SAN DIEGO — As Chris Flexen walked off the mound, he pounded a fist into his glove, just a hint of his mild irritation about not being able to finish what he started.
A healthy contingent of Mariners fans in the Fourth of July crowd of 37,913 fans packed into Petco Park applauded his effort, offsetting the chorus of boos from the frustrated Padres fans who had come to see their team do something more than make outs.
He acknowledged the Mariners fans with a nod, kept his head up and waited to be greeted by his teammates in the third base dugout for a solid Monday afternoon of work.
Flexen gave the Mariners 6 2/3 shutout innings of work, while the offense, fueled by a preposterous two-run homer from Julio Rodriguez and four runs batted in from Cal Raleigh, rolled to an easy 8-2 victory over the Padres.
“A great way to spend the Fourth of July with a complete game,” manager Scott Servais said of his team’s overall performance. “We really had it all going on today. We haven’t had that complete of a game since the beginning of our last homestand.”
For Flexen, his exit from the mound in the seventh inning couldn’t have been more different from the last time he pitched in San Diego. On May 21, 2021, just over a year and a month ago, Flexen stalked off the mound, disgusted and embarrassed by his performance. Muttering obscenities to himself, his eyes never left his feet.
It was easily the worst outing of his career, Flexen never made it out of the second inning of his start, giving up eight runs on 10 hits — including homers to Trent Grisham and Fernando Tatis Jr. — with a walk and a strikeout in what would be a 16-1 trouncing. After the game, Flexen labeled his pitches horse excrement and admitted he “screwed” the bullpen with his outing.
“They kicked my ass last year, plain and simple,” he said. “I just tried to come out and win this ballgame today.”
Last year’s game was the start of what would be an awful weekend for the Mariners and the low point to an awful start to their 2021 season. With multiple relievers going on the COVID injured list to cause more problems, Seattle would get swept in the three-game series and outscored 31-7.
“We haven’t had a whole lot of good memories coming out of San Diego the last few years,” Servais said. “It’s nice to see everybody kind of doing their job and none bigger than Flex. It starts with the guy on the mound, and he set the tone.”
There would be no repeat performance this season.
Besides keeping the Padres scoreless, he allowed just four hits while working around three walks and striking out eight batters, which tied a career high, to improve to 5-8 on the season and lower his earned-run average to 4.00.
“It comes down to execution,” Flexen said. “I was able to execute quite often today, and I was on the attack.”
His teammates gave him quality run support for a second straight start, which allowed him to attack hitters and be unafraid of contact.
Facing a familiar face in hard-throwing lefty Sean Manaea, who was a stalwart in the A’s rotation for the previous six seasons before their rebuild plan and liquidation of all quality players, the Mariners knew they needed to force him into the strike zone. Manaea has quality stuff but his command isn’t consistently pinpoint.
“We’ve seen him on top of his game and probably a bit sharper than he was today,” Servais said. “But it doesn’t matter. You’ve got adjustments. Our approach was really good today.”
Seattle made Manaea work for his strikes in almost every at-bat, ballooning his pitch count and forcing him out of the game with one out in the fourth inning.
The Mariners handed Flexen a 2-0 lead before he took the mound.
Returning from his four-game suspension, J.P. Crawford, who would finish with three hits in the game, singled with one out to start the offense. Eugenio Suarez followed with a single and Carlos Santana, who reached base five times in the game, worked his first of three walks to load the bases.
An over-aggressive Raleigh hit a soft ground ball to shortstop that could only be turned into a force out at second base, allowing a run to score. Abraham Toro followed with a double into the right corner that scored Suarez to make it 2-0.
After failing to capitalize on base runners in the second and third innings, Rodriguez stepped to the plate in the fourth inning with one out and Dylan Moore on first base.
After going hitless in his first two appearances against Manaea, Rodriguez sat on a 2-0 changeup and unleashed fury on the pitch that stayed up and on the inner part of the plate. The result was a missile headed toward the unique Western Metal Supply Co. building, which is part of the left-field stands. The ball, which had an exit velocity of 108 mph, smacked off the wall behind the third and highest deck of the building. MLB Statcast measured the blast at 429 feet.
“It’s Julio, what else do you need to say,” Servais said. “He hit a ball almost over the warehouse today. We are riding on the back of Julio right now.”
During batting practice, Rodriguez wondered about hitting one over the building that’s tucked into the left-field corner. But he didn’t consider it likely in the game.
“I thought it would be pretty cool to hit one up there,” he said. “But I wasn’t trying to do it. I was just trying to see something up and let it eat.”
It was Rodriguez’s 15th homer of the season and his seventh in his last 14 games. He now has 15 homers and 20 stolen bases in the first 81 games of his career and is the fastest player to reach those totals, surpassing Ellis Burks (82 games) and Barry Bonds (90 games).
Could he double those numbers over the second half of the season?
“I’m honestly not setting any limit on it,” he said. “I’m just playing ball every day … and whatever results come out at the end of the season that’s what I’m going to take. But I’m just going to keep going.”
Meanwhile Raleigh’s growth and breakout season continued in the sixth inning. Coming to the plate with the bases loaded for the second time in the game, Raleigh worked a 2-2 count and took advantage of a fastball from Taylor Scott, ripping a double to deep right-center that cleared the bases and made it 7-0.
“The first couple of at-bats I felt like was a little quick, just a little jumpy,” Raleigh said. “I wasn’t really smooth to the ball. So I just kind of eased myself in, try not to do too much and make solid contact.”
Raleigh later picked up his first career stolen base, swiping third.
“He wasn’t varying his looks, so I was like, ‘Why not?'” Raleigh said.
The Padres’ two runs came in the ninth inning when Trent Grisham hit a two-run homer off Tommy Milone.