As the biting curveball snapped into the strike zone, freezing Luis Rengifo in surprise without a swing and allowing home plate umpire Malachi Moore to make an emphatic strike-three call to end the top of the eighth inning, Marco Gonzales charged off the mound toward the first-base dugout of Angel Stadium, adrenaline and emotion pulsing through his veins.
It was his 21st consecutive hitter retired and he was three outs from a complete-game victory … well, if he was allowed to pitch the last inning.
Never one who wants to come out of a game he starts, but also never one to cause problems when he is removed, Gonzales made his feelings known as he neared where Mariners manager Scott Servais was standing on the dugout rail.
He stared at his manager and said: “This is my game.”
With Gonzales at 92 pitches and sensing the obvious intensity in the words and actions, Servais wasn’t about to argue with the leader of his pitching staff on this occasion. There was nothing to debate.
“I said, ‘You’re right, it is your game. Go get ’em,’ ” Servais said in a postgame video conference.
Gonzales did just that, punctuating the final game of an emotional road trip, pitching a scoreless, but tension-filled, ninth inning, to finish a 2-1 victory Monday over the Angels in the season-series finale in Anaheim.
“We jumped on Marco Gonzales’ back today and he carried us the whole way,” Servais said. “Outstanding effort. I know he wasn’t happy with his first outing on this trip over in San Diego. But he got it right today.”
To get through the bottom of the ninth and get the complete-game victory, Gonzales knew he would have to face the top of the Angels’ order, including Seattle’s hope-crushing nemesis, Mike Trout.
It didn’t start off ideally.
Pinch hitter Shohei Ohtani shattered his bat on a lead-off bloop single to right field to put the tying run on base. Andrelton Simmons followed with a single to center to put the winning run on first base.
That meant Trout was coming to the plate with the game on the line and with motivation after having struck out in his three previous at-bats off Gonzales.
“You are not going to get through an Angels game without Trout coming to the plate four times,” Servais said. “We were hoping there wouldn’t be anybody on base.”
Based on those three previous punchouts, Trout wasn’t going to wait around and fall behind in the count so Gonzales could toy with him. He jumped on a first-pitch sinker and hit a rocket toward third base. Third baseman Kyle Seager didn’t have to move, calmly snaring the line drive and flipping the ball to second to double off Ohtani for two needed outs.
“I don’t think I’ve ever snapped my neck around so fast to see if Seager was standing there to catch it,” Gonzales said on a postgame video conference call. “It worked out perfectly.”
With two outs, Gonzales walked Anthony Rendon on four pitches to move the tying run back into scoring position. But he got Albert Pujols to pop out to shortstop to end the game.
“Even with the walk to Rendon, and Pujols coming up, I knew we just had to make a pitch to get out of it,” Gonzales said.
It was just the second complete game of Gonzales’ career and the Mariners’ first of the season. He allowed one run on four hits with a walk and eight strikeouts in nine innings to improve to 4-2.
In three starts against the Angels this season, he’s 3-0 with a 2.42 ERA with a walk and 21 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings. And in 14 career starts against the Angels, he’s now 8-1 with a 3.55 ERA with 22 walks and 78 strikeouts in 91 1/3 innings.
The idea of it being his game wasn’t just from when he said it to Servais in the eighth.
“I knew it from the first inning,” he said. “I knew it from the first pitch. I just wanted to get home. I want to be home. I want to be back in Seattle. There were a lot of emotions.”
In the span of a week, Gonzales dealt with the decision to cancel a game against the Padres, saw his friend and rotation-mate Taijuan Walker traded to the Blue Jays and then his catcher and close friend Austin Nola traded less than 12 hours before took the mound Monday.
Gonzales fought back tears when he discussed the trade of Nola, one of the team’s most popular players, to the Padres. When baseball was shut down due to the spread of COVID-19, Gonzales and Nola worked out in Seattle, throwing bullpens and doing other things to stay ready for baseball.
“I told him it didn’t matter what we did on the field or how good of a player you are, I’m truly losing one of my brothers, and somebody who has always had my back, and someone who is just the ultimate teammate,” Gonzales said of his conversation with Nola. “I couldn’t be happier for the way that he’s broke into the big leagues and made a name for himself. He has immense value to any team that he’s on. I can’t speak highly enough about him.”
The Angels’ lone run came in the second, when Justin Upton hit a lead-off homer to left field.
After allowing the home run to Upton, Gonzales reeled off a string of 21 hitters retired.
His teammates tied the game and gave him a minimal lead. Jake Fraley led off the third with a triple off Jaime Barria. He later scored on Joe Odom’s single to left field.
The Mariners took a 2-1 lead in the sixth when Jose Marmolejos hit a solo homer to right-center.
It was all the run support Gonzales would need.
Editor’s note: The Times declined to send reporter Ryan Divish to Anaheim for this game because of COVID-19 safety concerns.