Perhaps the thud of hitting rock bottom — losing two of three to the A’s and falling to last place in the American League West — jarred something to life in them. Maybe it was the removal of external expectations of success and the familiarity of playing without such pressure.
More likely it was two days of solid to outstanding starting pitching, an attack-minded approach at the plate yielding hits, homers and runs and simple execution in the field.
Whatever the reason, the Mariners have played their best baseball of the season over the past two days and have been rewarded with victories.
Building off a brilliant outing from Logan Gilbert and a rejuvenated offense that pounded out 13 hits, including Kyle Lewis’ second homer in as many games, Seattle rolled to an easy 6-0 victory over the Houston Astros at T-Mobile Park.
It was the first time the Mariners had shut out a team and the fourth time the Astros have been shut out in 2022.
After roughing up Justin Verlander on Friday night, which was unexpected, Seattle secured a second series win over the Astros at T-Mobile Park this season. It’s the first time the Mariners have won back-to-back games since April 24 and April 26.
They will send left-hander Marco Gonzales to the mound in the finale Sunday to try for a three-game sweep.
“It’s nice to get on the right side and win a series with the chance to sweep a really good team tomorrow,” said Seattle manager Scott Servais. “We are moving things here down the road in the right direction. It’s taken us a little while to get it going and hopefully we can build off the last couple nights.”
What has changed?
“Honestly, I don’t have a for-sure answer,” said first baseman Ty France. “I think we’ve been capable of this all year and it’s finally coming together. I’ve told you guys before that we were close. I think these last few days showed what kind of team we really are.”
The embarrassment of losing to the A’s at home and falling to last place did provide some level of motivation and soul searching. The Mariners were playing so far below the demanded standard that something had to change. It’s resulted in their best overall play since the first homestand of the season.
“People in the room know it,” Servais said. “The players know it. I’m impressed with the group and the fact that they understand it’s time to turn up the dial a bit intensity-wise and they have against one of the best teams in the league. It’s nice to see. We needed it. Now let’s finish it off tomorrow.”
Gilbert delivered the best performance by a Mariners starting pitcher this season, tossing seven shutout innings, allowing four hits with no walks, a hit batter and five strikeouts to improve to 5-2 and lower his overall ERA to 2.29.
No previous pitcher had gone that far in a game without allowing a run. Coming into Saturday, Seattle had just six games in which the starter went seven complete innings. Gilbert owned two of them. All four hits allowed were singles.
“I’m just trying to get ahead,” Gilbert said. “That’s the main thing we preach here. I did a pretty good job of it, just get in good counts and mix it up, give them different looks.”
On the 100th pitch of his outing, Gilbert reared back and fired a 97-mph fastball right past Chas McCormick for a swinging strike three to end the seventh inning.
Of his 100 pitches, Gilbert fired 73 strikes, including 17 first-pitch strikes to the 25 hitters he faced. He had 11 swings and misses, 15 called strikes and 27 pitches fouled off. And that was on a night when his fastball admittedly didn’t feel optimal.
“Anytime you put seven scoreless up on that offense, you’ve had a good night and he’s been great all year,” Servais said. “Even when he doesn’t have his overall package, his A game, he’s still able to go out and shut down a really good offense.”
Seattle had lost in each of Gilbert’s four previous starts.
The Mariners provided ample run support to allow Gilbert to attack with impudence.
J.P. Crawford punched a run-scoring single to right field off Astros starter Jose Urquidy for a 1-0 lead in the first inning.
Seattle tacked on two more in the second inning. Lewis crushed a solo homer off the railings on the upper deck to make it 2-0. Statcast measured the blast at 420 feet.
“That’s about as good as you can hit a baseball,” Servais said of Lewis’ homer.
To finish off the second inning, Cal Raleigh doubled and scored on Jesse Winker’s single to right.
Eugenio Suarez added a sacrifice fly in the fourth and France put the game out of reach in the fifth, pushing a curveball up the middle for a two-run single.
“I was definitely fooled on that one,” France said of his awkward swing. “It wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done.”
The Mariners had 17 at-bats with runners in scoring position and got only three hits.
“We scored six runs tonight, but probably could have had 10,” Servais said. “You know we left a lot of base runners out there. I thought Ty France’s hit was huge. You need those extra add-on runs.”