As the tailing, 96-mph fastball ran away from the lacquered bat of Corey Seager and into the glove of Austin Nola, reliever Taylor Williams — the Mariners’ de facto closer — let out a scream and pumped his fist in celebration. His teammates’ yells from the dugout were almost simultaneous, and they spilled out of the dugout at T-Mobile Park to celebrate a 6-4 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The players’ reaction to the Mariners’ eighth win of this season was magnified considering they haven’t won much on the whole or recently, and the crushing nature of some of the defeats, particularly the previous two games in Los Angeles, added to the emotion.
The victory ended a pair of streaks: The Mariners’ skid, and the Dodgers’ seven-game win streak.
Wins haven’t come easy for the Mariners in this 2020 season, and many have been lost in the game’s final innings by a bullpen that has been anything but lockdown.
“It’s been a struggle at times,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said on a Zoom video call. “Taylor Williams, he didn’t back down, and he kept trying to make pitches and make pitches. When you are playing a really good club like that, they’re gonna make you earn it, and they certainly made us earn it tonight. Three games with the Dodgers, we’ve been right there. We’ve been very competitive. It was nice to get a win tonight.”
After getting the final out of the eighth inning to maintain a two-run lead, Williams came on in the ninth and gave up a leadoff infield single to A.J. Pollock, issued a one-out walk to Chris Taylor and walked Mookie Betts with two outs to load the bases for Seager. But he got ahead early with two quick strikes, wasted a pitch and went for the kill with an elevated fastball for his fifth save of the season.
“I was able to get him to swing and miss on that first-pitch slider, and I think that dictated the rest of the at-bat,” Williams said on a Zoom call. “I was able to kind of get him thinking down and in with that slider, respect the slider. He’s got to be able to cover that down-and-in pitch, and I think it kind of opened up my ability to throw that fastball away.”
The Mariners got a solid start from right-hander Taijuan Walker, who shook off some early issues to pitch seven innings. He allowed three runs on four hits (including three solo homers), a walk and eight strikeouts to improve to 2-2.
Through three innings, there was minimal indication that Walker was going to be able go that deep or contain the Dodgers’ potent offense.
After using them sparingly in the first three innings and giving up homers on fastballs to Max Muncy (leading off the second to tie the game at 1-1), Joc Pederson (one out in the second for a 2-1 lead) and Cody Bellinger (one out in the third inning for a 3-1 lead), Walker seemed to find some command with his curveball and change-up and the motivation to use them.
Seeing three fastballs rocketing over the fence at high rates of speed will usually provide some impetus. Perhaps it was the interminable bottom of the fourth where the Mariners gave him a lead that allowed him to find the feel and usage of those pitches.
“After I gave up those home runs, we noticed they were just sitting on the fastball,” Walker said. “So we made the adjustment and said, ‘Let’s just start throwing more offspeed, let’s start pitching backwards.’ That’s what we did, and I was able to land my offspeed pitches for strikes.”
In Walker’s previous stint with the Mariners, he didn’t have the mindset or the pitch repertoire to make such a change midgame.
“The last time that Taijuan was a Mariner here, he couldn’t have made that adjustment midgame,” Servais said. “He’s learned. He went to some change-ups, to sinkers and a lot of curveballs and got the cutter going. It really slowed things down on them. They just weren’t just jumping all over the fastball. Really nice adjustment by him and Austin Nola to recognize that and execute it.”
That bottom of the third saw the Mariners send all nine hitters in the lineup to the plate and force starter Julio Urias out of the game due to pitch count and ineffectiveness, turning a 3-1 deficit into a 5-3 lead.
After giving Mariners a brief 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first with an RBI single, Austin Nola gave his team the lead again with a three-run homer into the upper deck of Edgar’s Cantina. A leadoff single from Kyle Lewis and a walk from Kyle Seager brought Nola to the plate. The Mariners had a similar situation in the second inning and got nothing. Nola made sure that didn’t happen again, feasting on a poor change-up for his fifth homer of the season.
J.P. Crawford drove in the other run of the inning on sinking line drive to center that Shed Long Jr., the runner on third, wisely assumed would be caught by center fielder Cody Bellinger, tagging up and scoring on the play.
But that inning came with a cost.
First baseman Evan White fouled a ball off the inside of his left knee and dropped to the ground in agony. Athletic trainer Rob Nodine and Servais hurried out to check on him. After a brief examination and a quick conversation, they helped White to his feet and off the field to get X-rays. The Mariners announced that the X-rays came back negative, showing no fractures. He will be listed as day-to-day and probably won’t feel great in the morning.
Long entered his at-bat with the count at 2-2 and worked a walk.
The Mariners tacked on another run in the sixth against Dodgers setup man Pedro Baez. Dylan Moore, who has forced his way into everyday playing time, golfed a 3-2 change-up that was well below the strike zone into the Mariners’ bullpen to make it 6-3.