With the pomp, circumstance and routine-upsetting distractions that come with the first home game of the season — regardless of the date — expecting anything beyond chilly temperatures, dry conditions and a packed house might seem a bit foolish.
In the first seven games of the 2022 season, the Mariners had proved to be just as unpredictably varying as the Midwest weather conditions they’d played in each day.
The biggest fear in such a momentous occasion is a noncompetitive clunker of a drubbing — something Seattle hasn’t been immune to in past seasons. And with the game being against the Houston Astros, a team that has bullied them over the past few seasons, well, disappointment was a distinct possibility.
But given what had transpired thus far for the Mariners, two other possibilities loomed:
Starter Marco Gonzales, who isn’t afraid of such moments, would deliver a strong outing to bounce back from an abysmal first start of the season.
The Mariners’ revamped lineup, which had shown a propensity to get on base in the first seven games, would finally generate some hits with runners in scoring position and have a breakout game.
Much to the delight of the 45,023 fans bundled up for a Friday evening at T-Mobile Park, they got both as the Mariners did the drubbing in an 11-1 victory over Houston.
Gonzales delivered a stellar outing, pitching seven innings and allowing one run on four hits with no walks, a hit batter and six strikeouts.
Meanwhile, the offseason additions to the Mariners’ lineup, specifically infielder Adam Frazier, outfielder Jesse Winker and third baseman Eugenio Suarez, led a balanced offensive attack that provided a delicious example of what might be possible on a given night.
“That was a fun night,” manager Scott Servais said. “I hope everybody in the ballpark enjoyed it as much as we did.”
So what would Servais had predicted coming into the game?
“Oh, they’re both very good possibilities, but I think Marco bouncing back,” he said. “I felt very confident coming into the game today that he would make an adjustment. His stuff was so much crisper and you know, just so aggressive early in the strike zone and we love to see that. You know that’s who Marco is. We needed him to come back strong and he did tonight so I’m happy to see we got both Marco and the offense going.”
Frazier had four hits in five at-bats, driving in four runs with a two-run double and a two-run triple while Winker had a pair of hits, a pair of walks, drove in a run and scored a run and Suarez hit the only homer in the game, a two-run blast in the eighth and also drove in another run. Seattle’s offense racked up 13 hits with eight starters notching a hit, worked eight walks and scored 11 runs with only the one homer. Seattle had four hits in 12 at-bats with runners in scoring position — a marked improvement.
After having no command or crispness on his pitches in that first start in Minnesota, Gonzales returned to his typical pinpoint form in the comfort of the mound that’s been his home now for 52 starts.
“I was pitching with a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “These guys have smacked me around for a long time. It felt good to stick it to them a little bit.”
Using a fastball/changeup combo with just enough curveballs sprinkled in, he had Astros hitters off balance. He pounded just-hard-enough fastballs in on hitters’ hands, faded the changeup away from right-handers and used that breaking ball to keep them honest.
“At this point in the season, there’s gotta be no panic,” Gonzales said. “I mean just put your head down and go to work. After the last outing, which was a disappointing way to start, I just went to work and executed.”
His only run allowed came in the seventh inning. Yuli Gurriel doubled to left and later scored on Jose Siri’s broken bat bloop single to center.
Seattle provided Gonzales run support immediately.
Playing in T-Mobile for the first time, Winker took early batting practice to get used to the surroundings and just get some swings on the field with the crazy schedule on the road. It seemed to help as he singled home Frazier, who led off the first inning with a single off Astros starter Jake Odorizzi.
Seattle piled up the runs. Frazier laced a two-run triple to the right-center gap in the fourth inning off Odorizzi. The Mariners made it lopsided in the sixth when Ty France doubled over left fielder Chas McCormick to plate Tom Murphy, who scored three runs in the game and Frazier.
Frazier’s two-run double highlighted a three-run seventh inning that also had an RBI sac fly from Jarred Kelenic.
“Offensively, we were due,” Servais said. “We’ve just got a lot of good hitters on this team and not a lot of luck early on.”