NEW YORK — The Mariners stopped their slide.
Now, can they make up for what was lost on this forgettable road trip when they return to the field Tuesday at T-Mobile Park?
Seattle avoided being swept in all four games at Yankee Stadium, mustering just enough offense and getting brilliant relief pitching and error-free defense – the key to its success this season – to pick up a much-needed 2-0 victory Sunday over the Yankees.
Starter Yusei Kikuchi and relievers Casey Sadler, Paul Sewald and Drew Steckenrider combined to shut out the Yankees at home for just the second time this season.
“A heck of a gut-check win for our ballclub today,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “It’s nice to finish the road trip with a win. When you look at this trip overall, we maybe didn’t win as many as we should have or could have.”
The victory ended a four-game losing streak and a road trip in which the Mariners (59-54) went 4-6, losing five games by one run. They are three games behind the Yankees in the chase for the second wild-card spot.
“Quite frankly, we could have won every game on this trip is the way I look at it,” Servais said. “Did we get a lot of breaks? Did we execute the way we needed to execute at the end of the game to make it happen? No, we didn’t. That’s part of baseball.
“This team: these guys fight. They love to compete. We need a day off to kind of regroup and then we’ll get after it at home. We’re playing good baseball. And that concerns me just as much as the wins and losses. We certainly want to win them all. Realistically, it’s not going to happen.”
Seattle’s offense was less than stellar, scoring 42 runs in 10 games — aided greatly by an 8-3 victory against the Rangers. The Mariners scored three runs or fewer in seven of the 10 games and only 11 runs in four games at Yankee Stadium.
They also struck out 92 times in 10 games with 36 walks, including 43 strikeouts against the Yankees’ collection of fire-ballers.
“The strikeout has crept back into our game and it’s a credit to the Yankees bullpen, which is maybe as talented as any bullpen that we’ve seen,” Servais said. “It’s something that hurt us early in the season. We’re starting to see it come back of late. A lot of it has to do with the quality of the arms we saw from their bullpen, but it’s something that we need to tighten up.”
After failing to score Saturday from the third inning on and mustering nothing through the first seven innings Sunday against the Yankees, Seattle finally snapped a streak of 14 consecutive innings without scoring in the eighth.
The Yankees called on one-time Mariner Lucas Luetge to start the inning. It looked like he would pick up a quick out when Abraham Toro hit a routine ground ball to third base. However Rougned Odor misplayed it for an error. Mitch Haniger followed with a walk to put the go-ahead run in scoring position.
Seattle broke through when Kyle Seager lofted a fly ball into the right-field corner. With the wind pushing it toward the foul line, right fielder Aaron Judge couldn’t quite run it down. The ball bounced off the warning track and into the stands, which was a bit of a bad break for Seattle because while Toro scored, Haniger was forced to go back to third.
The inning got a little heated when Jarred Kelenic was run up for a called strike three on a fastball up and out of the zone. Having already shared his thoughts with plate umpire Lance Barrett in a previous at-bat, Kelenic had more to say as he exited the batter’s box.
Barrett barked back at Kelenic and the rookie clapped back, which earned him an ejection. Servais, who was late in keeping Kelenic from getting tossed, came out to give Barrett his thoughts on his performance. He also was ejected after about 45 seconds into his tirade.
Cal Raleigh, who was following Kelenic in the batting order, watched the ordeal with a bemused look on his face. After the delay of about 10 minutes, the rookie catcher shrugged off a pair of fouled-off cutters and yanked an 0-2 curveball into left field. Haniger easily scored and it appeared Seager had beaten a terrific throw home from Joey Gallo as Barrett called him safe on the close play. However, a replay review overturned the call. Seager was out and the Mariners’ lead went from 3-0 to 2-0.
“It was a very long road trip,” said Seager. “You knew going into it that it was, you know, going to be long just in the amount of days you’re going to be away from family and the travel is real, crossing quite a few time zones there. It was a tough one. We certainly didn’t win as many games as we hoped to, but I think everybody’s excited to go home.”
Seattle got a solid if not lengthy start from Kikuchi, who displayed renewed life on his fastball and cutter, but not quite the efficiency he would prefer.
Kikuchi pitched five shutout innings, allowing four hits with three walks and six strikeouts. He needed 97 pitches, throwing only 57 strikes. Though the Mariners would contend he threw at least five or six more strikes that weren’t called based on the evolving strike zone of Barrett.
The Mariners bullpen, which has been through its share of innings with varying results on this trip, kept the Yankees scoreless. After Sadler allowed the first two hitters to reach base in the sixth and then got an out, Servais turned to Sewald. The man of many sliders struck out Brett Gardner and DJ LeMahieu to end the sixth. He worked a 1-2-3 seventh with strikeouts of Judge and Gallo.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a relief pitcher flip the momentum in the game like Paul Sewald was able to do today,” Servais said. “It’s not just that we got him in the game, but it’s what he did when he got in there — the big strikeouts. He’s been so critical to our season and what he’s been able to do.”
Steckenrider pitched the final two innings to secure the shutout and get the save. He needed just five pitches to get through the eighth, which allowed Servais to put him back out for another inning. Steckenrider allowed a one-out single to Gardner, but came back to retire LeMahieu on a ground out and struck out Judge with a curveball for a called strike three to end the game.
“Steck’s got a great mindset when he goes out there,” Servais said. “It doesn’t really matter where he’s pitching, he goes after you — ‘Here it is. I challenge you to go ahead and hit it.’ And that’s what you have to do in this ballpark. If you get a little anxious and try to pitch on the edges or are worried about their power or the size of the ballpark, it usually doesn’t work out well.”