The delay from home plate umpire Jansen Visconti left the fans standing in fretful anticipation.
It was actually catcher Tom Murphy’s scream and dramatic fist pump after receiving Paul Sewald’s perfectly placed 94-mph fastball on the outside corner that let his pitcher and the rest of T-Mobile Park know that this game was over about three seconds before Visconti signaled strike three on Jake Meyers, ending the building ninth-inning drama and securing Seattle’s stunning 1-0 win over the Astros.
When Sewald saw Murphy’s reaction and then the late strike three call, he turned and screamed. Working with the minimal amount of run support and no room for mistakes, he overcame back-to-back, one-out singles in the ninth inning to notch a four-out save.
The Mariners (72-62) maintained pace in the race for the American League wild card. They will have Thursday off before opening a three-game series in Phoenix vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks, who have the worst record in the National League at 45-90.
For a second straight day, the Mariners held baseball’s best overall offense scoreless. The Astros lead MLB in batting average (.267) and on-base percentage (.339) and are second in runs per game (5.30). It’s just the second time this season Houston has been shut out in back-to-back games. The other time came July 9-10 vs. the Yankees at Minute Maid Park.
“Pitching, pitching, pitching,” manager Scott Servais said. “It is really hard to throw back to back shutouts in this league, and especially against the type of lineup that we faced here in this last series.”
That it came with Yusei Kikuchi starting Tuesday night and Logan Gilbert getting the nod on a sunny Wednesday afternoon — the two Seattle starters who have struggled the most of late — made it that much sweeter for the Mariners.
Gilbert delivered a solid if not lengthy outing, working five shutout innings and allowing four hits with no walks and five strikeouts. Relievers Justus Sheffield, Casey Sadler, Drew Steckenrider and Sewald followed with scoreless work.
“I really do think that’s the best stuff we’ve seen from Logan Gilbert in any game that he’s ever pitched in the big leagues,” Servais said. “The life on the fastball, the command of the slider, the curveball he worked in today, he threw some good change ups and he did not back down.”
Mimicking the success of Kikuchi on Tuesday night, Gilbert relied heavily on his mid-90s fastball that topped out at 98 mph. Throwing it 60 times in his 94 pitches. It generated 33 swings and 10 called strikes with nine swings and misses. He threw 14 first pitch strikes to the 19 hitters, all of them coming on fastballs.
“Logan learned a huge lesson today: When you’re playing very good teams like that with that kind of power, you have to pitch inside,” Servais said. “He went after them on the inside part of the plate. When you’re throwing 95, 96, 97 miles an hour, you still got to get the ball there, and when you do that, it just opens up so much. You don’t have to be perfect when it’s out over the plate.”
J.P. Crawford helped Gilbert get a scoreless outing with an absurd play in the third inning. With two outs and Jose Altuve on third base, Carlos Correa hit a rocket groundball into the hole. The Mariners Gold Glove shortstop made a diving/lunging stop on a ball that had a 110.5-mph exit velocity.
“Off the bat, I thought it was a hit,” Gilbert said. “That’s the thing about J.P. he can get to just about anything and makes the play.”
After making the stop, Crawford bounced to his feet and in almost the same motion, started throwing a low bouncer to Ty France at first base. The ball beat Correa by a step and the inning was over.
“He’s a great athlete,” Servais said. “And the only way you finish those plays, you’ve got to really have a good arm and throw accurately. These guys do that long hop or that skip over to Ty in those situations. They’ve learned how to do it. They get the ball out of their glove as quick as they can just to get the ball on its way. If it’s low, we have a chance, and they’ve been super accurate with it.”
That lone run came in the sixth inning. Crawford led off with a crisp single to center off Astros starter Jake Odorizzi. Mitch Haniger worked a walk to push Crawford into scoring position.
Houston manager Dusty Baker went to his bullpen, bringing in right-hander Phil Maton. He struck out Kyle Seager but walked Ty France to load the bases, bringing Abraham Toro to the plate.
He couldn’t replicate his grand slam heroics from the previous night, settling for a high fly ball to mid-center field.
With center fielder Jake Meyers battling the sun and not in a good position to throw home, third base coach Manny Acta didn’t hesitate in having Crawford tag up and go on the catch. He scored with ease and the Mariners had their first run of the game.
After being activated from the injured list before the game and pitching out of the bullpen for the first time this season, Sheffield relieved Gilbert and pitched a scoreless sixth. Sadler was his typically efficient self with a scoreless seventh. In the eighth, Steckenrider ran into trouble allowing a pair of two-out hits. Servais went to Sewald, who struck out Carlos Correa looking to end the inning.