The formula is proven to work in the postseason, and these Mariners have carved out their own version of it.
Their starting pitching, as Robbie Ray showed again Sunday afternoon, can match up with anyone. Their bullpen is ferocious. Their defense, by and large, has been excellent for five months. And even as their offense has been a source of consternation, they have had a knack for timely hitting.
Those are components that can be successful at any time, in any era.
In a four-game series that had all the trappings of the postseason — and maybe a preview of things to come — the Mariners won three of four against the AL Central-leading Cleveland Guardians, riding seven shutout innings from Ray on Sunday to close it out with a 4-0 victory.
The Mariners wrapped up the most eventful homestand of the season — their most eventful homestand in a decade, perhaps, between Julio Rodriguez’s mega-contract extension and Ichiro’s Hall of Fame induction — with another well-played, high-intensity game before a sold-out crowd of 45,190 on a cloudless summer day at T-Mobile Park.
At 70-58, the Mariners moved ahead of Toronto (68-58) into the second wild-card position, just a half-game behind Tampa Bay (70-57).
“Fun series,” M’s manager Scott Servais said. “That’s what baseball should be like. A perfect day out there. Big crowd. And the home team comes through. … It doesn’t get any better.”
Dylan Moore, an injury fill-in for shortstop J.P. Crawford, delivered the timely hit Sunday — a towering three-run home run to left field — to break open a scoreless game in the fifth inning.
Ray was the story, continuing a mighty impressive run for the Mariners’ starting pitchers.
The reigning AL Cy Young winner struck out seven and allowed just three hits, with no walks, on 103 pitches. During the six-game homestand, M’s starters posted a 1.38 earned-run average, with 39 strikeouts and just four walks in 39 innings.
“That’s about as good as you can pitch,” Servais said.
Ray relied more on his four-seam fastball than usual, touching 95 mph and getting six of his seven strikeouts with it.
“Going into it, we wanted to lean a little heavier on the four-seam, but it just seemed like it was really working and I was able to use it at the top of the zone and get some freezes at the bottom of the zone as well,” Ray said.
Erik Swanson and Paul Sewald pitched the final two innings to complete the Mariners’ 11th shutout of the season.
As the Mariners struggled for the first four innings to generate much of anything against Cleveland starter Aaron Civale, it was fair to wonder if another stellar pitching performance would go to waste.
Ty France broke out of an 0-for-21 slump with a solid single to lead off the fifth inning. Adam Frazier walked later in the inning, bringing up Moore, the No. 9 hitter.
On a 2-2 pitch, Moore popped a foul ball near the first-base dugout. Cleveland first baseman Owen Miller fell into the netting attempting to make the catch; Miller did hold onto the ball, but first-base umpire Ramon DeJesus ruled that the ball touched the netting before Miller could complete the catch.
That gave Moore another chance, and on the next pitch he hammered a hanging curveball over the wall in left field for his sixth home run of the season — and first since July 7 — to give the Mariners a 3-0 lead.
“I’m waiting on his fastball and trying to adjust off that,” Moore said. “That (curveball) popped up pretty high and I was able to stay back and get my hands through it.”
France added a solo homer to left off Civale in the seventh, his 15th of the season — and first since Aug. 6.
The Guardians (67-59) threatened in the sixth inning, putting runners at first and third with no outs. But Ray escaped by getting Myles Straw to fly out to Mitch Haniger in right field, Steven Kwan to pop out and Amed Rosario to strike out swinging at a high fastball (keeping Jose Ramirez stranded in the on-deck circle).
After an off day Monday, the Mariners begin a six-game road swing Tuesday in Detroit, closing out the trip with three games in Cleveland. That could be another preview of what’s to come in October.
“These teams are very similar,” Servais said. “… They pitch very well. They’ve got a very deep bullpen and they play very good defense. I think we match up very well against them, and they match up well against us. I mean, all these games were close. There’s a big swing here or big play there and it goes the other way. …
“We go to Cleveland next week and it’ll be a struggle over there as well. They’re a really good team, and I think we’ve earned their respect as well.”