HOUSTON — Emotionally exhausted, and ready to exit this private hell called Minute Maid Park, Seattle manager Scott Servais referred to a familiar sentiment he’s used often this season, including just four days ago when the Mariners finished off a three-game sweep of the Rangers in a marathon game.
“I said it the other day: it’s hard to sweep anybody in this league,” he said with a tired chuckle. “And again, we proved it today.”
Of course, the context was a little different Sunday afternoon. To beat the Astros 6-3 in 11 innings and avoid a sweep, the Mariners needed the following:
— A game-tying home run from Ty France in the ninth;
— A super-human relief performance in the 10th from Paul Sewald that featured three strikeouts with the bases loaded;
— A run-scoring single from France for the lead;
— An insurance cushion provided by a three-run homer from Kyle Seager;
— And little-used Yohan Ramirez retiring Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 11th.
Yep, the series finale Sunday had a little bit of everything for the Mariners, who had been bullied by the Astros in a pair of ugly beatings to start the series, getting outscored 27-4 and looking largely non-competitive. But if the 2021 season has proven anything about these Mariners, they are a resilient bunch.
“If you watch us play all the time, we’ll have the tough losses and it looks like we’re gonna fall off the edge of a cliff and everybody’s ready to jump off with us, but this team just keeps grinding every day,” Servais said. “They show up and come to work. They don’t worry about what happened yesterday.”
There wasn’t much to find looking back at those two games. The Mariners looked overwhelmed and nothing like the team that’s played its way into the postseason conversation that nobody included it in to start the season.
“They just keep looking forward,” Servais said. “That’s a credit to our group here. That’s what we saw today. We walked into the clubhouse this morning, music’s playing and, ‘Hey, we’ve got a game to play. How are we going to win it?’ instead of worrying about what happened the last couple days. We’ve done it all year and why not continue it. That’s kind of how we roll.”
With the victory, the Mariners (67-58) pick up their second win in seven games at Minute Maid Park this season. And just their third victory in their last 23 games in Houston dating to the start of the 2019 season.
The victory certainly leaves the Mariners feeling a little better, particularly as they head into an important two-game series in Oakland. The Mariners sit three games back of the A’s and Red Sox for the second wild-card spot.
“This time of year, the Little League World Series is always on,” Servais said. “And I happened to be in my room last night, watching the game and it popped into my head about the 10th inning today – this is like a Little League game. Guys just keep coming back, you’ve guys stepping up in big spots and you see the energy in the dugout and what’s going on around our team, it’s a fun, fun ballgame to win.”
While the Mariners didn’t fall behind by five and six runs early, they were still trending toward defeat in the eighth inning.
Down 2-0 and facing Kendall Graveman, who was pitching against his former team for the first time since being traded in late July, pinch-hitter Jake Bauers and J.P. Crawford came up with back-to-back two-out doubles to give Seattle its first run in the eighth.
In the ninth, facing Astros closer Ryan Pressly, France crushed his third homer in the series. The solo blast tied the game at 2-2.
The Mariners seemed destined to squander their comeback when Luis Torrens, the designated runner to start the 10th, made a colossal baserunning gaffe, getting thrown out at third on a ground ball to shortstop Carlos Correa to start the inning. The Mariners wouldn’t score in the frame.
After some much-needed rest days, Sewald gave up a leadoff single to Altuve putting runners on the corners with no outs. The Mariners intentionally walked Brantley to load the bases. Sewald, with a little help from home-plate umpire Brian Gorman, struck out Correa looking on a slider that even Sewald admitted wasn’t a strike.
“It doesn’t get any worse than that,” Correa said. “I tried to keep my composure, knowing we don’t have guys on the bench and it was only out one. … That was brutal.”
Sewald then struck out Jason Castro and Yuli Gurriel swinging to push the game to the 11th.
“That was it, make sure Altuve gets a hit, then we intentionally walk Brantley to really make sure we’re in a jam and that’s apparently what brought out the best in me,” Sewald joked. “No, I had to pitch like every pitch was the last pitch of the game, because it really was if you walk a guy or you give up a hit. I really had to go for punchouts only and we made pitches when we had to.”
His performance re-invigorated a dugout. They’d staved off defeat twice now. Why not win it?
“He’s done it for us all year,” France said of Sewald. “I’m not surprised at all. He’s had a heck of a year. He’s been one of the guys we really lean on and in that situation, that’s who we want on the mound.”
Hard-throwing right-hander Ryne Stanek started the 11th for Houston. His first pitch bounced in the dirt and allowed Crawford to advance to third. He walked Mitch Haniger and then left a 99-mph fastball in the zone on a 2-2 count that France punched into right field for an RBI.
“With those kind of guys, you just want to be on-time for the fastball because that’s their best bullet,” France said.
Seager then unleashed a three-run blast to deep right-center on a 2-2 slider for his 29th homer of the season.
“There was probably the most annoying fan I’ve seen in quite some years all over our team and certainly all over Seager all day behind our dugout,” Servais said. “So it was a fitting end to that ballgame that he put an exclamation point on it.”
It gave Seattle key insurance runs that loomed large when Houston scored a run off Keynan Middleton in the bottom of the inning and then loaded the bases with one out.
Servais called on Yohan Ramirez, who has ridden the shuttle between the Mariners’ bullpen and Class AAA Tacoma this season. Added to the roster for this series as a replacement for Casey Sadler who was on paternity leave, Ramirez struck out Altuve and got Brantley to fly out to center to end the game.
“He was the guy with the best stuff in our bullpen at that point,” Servais said. “And we rolled the dice for the best guy out there, he executed and did a heck of a job.”
Tyler Anderson gave the Mariners their most competitive start against the Astros in the series. He pitched 5 1/3 innings, allowing two runs on eight hits with a walk and four strikeouts.
With his pitch count building fast over his first three innings, Anderson reeled it back in and pitched into the sixth inning.
He was lifted after giving up a one-out single to Aledmys Diaz and a double to Jake Meyers. Right-hander Joe Smith entered the game to face his former teammates and did so with perfect effectiveness, striking out Taylor Jones and Martin Maldonado to end the inning.