ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — They couldn’t win them all, right?
Sweeping an entire season of games — seven to be exact — against a bad team is beyond difficult. And to do it against a team as good as the Rays, who played in the World Series last season and have the second best record in the American League, just doesn’t happen.
And it didn’t.
But even in the final innings of their eventual 4-3 loss to Tampa, there was a lingering feeling that the Mariners (57-51) would somehow find a way to pull out yet another victory because they have done it so many times this season.
But when Jarred Kelenic barely missed driving a slider from lefty Ryan Sherriff for a double or a homer, instead launching a deep, but catchable fly ball to right field for the final out of the game, Seattle’s quest to beat the Rays (65-44) in every game of the 2021 season came to an end.
“Unfortunately, Lady Luck was not on our side today,” manager Scott Servais said. “And that happens, when you play a team as tough as we have played Tampa all year long. We’ve been on the right side of every one of those games, and you’re hoping we had enough to kind of pull it out at the end.”
The Mariners finish the season series against Tampa with a 6-1 record, which is a quality accomplishment. It also makes you wonder how they could’ve gone 1-5 vs. Detroit in the same season.
“I love what we’re doing,” Servais said. “I really do. I like how we are coming to work every day and ready to play. Guys are having a good time. And really, we aren’t taking a back seat to anybody, and we’re ready to compete no matter who we’re playing against.”
They will travel to New York for a four-game series at Yankee Stadium against one of the teams they are directly competing with for the wild card.
“I’m looking forward to the series in New York,” Servais said. “I really am. I know our young players are too. A lot of them have never played there before. It’s gonna be a fun weekend.”
In his 14th start of his first MLB season, the Mariners got an uneven outing from Logan Gilbert, who was pitching in his first MLB start in his home state.
Pitching in front a large and vocal group of family and friends, that he estimated to be about 50 people, the lanky right-hander grinded through five innings, throwing 86 pitches (52 strikes). He allowed three runs on five hits and issued four walks to his six strikeouts. The four walks tied a season-high. He walked four against the Angels in a five-inning outing June 6. In his 12 other outings, he has never walked more than two batters.
“Not quite as sharp as we’ve seen him in the past certainly with the command,” Servais said. “He was missing some pitches up and to the arm side. I thought his timing was a little off today. I say all that and you look up and he still gave us five good innings.“
Gilbert had quality stuff on his pitches as evidenced by the 12 swings and misses, including nine on his four-seam fastball that averaged 95 mph. But his command came and went throughout his five innings. He had just three called strikes — one each for his slider, curveball and changeup — out of a combined 28 secondary pitches. He also had some noncompetitive misses with the fastballs. Of the 23 batters he faced, he threw first-pitch strikes to 10 of them. He came back with strikes on 1-0 counts to 10 of 13 hitters. But he also had nine counts where the Rays got to three balls.
“I think I was just a little offline and tried to correct it there in the game after the third,” Gilbert said. “But I think I just needed to keep my weight back and not stride across my body, stuff like that. So it’s really just staying online with the plate. It seems like a simple thing to do, but it’s something to just remind myself and make that adjustment.”
Even through all of that, if Kelenic makes a running catch on a missile off the bat of Randy Arozarena in the pivotal three-run third inning, the outcome might have been different. The hard line drive got past Kelenic on a catch he seemed poised to make. Instead of an out, it turned into a two-run triple.
“Jarred was in line, and he was going to catch that ball,” Servais said. “He lost it between the roof and the lights. He just didn’t see it for a second. And that happens when you’re playing in this ballpark.”
The white roof of Tropicana Field, the grayish white walls above the third level, the catwalks above the field and nontraditional lighting placement make it difficult on players.
“It’s a little quirky,” Servais said. “It’s just a different atmosphere than what guys are normally used to playing in. It was just one of those where he looked up, and he had a bead on it, and he lost it there for a second. That’s why he wasn’t able to complete the play. I would say if that ball is hit 100 times, he probably makes that play 95 times. It just happens.”
A sac fly later in the inning gave Tampa a 3-1 lead.
The Mariners cut the lead to 3-2 in the sixth. Mitch Haniger led off a with a triple — one of his three hits on the day — and scored on Kyle Seager’s sac fly.
The Rays got that run back in the bottom of the inning when Drew Steckenrider, who hadn’t pitched since July 30 due to heavy usage and some soreness, gave up a massive solo homer to former Mariner Mike Zunino. After striking out in his first two at-bats, Zunino got a fastball that he could handle and hit it off the back wall behind the center-field fence.
Seattle trimmed the lead to one run in the eighth inning. Crawford led off with a double and later scored on a wild pitch. With Haniger on second as the tying run with one out, Seager and Abraham Toro both missed hitting pitches hard off Matt Wiser for fly outs.