Each time they’ve slogged through a stretch of failure, where their warts and weaknesses were exposed and when it seemed as if they would sink to their expected place in the standings and begin planning for another lonely October, these Mariners find a way to stave off a slide to in-season irrelevance.
With their postseason hopes still real enough to do something more than dream, they’ve done it once again.
The Mariners got another solid, if not lengthy, start from Marco Gonzales and the typical stingy relief work from the bullpen while finding just enough offense to pick up a 3-1 victory Wednesday night over the Rangers.
It guaranteed a win in the three-game series at Globe Life Field with a chance for a sweep to end the season series with the Rangers.
Seattle, which improved to 65-56 on the season, will send right-hander Chris Flexen to the mound Thursday afternoon.
With the Red Sox in a free fall and the A’s in the midst of a four-game losing streak, the Mariners have moved within three games behind both teams, who are currently tied for the second wild card spot, by winning seven of their past nine games.
“It’s a collective belief,” manager Scott Servais said. “I’ve often talked about how competitive this team is. And it’s not like we just are a bunch of guys out there trying hard. We really believe in each other and what we’re doing. And it’s a good group that loves to compete, come to work every day. And I enjoy being around this group. It’s absolutely the most fun I’ve had managing in any of the years that I’ve been here in Seattle, just because of the attitude that they show up with every day.”
While pitching, particularly the bullpen, and defense have carried this team to its unpredicted success this season, this most recent run of wins is even more impressive considering how little the offense has contributed.
Of the seven wins, six have come when the Mariners have scored three runs or fewer. To put that into perspective, their record for the season in games where they have scored three runs or fewer is 15-37.
“We’re playing good baseball,” Servais said. “Our guys continue to learn and focus on getting better every day. We’ve still got plenty of room to grow. I know that our offense is going to get it going here.”
Facing right-hander Mike Foltynewicz for the sixth time this season and having scored 15 runs on 25 hits off him in 32 2/3 innings, the Mariners seemed poised to put together a big night offensively.
It started out that way when Mitch Haniger was hit by a pitch and Kyle Seager sat on a 1-2 changeup, launching a towering moonshot into the right field seats for a 2-0 lead. The two-run blast was Seager’s 27th homer of the season — the most on the Mariners.
But the Mariners never scored another run against Foltynewicz, who pitched six complete innings, allowing two runs on three hits with two walks and five strikeouts.
“We’ve seen Folty a lot, and he has started to throw a lot more breaking balls to us,” Servais said. “And you see some guys pulling off some balls. We’ve got to get back into probably taking some of those pitches to right field or the opposite way — just take your singles. We’ve got to get back to doing that.”
The Mariners almost picked up a third run off him in the sixth inning. Haniger worked a one-out walk, and Seager smoked a double to the gap in right-center. Third base coach Manny Acta made an aggressive decision to try and score Haniger from first base on the play. But the relay throw from third baseman Yonny Hernandez, who was playing on the right side of the field because of the shift, was caught by catcher Jose Trevino with Haniger about four steps away. He was tagged out easily for the second out of the inning. Ty France grounded out softly to first base to end the inning.
Seattle also had two base runners thrown out on stolen base attempts.
“We did make some outs on the bases,” Servais said. “We were trying to be a little bit more aggressive, stealing a few bases. I thought a couple more guys were safe. We didn’t get the calls to work out that way. It happens. We’re trying to create a little bit, but it starts in the batter’s box and we got to be a little bit more consistent there on getting back to using the whole field.”
After throwing 108 pitches in a complete game victory over the Rangers in his last outing, Marco Gonzales wasn’t going to be allowed to push his pitch count into triple digits again. He worked into the sixth inning, allowing a base runner in every inning, including the leadoff hitter in three of them. After allowing a leadoff double to Isiah Kiner-Falefa to start the sixth, Gonzales came back to retire Adolis Garcia on a flyball to center field.
With his starter at 92 pitches, Servais went to his bullpen. Right-hander Casey Sadler entered the game and stranded the runner at second, getting a ground out to third and striking out rookie Yohel Pozo.
Gonzales was credited with 5 1/3 shutout innings, allowing six hits with a walk and three strikeouts to improve to 5-5 on the season.
It was the only walk the Mariners have allowed in the past three games.
“It’s the foundation — attack the zone, get ahead and account,” Gonzales said. “And when we’re going well, I think that’s something that stands out is that our first pitch strikes are up. You have a lot of weapons to choose from at that point. Being able to expand the zone after strike one is huge, and especially against these guy. They take their hacks and they’re pesky.”
The Rangers cut the lead to 2-1 in the seventh inning with two outs against Mariners reliever Erik Swanson. Andy Ibanez and Jose Trevino hit back-to-back doubles for the Rangers first run. With the tying run on second, Servais went to veteran right-hander Joe Smith to get the final out. He struck out Yonny Hernandez looking to end the threat.
Paul Sewald worked a quick eighth inning against the heart of the Rangers order and Drew Steckenrider had a 1-2-3 ninth for his fifth save.