Their struggles were real and frustrating. Their failures were noticeable and the inability to correct them made everything progressively worse with each strikeout and wasted plate appearance.
Eventually both were relegated back to Class AAA Tacoma to refind their confidence, reassess their approaches at the plate and reestablish themselves as potential viable contributors to the Mariners in the 2021 season.
Of course, when Luis Torrens slumped his way into a demotion, there was less calamitous panic from the fan base as compared to Jarred Kelenic’s struggles that forced him back to the big leagues’ waiting room known as Class AAA. In fact, many fans wanted Torrens sent down sooner and were stunned when he returned.
While neither particularly enjoyed the demotion, they used it to get themselves right and earn their way back. And without the improved versions of Torrens and Kelenic, the Mariners wouldn’t still be hanging around in the fight for a wild-card spot and they certainly wouldn’t have picked up a 9-3 victory over the Blue Jays on Saturday night at T-Mobile Park.
The Mariners are doing it again, putting together a streak of wins after a rough patch of losing. They’ve now won four games in a row and five of their last six games and improved to 63-55. Seattle is now tied with Toronto (62-54) at 4.5 games back of the Red Sox for the second wild card spot and two games behind the Yankees.
“Yeah, a little bit different recipe tonight to get to the end result,” Servais said. “It’s a nice series win. We talked about it before the game today how important that is. You’re not going to sweep a lot of teams. But you go into each series, you’re trying to win the series and hope you’re in a good spot and be 2-0, which we are now and we run Logan Gilbert out there tomorrow. We’ve got a chance to sweep the Blue Jays, a very good team.”
The Mariners have stopped losing ground in the wild-card race, and beating Toronto was vital to stay within reach.
“I’d like to say we’re taking the same approach every day,” Servais said. “But certainly our guys pay attention to who we’re playing against and where they’re at in the standings. And for whatever reason, I think we’ve played very, very well all year long against good teams, teams that have winning records or are at the top of their divisions or ahead of us.”
“We need to probably do a little bit better job of bringing our intensity against maybe the teams that are below us in the standings,” Servais said.
With the Mariners getting an inefficient, pitch-filled start from Yusei Kikuchi that was frustratingly reminiscent of his first two seasons in the big leagues, the Mariners found themselves trending toward yet another game decided by the slimmest of margins in the final few innings.
But Torrens and Kelenic changed that with two swings, turning a one-run deficit into a three-run lead and an eventual drubbing.
With the Mariners trailing 3-2 going in the bottom of the seventh and having done little against Toronto starter Hyun-Jin Ryu since Ty France’s first-inning two-run homer, it was the player responsible for those two runs to get things rolling.
France led off the inning with a missile to deep right-center that bounced off the yellow pad on top of the wall, just out of the reach of Blue Jays center fielder George Springer, who tried to make a spectacular leaping grab.
After the ball sailed past his glove, Springer came down awkwardly on his left ankle and was in obvious pain. In perhaps a positive sign for the Blue Jays, he was able to limp off the field. But it seems unlikely he will be playing in Sunday’s series finale.
Ryu came back to get Kyle Seager to ground out to shortstop without scoring the tying run for the first out. But a walk to Abraham Toro ended his outing.
Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo went to right-hander Trevor Richards to face Torrens, who had a walk-off single off the wall in center field earlier in the homestand.
Knowing that teams had put him in a mini-slump by pounding him inside on his hands, Torrens has adjusted to the strategy, refusing to offer at those pitches. He worked a 3-1 count and then got a fastball up and away, sending a moonshot of a homer over the wall in left-center for a three-run homer and a 5-3 lead.
“With a runner on third, my approach is just to put the ball in the air,” Torrens said. “I saw the ball at the top of the zone and I made good contact and put the ball in the air and that’s what will happen.”
Torrens knew it off the bat, walking out of the box and watching it go out before tossing his bat and screaming at his teammates in the dugout.
“I don’t know how many homers he’s got now, but they’ve been big ones,” Servais said. “And uses the whole park to hit. He’s been a big shot in the arm. It’s been that right-handed bat that helps us out against the lefties. He’s done a really nice job.”
Two pitches later, Kelenic stayed on a 94 mph fastball on the outside half, unleashing his powerful-but-compact stroke on it. It produced a cannon-shot sound off the bat and a deep drive that carried into the Blue Jays’ bullpen in left field. It was a preposterous display of opposite field power for a 21-year-old rookie. MLB Statcast measured the blast at 384 feet.
A 3-2 deficit had turned into a 6-3 lead, and the Mariners weren’t finished.
Seattle rolled up another three runs in the eighth inning off right-hander Rafael Dolis, including a bases-loaded double into the left-field corner from Torrens that scored two runs.
The plethora of runs and hits helped offset a forgettable outing from Kikuchi, who allowed three runs on five hits with a season-high four walks, and five strikeouts.
Kikuchi labored through his outing, needing 88 pitches to get through four innings. He started the fifth inning with the scored tied at 2-2, but exited with one out and runners on second and third following a miscommunication and collision between Kelenic and Mitch Haniger on a catchable fly ball to right-center from Teoscar Hernandez.
The Blue Jays took the lead moments later on Lourdes Gurriel’s ground ball to third base off Casey Sadler with the run being charged to Kikuchi.
For Kikuchi, it was his first outing where he didn’t pitch at least five complete innings since June 5 in Anaheim.
“I found myself in trouble pretty often tonight, but I think I was able to really focus in lock in and deal with what I had tonight and somehow get out of those jams,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Kevin Ando. “I didn’t have my best stuff tonight.”
The Mariners got solid relief work from Sadler, Keynan Middleton, Erik Swanson and Anthony Misiewicz to close out the win and keep the Blue Jays from coming back.