A loss meant losing ground, and the Mariners simply don’t have enough games remaining in this magical season to risk letting someone else steal this dream from them.
On a night they had to win to keep pace and remain the interlopers in the American League wild-card race, they did so in the manner that has won them more games than anyone believed possible early this season.
The formula isn’t complicated. It’s quality starting pitching, solid bullpen work and piecing together just enough offense with competitive at-bats and clutch hits.
With a raucous crowd of 17,366 at T-Mobile Park standing in anticipation, Drew Steckenrider shrugged off a pair of runners on base, closing out a 4-2 victory over the Oakland A’s on Wednesday night.
The Mariners’ 12th consecutive victory over the A’s this season allowed them to remain a half-game out of the second wild-card spot, The Red Sox (89-69) beat the Orioles, and the Blue Jays (88-70) outlasted the Yankees.
“I know we aren’t quite there yet,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “But that felt like a playoff game tonight.”
He credited the crowd for making it feel that way.
“I’m gonna say it again tonight: Our fans were awesome,” he said. “Thank you so much for everybody who was out there tonight.”
This latest win was yet another shrug toward critics who spent months citing the Mariners’ run differential and predictive analytics as a sign of their eventual downfall.
This team believes in itself more than the numbers used in those formulas. It believes in one measure: win-loss record.
“We’ve just played 13 consecutive days at a point in the season where everybody’s dragging, and we won 11 of those games,” Servais said. “Unbelievable effort by our guys. I’m so, so proud of them. This is fun. This is the way baseball is supposed to be at this time of year, and we’ve still got a lot of big, big games ahead of us.”
With an 89-70 record, they have three games to play vs. the Angels in what should be the biggest final series in Seattle since 2014. In that year they were almost backing into contention with teams around them faltering. This year’s team is charging into it, playing its best baseball.
“Coming to the ballpark every day, you feel something good is going to happen,” Servais said. “You have that momentum going, everybody’s contributing, everybody can’t wait to get out onto the field or play their role in helping us get to where we need to go here.”
A clutch single from J.P. Crawford off lefty Andrew Chafin with Dylan Moore stealing on the pitch set up a sac fly from Ty France in the seventh inning, breaking a 2-2 tie and given the Mariners a lead they wouldn’t lose. Abraham Toro provided insurance with a solo homer in the eighth.
“We’ve been doing it all year,” Crawford said. “We’ve been behind a lot coming in to the final stretch. We never give up. We just find a way to score runs and manufacture runs. It’s been a new hero every night. And that’s what a winning ballclub has to be.”
Logan Gilbert, the lanky rookie, pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowing one run on three hits with two walks and four strikeouts. Using his mid-90s fastball predominantly because he lacked feel with his other pitches, Gilbert worked through the first five innings scoreless, allowing just two base runners — a leadoff single to Mark Canha to start the second inning and a one-out walk to Matt Chapman in the fifth. Gilbert extinguished both of those threats with relative ease.
With Gilbert looking strong and only at 75 pitches, Servais sent him out for the sixth. His only run allowed came when he left a 2-2 fastball to Tony Kemp down the middle. It was turned into a solo homer into right field and a 1-0 lead. Gilbert retired the next two batters, but a walk to Canha ended his outing. Joe Smith entered the game and needed three pitches to get Josh Harrison to line out to center to end the inning.
Having trailed in each of their past three games — all victories — the Mariners’ offense came to life once the A’s had a lead.
Oakland’s defense offered an inning that could only be labeled as vomiting on itself in the bottom of the sixth much to the dismay of their starter, Frankie Montas, who had carved up the Mariners hitters for five shutout innings.
An infield pop-up from France to start the inning was misjudged and dropped by second baseman Kemp. With one out, Mitch Haniger’s ground ball to shortstop Josh Harrison didn’t result in the routine double play or an out. He dropped the ball as he went to underhand flip it to Kemp and kicked to the base. Kemp made a nice play to stretch and grab the ball for the force play. Second-base umpire Ted Barrett called France out at second on the play. But a brief replay review overturned the call.
It brought to the plate rookie Jarred Kelenic. Clearly irritated from the fielding fiasco, Montas grew more frustrated when his first pitch in the strike zone was called a ball by home-plate umpire C.B. Bucknor. Kelenic worked the count to 2-0 and sat on a 96-mph sinker almost identical to the first pitch at the top of the strike zone. He sent a missile into the gap in right-center that is a home run on almost any day where the temperature is above 60 degrees. Instead, it hit off the wall for a double that scored both runners, giving the Mariners a 2-1 lead and turning T-Mobile into bedlam and leaving Kelenic in fist-pumping hysteria at second base.
“Dude, it was so loud,” Kelenic said. “It was just kind of surreal. It’s like the one of those things that you see in movies when you’re young or you see on ‘SportsCenter.’ When you’re just there, you can only just sit there and look around and soak it in.”
The cheers were silenced momentarily in the top of the seventh. With Casey Sadler unavailable, Servais turned to Diego Castillo to hold the one-run lead. The burly right-hander had been outstanding since returning from the injured list.
But for just the third time in 13 appearances, he allowed a run, and it was costly. With two outs, Seth Brown jumped on a 2-2 sinker that leaked back into his wheelhouse, sending a solo blast into the right-field seats to tie the score at 2-2.