By now, none of these things should surprise anyone about these surging Seattle Mariners:
1. They won.
2. They won a one-run game.
3. And they needed an edge-of-your-seat performance from their bullpen to do it.
All three of those things have been broader trends in Seattle’s unexpected success throughout the season and particularly in their September charge toward a wild-card berth.
But this … whew … this was dramatic even by the Mariners’ standards.
Paul Sewald escaped a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the ninth, and the Mariners held on for an intense 6-5 victory over the Angels to open their weekend series Friday night in Anaheim.
“Wow, talk about a pull-your-hair-out game,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “That was crazy.”
The Mariners (85-69) have won six in a row. They have won 33 one-run games, most in the majors. And they kept within striking distance of the Yankees (87-67) for the American League’s second wild-card spot.
But all that was oh-so-close to going out the window in the ninth inning when Sewald loaded the bases as the Mariners clung to yet another one-run lead.
Sewald got a quick first out to open the bottom of the ninth when Brandon Marsh flew out to right field on the first pitch.
Servais then chose to walk Shohei Ohtani for the fourth time in the game, the second in which the Mariners intentionally issued the AL MVP front-runner a free pass. It was a gamble, as Servais explained, but a calculated gamble.
“It’s not conventional” to walk the potential tying run in that situation, Servais said, “but we’re the Mariners of 2021 — we’re really not conventional anyway. So why not?”
Phil Gosselin then followed with a bloop double down the right-field line, putting runners at second and third.
Servais then decided to intentionally walk Jared Walsh, loading the bases with one out.
From there, well, Sewald did what he’s done all year in these situations. He confidently executed his two pitches — a devastating slider and a 93-mph fastball — and got out of it. It wasn’t exactly that easy, of course, but he got out of it.
Sewald struck out Jack Mayfield swinging through a slider for the second out.
He then got ahead of Jose Rojas 0-2 and appeared to have a strikeout looking on a slider at the knees. It was called a ball by home plate umpire Mark Wegner. Rojas worked the count to 2-2 and then pulled a fastball sharply to first baseman Ty France, who made a nice backhanded play to field the ball.
France then flipped it to a racing Sewald at first base for the final out and — did someone say unconventional? — Sewald slammed his glove behind him, as the ball flipped out and rolled back toward the mound. Sewald screamed into the night sky in celebration.
“This is about as climactic as it’s been all season long,” Servais said. “We’ve had some crazy ones where we’ve come back and scored late, but you’re just trying to hang on. … To Paul’s credit, he just keeps executing pitches. He doesn’t back off. He doesn’t waver. He believes in his stuff and what he does.”
The Mariners improved to 14-7 in September and 7-1 on this 10-game road trip.
The Mariners didn’t make up any ground on the New York Yankees (87-67) for the second wild-card spot. They remained two games back for the final playoff berth after the Yankees beat the Red Sox, 8-3, to open their series in Boston.
The good news for the Mariners is they are now even with Toronto (85-69) after the Blue Jays lost again to the Twins in Minnesota.
The Mariners blew early leads of 3-0 and 4-2, further stressing a bullpen that’s put in stressful situations just about every night.
Rookie right-hander Logan Gilbert was cruising early. He struck out the side in the first inning behind a fastball that sat at 97 mph.
But he hung a slider to Max Stassi, who belted it out to left for a two-run homer in the fourth.
Gilbert couldn’t get out of the sixth inning. He wound up walking Jose Rojas after an 11-pitch battle, leaving Gilbert at a career-high 110 pitches.
The Mariners were clinging to a two-run lead. It didn’t last.
The Angels quickly tied the score at 4-4 on a Stassi single and Luis Rengifo’s sacrifice fly.
Gilbert allowed four runs in 5.1 innings and got a job-well-done from Servais.
“He really gave us everything he had tonight,” Servais said.
Gilbert has had his ups and downs in his rookie season, but he’s been a steady part of the rotation and particularly here in September.
“It’s been exciting,” Gilbert said. “This is everything you could hope for. We’re in the hunt, playing September baseball games that matter. I think at this point everything kind of just goes out the window. You try to find a way to help your team win — that’s all that matters that day, especially now when we want to win almost every single game we have left.”
After the Angels tied it in the sixth, the Mariners came right back in the top of the seventh and retook the lead. Jake Fraley scored on a throwing error by Rengifo, the Angels shortstop attempting to throw home, and Mitch Haniger’s sac fly scored J.P. Crawford to make it 6-4.
The Angels made it 6-5 in the bottom of the seventh on Jake Mayfield’s RBI single.
Ty France hit his 18th homer of the season in the first inning for the Mariners, and he added a RBI single in the third.
“No one thought we’d be in the spot we’re in right now,” France said. “ … We’re pretty even-keel. We obviously know where we’re at and what it’s going to take, but if we just keep playing the way we have been all year we’re going to be all right.”