It’s one thing to be good at finding ways to win one-run games.
But it’s not ideal for the blood pressure of Mariners manager Scott Servais or the already-damaged psyche of Mariners fans to find ways to take multiple-run leads and turn them into the thinnest of margins before eking out victories.
Mitch Haniger’s team-high 14th homer of the season — a solo blast to center in the bottom of the eighth inning — proved to be more necessary than expected.
Rafael Montero, the de facto closer until Kendall Graveman returns from the COVID injured list, continued to impersonate The Fernando Rodney Experience but not quite The Bobby Ayala Nightmare.
Given a two-run lead, Montero made sure the Mariners added to their impressive record in one-run games, giving up a run in the ninth inning and putting the tying run on third base with two outs. But he calmly got Brock Holt to fly out to Haniger for the final out of a 3-2 victory.
Never a doubt.
“We play some one run games, don’t we?” Servais said. “It’s amazing how many close games we play. That homer in the eighth inning was really big to give us that little bit of cushion.”
While Montero and the Mariners needed every ounce of that cushion, Servais wasn’t displeased. The runner that scored reached on a fluky swinging bunt.
“I know Montero leaves many on the edge of their seat, but you look at the hits he gives up, it’s crazy how soft they are,” Servais said. “There was a couple there in the ninth inning, but he didn’t back off. He just kept making pitches and got the big outs for us.”
The Mariners are 12-5 in one-run games this season. That .705 winning percentage is the best in baseball.
“Believe me we’d love to go out and pound teams 8-2 every night and that would be fun too,” Servais said. “For young players, it’s a great experience going through it, learning how to execute, how to work your way through at-bats late in the game, get big hits or make big plays in the field. You’re learning every night. You’re learning more in those games more than you would in the 8-2 games, so we’ll take them any way we can get them.”
The Mariners (26-27) have beaten the Rangers in 11 straight games at T-Mobile Park. They have won five of their last six games. With a win on Sunday, they would sweep the four-game series vs. Texas and reach .500 again. Left-hander Yusei Kikuchi will get the start for the Mariners in the finale.
The Mariners broke a 1-1 tie in the seventh inning and J.P. Crawford snapped a 0-for-13 stretch when he hit a towering solo homer into the right-field seats on a changeup from Rangers starter Mike Foltynewicz.
In a bit of baseball coincidence, Foltynewicz had not allowed a home run in his last 24 1/3 innings. And the last person to homer off him before the streak? Well, that would be Crawford, who hit his first homer of the season off a changeup from Foltynewicz at Globe Life Field on May 7.
“He’s got two homers this year and they happen to be off Foltynewicz and they were the same pitch — a changeup in the exact same spot,” Servais said.
Crawford wasn’t looking for the changeup again.
“I was just trying to stay on time for the fastball and adjust to anything else,” he said. “I feel like I was late on the fastball a couple of times. I was just trying to make an adjustment there. And thankfully, I sped up to it and I got a good barrel on it.”
The Mariners got a solid and all too familiar start from Justin Dunn, who pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowing one run on two hits with no walks and eight strikeouts.
As has been the case so often in his brief MLB career, Dunn had extended stretches of effectiveness and even dominance. But there was that one hiccup of an inning where his command went awry and traffic on the bases ensued.
For Dunn, that meddlesome inning came in the fourth after he had tossed three scoreless innings, allowing just one base runner and striking out four batters.
Given a 1-0 lead thanks to Jose Godoy’s single to right field in the second inning that scored Kyle Lewis, Dunn was pitching with rhythm and pace while showing quality stuff.
But from the first pitch of the fourth inning, a curveball to Isiah Kiner-Falefa that missed well above the strike zone, Dunn was in “compete mode” with himself. Two pitches later, he hit Kiner-Falefa with a fastball.
He walked the next batter — Nate Lowe — on four pitches, all fastballs that missed high and away.
Mariners pitching coach Pete Woodworth was out of the dugout and heading to the mound before that fourth ball missed badly.
It’s a conversation he’s had with Dunn on multiple occasions.
“Woody and I have a good relationship,” Dunn said. “He knows how to stir the pot and get me fired up a little bit. He also knows how to reset me at the same time. So that conversation right there is — get back to attacking, make them put the ball in play.”
And has he’s done so often in the past, Dunn found a way to limit the damage. He struck out the Rangers’ best hitter, Adolis Garcia, swinging, pitched around the dangerous Joey Gallo with a walk that loaded the bases and gave up a run on a sac fly to left field from Nick Solak. He got Holt to ground out to end an inning that reeked of pending disaster.
Dunn worked a 1-2-3 fifth inning with a pair of strikeouts and retired the first two batters of the sixth inning before Garcia picked up his second single of the game. With the left-handed hitting Gallo coming to the plate, Servais went to lefty Daniel Zamora, who had just been called up from Class AAA Tacoma. Zamora threw four consecutive sliders to Gallo, getting two quick strikes and a fly out to center to end the sixth.