urquidy held the Mariners scoreless for the first five innings, allowing just two base runners. But in the sixth inning, Mitch Haniger led off with his second hit of the game, France doubled off the top of the fence in deep left center and both scored on Seager’s double into the right-field corner to cut the lead to 3-2. That tying run didn’t score as Seager watched from second base as Urquidy struck out Jose Marmolejos and White and lefty reliever Brooks Raley struck out Taylor Trammell to end the rally.
With his pitch count so low thanks to the Astros swing-early, swing-often approach, Kikuchi worked into the seventh thanks to a scoreless sixth. But he again found trouble as he gave up back-to-back singles to start the inning and issued a one-out walk to load the bases. After striking out Myles Straw, Kikuchi remained in the game to face the right-handed hitting Aledmys Diaz, who doesn’t hit left-handed pitching as well as right-handed pitching. But he did this time, dumping a single into left field to score two runs to make it 5-2.
The Mariners trimmed the lead to one run by answering in the bottom of the inning. With runners on first and third and one out, Haniger notched his third hit of the night, an RBI single into right field. France would follow with a sac fly to cut it to 5-4.