ANAHEIM, Calif. — From flailing to formidable, from falling apart to the first wild card spot, from another frustrating team failing to live up to expectations to perhaps finally reaching the postseason again, the Mariners’ journey from the forgettable first months of the season to Wednesday’s 11-7 drubbing of the Angels defies typical baseball logic.
On June 19, they were shut out, 4-0, by the Angels in a packed T-Mobile Park. They had lost four of five games to their American League West rival and were sitting at 29-39. A team with postseason expectations had fallen so far that only three teams in the AL had worse records.
“People weren’t happy,” manager Scott Servais said. “It’s understandable. We weren’t really playing well.”
The sounds of their own fans booing that lackluster performance drowned out the sound of the Mariners hitting rock bottom that afternoon. Demands for people to be fired and changes to be made permeated social media.
But no changes came other than the results.
Fast forward two months to a sun-drenched afternoon at Angel Stadium, the Mariners, now fully healthy, rolled to a three-game sweep of the Angels while racking up their second most runs scored of the season to improve to 65-54 — a season-high 11 games over .500.
From the low of being 10 games under .500 to being 11 games over, in the span 60 days, they racked up a 36-15 record. That doesn’t happen often in baseball.
“I know it’s crazy,” catcher Cal Raleigh said. “It’s a crazy game. Anything can happen. We didn’t get our heads down, start moping and kind of have that slow decline. We always kept our heads up, stayed positive and kept pushing.”
The leader of that positive outlook was shortstop J.P. Crawford.
“I told y’all,” Crawford said. “We knew the guys we had in here, we all knew what we’re capable of, I told y’all we were gonna be fine. We finally found our identity and how to play as a team. You get a bunch of new guys, and it takes a little bit to find out what type of team you are. As you can tell now, we’re rolling.”
Admittedly, the offense wasn’t always rolling through those 60 days. With Mitch Haniger on the injured list, Adam Frazier and Jesse Winker struggling, the Mariners’ success came from elite pitching.
“If you look at how our roster has evolved, the one thing that has been consistent has been our starting pitching,” Servais said. “That’s really what has allowed us to put together this stretch. Our bullpen guys have been really good as well. But starting pitching gives you a chance every game. When we look back at the run we’ve had and looking forward to the next 6-7 weeks, we will continue to lean on our starting pitching.”
And having a position-player group that’s finally healthy with key players starting to produce, the Mariners are moving toward their offensive potential.
“We score six, eight and 11 over three games,” Servais said. “I will take that.”
The Mariners scored four runs off Angels starter Touki Touissant in the second inning, working counts and forcing him into walks or pitches in the zone for hits, including an RBI single from Haniger, a bases-loaded walk from Crawford and a two-run single from Carlos Santana.
Seattle got a solid start from George Kirby.
Kirby pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on six hits with a walk and seven strikeouts. With the Mariners working to control his usage, it was a bit surprising to see Kirby jog to the mound for the bottom of the sixth with the Mariners leading 9-3. Given the high 90s heat and Kirby having thrown 74 pitches in five innings, it might have seemed like a decent way to steal some extra rest.
But with an extra day of rest, Kirby got to start the sixth. He didn’t quite finish it after issuing a two-out walk to Steven Duggar. It left him shaking his head in disgust and his pitch count at 94.
“I hate that,” he said of the walk. “I hate walking guys. We won. We swung the bats really well. But that’s still gonna bug me.”
After getting a 4-0 lead, Kirby allowed a run on a bloop single from David Fletcher in the third.
“That was a good pitch,” he said. “I wanted that one back.”
Seattle pushed the lead to 7-1 in the fifth inning. Eugenio Suarez crushed a two-run homer off Michael Mayers, and Raleigh ripped a solo homer to right field.
Kirby’s other runs allowed came on a two-out RBI single from Ohtani and an RBI double from Luis Rengifo in the fifth inning.
The Mariners continued to add on to their lead, which was needed. Celebrating his 29th birthday, Jesse Winker hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning. Raleigh hit his second homer of the game — a two-run blast in the ninth inning.
Those runs helped offset Penn Murfee giving up a pair of runs in the seventh, including an RBI triple from Ohtani and Matt Festa surrendering a two-run homer to Ohtani in the ninth.
“That game was a meat grinder,” Servais said. “You never really felt comfortable as they kept coming back. Ohtani had a really good last couple days against us. He was on everything. We did some awesome stuff offensively. We need that to carry forward. I would’ve liked that game to have been about 11-2.”