Mariners starter Marco Gonzales had pitched one solid game after another in recent weeks with not a lot to show for it, because the Mariners weren’t scoring many runs.
On Thursday night the Mariners scored as many runs in the first three innings (seven) as they had in Gonzales’ previous five starts combined.
Gonzales made sure the offensive support wasn’t wasted, providing another quality start as the Mariners (42-42) opened a four-game series with Toronto with an 8-3 victory at T-Mobile Park.
The Mariners won for the fifth consecutive time, tying their longest winning streak of the season, and have won 13 of their past 16 games to move to .500 for the first time since they were 12-12 on May 3.
“It took us a while to get here, but we’re [back] at .500,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “It was a fun game tonight. We did a lot of good things early in the ballgame offensively. … But again, the story of the game was solid pitching. It has been really solid through this run that we’ve had.”
Seattle fell to 29-39 on June 19 after completing a 3-8 homestand, and returning to .500 this quickly — if at all — would have been hard to envision.
But with the pitching leading the way, the Mariners started rolling, despite missing several top hitters.
The offense perked up on a two-game sweep of the San Diego Padres to start the week, scoring 14 runs in those games — and the hot hitting continued Thursday, led by home runs from Cal Raleigh and Eugenio Suarez, who each had three runs batted in.
The Blue Jays elected to use an opener, Anthony Banda, before bringing in Casey Lawrence, a former Mariner who entered with a career ERA of 6.58.
The tactic didn’t work.
Julio Rodriguez opened with a walk, Ty France singled in his first at-bat since returning from the injured list, and Carlos Santana lined a single to center field with one out. That was the end of Banda’s night.
Raleigh hit a two-out single off Lawrence to bring home another run in the first inning, staking Gonzales two a 2-0 lead.
The early run support was certainly welcomed by Gonzales, who had not allowed more than two runs in his previous five starts but was 1-3 in that span because of the lack of offense.
Gonzales got unlucky in giving up an unearned run. With two outs, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. had a swinging bunt that travels about 50 feet toward third base for a single.
Gonzales then hit Matt Chapman, and Gabriel Moreno hit a ball similar to the one hit by Gurriel Jr. It dribbled slowly toward Suarez at third base, who threw wildly to first base, allowing a run to score on his error.
The bottom half of the second was strange, too.
Dylan Moore hit a fly ball to left field with two outs that could have — and probably should have — been caught, but it bounced in and out of left fielder Gurriel’s glove and over the fence for a gift home run. The ball would have hit the wall had it not been aided by Gurriel, but the run counted just the same.
“What a homer,” Gonzales said. “It was pretty cool, and our entire dugout was stoked because we got a break.”
The Mariners broke it open with four more runs off Lawrence in the third. Suarez drove in a pair with single, and Raleigh hit a two-run homer — his 11th of the season — to right field that gave Seattle a 7-1 lead.
“It was awesome,” Gonzales said of the offensive support. “This last little stretch, we’ve just been having a great time and having so much fun playing together. To watch them come out tonight and unload — especially in front of this crowd — it was a joy to watch.”
Toronto scored a pair of runs in the fifth after Gonzales got the first two hitters of the inning out. But on this night that didn’t matter much.
Suarez hit his 14th home run of the season in the bottom of the fifth for Seattle, and the outcome wasn’t in much doubt from there.
Gonzales was relieved with two outs in the seventh after hitting Bradley Zimmer and giving up a single to Santiago Espinal. Penn Murfee came in and retired Bo Bichette on a fly out right field to end the inning,
Gonzales allowed three runs — two earned — on eight hits and two hit batters. He had no walks and no strikeouts.
“That’s pretty boring, but that is who I am,” he said of the no strikeouts. “I have done it this way my entire life, and I am still here.”
Murfee worked a clean eighth inning, and Diego Castillo closed it out in the ninth.
“Nice way to start the series,” Servais said. “A lot of good things to talk about — offensively, defensively and pitching. A well-played game by our side I thought.”
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that Eugenio Suarez’s 14th home run of the season was not the Mariners’ team high, as reported in an earlier version.