The Mariners downed the Chicago White Sox 3-1 on Friday night to snap Seattle’s four-game losing streak going into the All-Star break.
Perhaps it was fitting on the day the organization announced his multiyear contract extension to keep him managing the Mariners for the foreseeable future, Scott Servais didn’t have to endure yet another grind-it-out, one-run nail-biter of a decision that has been so common in his 2½-year tenure.
Nope, his team spoiled him with a whopping 3-1 victory over the White Sox instead.
The win snapped the Mariners’ four-game losing streak going into the All-Star break. And with a crowd of 43,331 filling Safeco Field on a comfortable Friday evening, it provided an ideal start to the second half of the season.
White Sox @ M’s, 7:10 p.m., ROOT Sports
“It’s great to be in the second half,” Servais said.
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Seattle improved to 59-39 and pushed its lead to four games in race for the second with the A’s losing to the Giants.
While a two-run win probably feels like a dream for Servais, the Mariners were tracking toward yet another one-run outcome. They’ve had 139 of them with Servais as the manager, posting an 82-57 record in those games.
But it was the heads-up base running of Jean Segura and the calm approach of Nelson Cruz with runners in scoring position that gave the Mariners that extra-run cushion.
With Seattle leading 2-1 in the eighth inning, Segura, who was standing on second, advanced to third on a pitch in the dirt that bounced just far enough away from Chicago catcher Omar Narvaez. The extra 90 feet gained forced the White Sox to bring in their infield to make a play at the plate, which allowed Cruz to pull a ground ball through the left side for an insurance run and his second run batted in of the night.
“Any pressure we can put on the other side, it helps, especially those guys that can run,” Cruz said. “It’s good baseball.”
It’s the type of aggressive base running that Servais implored of his team as it came out of the break.
“It’s just awareness on the bases,” Servais said. “It sets up a run for Nellie to knock in by drawing in the infield. It changed the whole inning. We’ve had some of those plays come up in the past and we have not taken advantage of them. We have to be looking for them. We want to push the envelope and do some things on the bases because we are capable of it.”
No longer facing the National League All-Star team, closer Edwin Diaz notched his Major League Baseball-leading 37th save with ease, working a drama-free ninth inning.
But it was the starting pitching of Wade LeBlanc that carried Seattle.
The veteran lefty delivered another outstanding effort, pitching 71/3 innings, allowing just one run on four hits with a walk and 10 strikeouts, which tied a career high, to improve to 6-1 on the season.
“It’s Wade’s world,” Servais said. “Changing speeds, using the changeup effectively along with a really good curveball, to strike out 10 in 84 pitches is pretty amazing.”
In nine starts at Safeco Field, LeBlanc is 6-0 with a 2.19 earned-run average, 47 strikeouts and 10 walks in 531/3 innings pitched.
The White Sox came into the game second in the American League in strikeouts with 904. And LeBlanc used their eagerness to swing early and often to his advantage, staying on the edges, changing speeds, expanding their strike zone and getting soft contact.
It was a clinic on pitching precision.
“The key is working ahead,” LeBlanc said. “It’s hard to get them in swing mode when you are behind in the count. Me and (catcher Chris) Herrmann were able to get ahead, be aggressive and kind of walk them off the plate, so to speak, after that.”
The double-digit strikeouts aren’t something that’s common for him.
“For me, strikeouts are all about execution,” he said. “I can read swings pretty well and I can understand what they’re trying to do, but if I don’t execute then they are going to be able to put the bat on the ball because I don’t have swing-and-miss stuff.”
The White Sox got their first and only run off LeBlanc in the first inning. With one out, Leury Garcia doubled into left field and later scored on Daniel Palka’s double over the head of Guillermo Heredia in center.
“A couple of mistakes, and I give up a run, but after that you settle in and kind of get into a rhythm and the flow of the game and start executing,” LeBlanc said.
Seattle immediately answered in the bottom of the inning against Chicago starter James Shields. Dee Gordon led off with a single — his first of four hits on the night. He advanced to third on Mitch Haniger’s single to left and scored on Cruz’s sacrifice fly to right.
The Mariners took a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning. Kyle Seager doubled to right field, advanced to third on Denard Span’s bloop single to left and scored on Ryon Healy’s hard ground ball to third base.