They knew what was at stake without being told. They knew that there was still doubt lingering on whether this team is for real, something that isn’t likely to change any time soon. They knew what they had to do if they wanted to stay together and continue to prove people wrong.
And they did it, as they’ve done so often this season, with yet another blood-pressure-spiking one-run win.
With Sunday’s 4-3 victory over the Oakland A’s at T-Mobile Park, the Mariners won three out of four games in what was already a season-defining series.
The Mariners are now 23-8 in one-run games. They are 54-46 and have moved within 1.5 games of the second wild-card spot held by Oakland (56-45).
“Exciting baseball,” manager Scott Servais said. “It doesn’t really get much better than that against a real quality opponent. I can’t say enough about the grit, the effort or whatever word you want to throw out there, our guys showed up and played their tails off all weekend.”
This current homestand, which transitions to a three-game series with the Astros starting Monday, was going to be somewhat defining in what general manager Jerry Dipoto might do with the looming trade deadline July 30.
“Obviously, we’ve got momentum on our side right now,” Servais said. “And we’re gonna ride this as long as we can.”
A bad showing might have forced them into sell mode for at least several pieces. But with the series win, could the Mariners be buyers instead?
“Every team is probably going to add something,” Servais said. “And I hope we add something. I guess that’s the best way I can put it. I don’t know what that’s going to be.”
With their bullpen heavily taxed from the first three games of the series, including Logan Gilbert’s shortened outing Saturday, the Mariners needed Marco Gonzales to take some of the burden off the unit.
In a normal season from Gonzales, it would’ve been a given. But this season has been anything but typical for the leader of the Mariners’ pitching staff. He came into Sunday’s outing with a 2-5 record and a 5.69 earned-run average in 12 starts with only one outing of six innings pitched or more since returning June 1 from a monthlong stint on the injured list.
The veteran lefty delivered as needed, not quite getting six innings, but providing an outing more indicative of his track record.
Gonzales grinded through 5 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on five hits with two walks and four strikeouts to improve to 3-5 on the season.
The Mariners provided the requisite amount of run support for a win, sending A’s starter Cole Irvin to his shortest outing of the season.
They scored four runs off Irvin in the third inning, turning a 2-0 deficit into a 4-2 lead — all with two outs. Kyle Seager’s two-run single with the bases loaded tied the game. Luis Torrens followed with an RBI single to left field and Tom Murphy’s bloop single to center that couldn’t quite be caught by a diving Ramon Laureano provided all the runs needed.
Chasing Irvin early was a bit of sweet comeuppance after his comments in a loss to the Mariners on May 25 when he gave up 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings pitched.
“I think at the end of the day, pitch execution needs to be a lot better and a team like that should not be putting up 10 hits against me or anyone,” he told A’s media after that game. “I’m extremely disappointed in my efforts tonight.”
Was it used as bulletin board material for motivation? Probably, but it wasn’t admitted.
“Their pitcher said that?” Seager said with a smirk. “I didn’t even know we’ve ever faced him before. So yeah, no, that’s fine.”
Said Servais: “It was talked about. Somebody once told me: ‘If you want justice, don’t become your enemy.'”
That run support was plenty for Gonzales and the bullpen.
He was one out away from getting a quality start and finishing the sixth inning. After allowing a one-out infield single to Laureano, ending a string of nine consecutive batters retired, Gonzales got Jed Lowrie to fly out to deep center for the second out.
With his pitch count nearing 100, Gonzales battled A’s catcher Sean Murphy. He thought he had Murphy struck out on a 2-2 curveball that home-plate umpire Mike Muchlinski called a ball. With a full count, Murphy fouled off three pitches before another curveball sank below the strike zone for a 10-pitch walk. It ended Gonzales’ outing at 105 pitches.
He received a well-deserved standing ovation for his effort as he exited the mound. That he pitched into the sixth inning was more than the Mariners could’ve hoped for after it took him 49 pitches to get through the first two innings and 75 through three.
“I had seven-eight innings in the back of my mind all day long,” Gonzales said. “I woke up thinking seven-eight today just for our bullpen, for our team for what the series meant to us. And after the first two, I was pretty deflated just because I felt like I needed to have efficiency out the gate.”
But after his teammates scored those four runs in the fourth, Gonzales came back with 1-2-3 frames in the fourth (10 pitches) and fifth (seven pitches).
It also helped that Gonzales and catcher Tom Murphy pivoted into Plan B. While Gonzales didn’t go into details, Statcast data shows a spike in the usage of his changeup and curveball after Matt Olson’s solo homer in the third made it 2-0.
“Credit to him, I had the opportunity to talk with him and Murph,” Servais said. “We needed to go to Plan B because Plan A was not going to work. It was pretty obvious on that. It really takes a true pro to be able to shift course midstream like that. And Marco did a heck of a job along with Murph to induce some soft contact with his off-speed pitches to allow him to get deeper in the ballgame. I thought he should have finished the sixth. We didn’t get very many friendly calls from the umpire today.”
J.T. Chargois finished the sixth inning for Gonzales, striking out the first batter he faced, Matt Chapman, and stranding both runners.
The A’s cut the lead to 4-3 in the seventh on a pinch-hit homer from Seth Brown off Casey Sadler. But Anthony Misiewicz provided 1 1/3 inning of scoreless relief and Drew Steckenrider notched his third save with a scoreless ninth, aided by Jake Bauers’ throw to third to get Chapman for the second out of the inning.