Not a chance. Never during a game.
A scream of satisfaction as he rounded first base, seeing his high fly ball that seemed to stay up in the air for a lifetime carry over the fence?
Mitch Haniger might be the most serious and intense player to ever put on a Mariners uniform since Randy Johnson was making mullets seem sort of cool.
It’s been a source of much teasing from teammates, coaches and media members, calling him a robot or a cyborg. But playing in the heightened circumstances of meaningful September baseball in the Mariners’ yearly quest to reach the postseason, the emotion of the accomplishment came bursting from the stoic Haniger on Monday night.
And that smile?
Well, that came in the handshake line following Seattle’s much-needed 5-4 victory over the Red Sox.
“It doesn’t happen often,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “But when it does, you know it’s big. And I did see that show of emotion from him. I loved it. I thought it was great.”
Haniger’s three-run homer off Boston reliever Ryan Brasier in the seventh inning broke a 2-2 tie and gave the Mariners a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Though that lead was diminished to the smallest margin possible when Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers hit back-to-back solo homers off Paul Sewald in the top of the eighth.
But Drew Steckenrider made it hold up, notching his ninth save of the season for Seattle with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
With the victory, the Mariners picked up a game in the race for the second wild-card spot, moving to two games back of Boston and the Yankees. The Blue Jays moved into the first wild-card spot with a victory over Tampa earlier in the day.
The Mariners were fortunate Haniger even came to the plate in the seventh. Brasier appeared to have delivered a 1-2-3 inning when pinch-hitter Jake Bauers hit a ground ball to first base with two outs.
However, Kyle Schwarber, who was making his fourth career start at first base – all of them coming since being traded to the Red Sox — misplayed the one-hopper for an error that allowed the inning to continue. J.P. Crawford followed with a broken-bat single to left field that brought up Haniger, who had three singles in his first three plate appearances.
Brasier threw a 1-1 slider that stayed in the middle part of the plate and Haniger made a lunging swing on the low pitch, sending a high fly ball that just kept carrying. It just cleared the wall and left fielder Alex Verdugo’s glove by maybe a foot.
“I knew it’s gonna be really close,” Haniger said. “I was screaming at the ball to carry and luckily it did, probably a foot or two over.”
It was Haniger’s third consecutive game with a homer. He now has 33 homers this season to go with a .256/.321/.481 slash line with 20 doubles, two triples, 82 RBI and 99 runs scored. He will be the first Mariners player to score 100 runs in a season since Robinson Cano in 2016.
“I think in these type of games you need your best players to step up,” Servais said.
Despite Haniger missing all of the 2020 season and most of 2019 due to injuries and multiple surgeries, the Mariners weren’t certain what they would get from him in 2021. That he’s been one of their best players is a testament to the work he did in his recovery.
“The goal was to play as close to 160 games as possible,” Haniger said. “And I’m happy I’ve been able to be out there after missing so much time. I’m really grateful for all the people that have helped me get back to where I am today.”
Rookie Logan Gilbert delivered an impressive outing against a Red Sox lineup that is close to being whole after dealing with a COVID outbreak and contact tracing absences.
Gilbert pitched six innings, allowing two runs on five hits with a walk and a career-high nine strikeouts.
He threw 99 pitches with 64 strikes. His fastball reached 98 mph on multiple occasions and averaged 95.6 mph. But beyond the radar gun, it was the aggressive intent with which Gilbert delivered that pitch. He threw it without fear of contact. He used it to move hitters off the plate. He threw it when they knew it was coming. Gilbert threw 65 fastballs, generating 11 swings and misses, nine called strikes and 16 foul balls.
“Logan really set the tone tonight,” Servais said. “I thought he was outstanding. That’s a really good lineup they have over there. It’s a very veteran team. I thought it might be a good matchup for him tonight. He was super aggressive. I loved his mound presence and he looked every bit of a big-game pitcher for a guy who’s in his rookie season.”
After looking like he was showing fatigue in his first MLB season with a set of shortened and subpar starts in late July, Gilbert has seemed refreshed in his past three outings, allowing just four runs over 15 1/3 innings for a 2.35 ERA with two walks and 18 strikeouts.
The Mariners gave him an early 2-0 lead, scoring single runs in the first and second inning on infield ground balls.
The Red Sox answered with perhaps their least dangerous hitter doing the damage. Jose Iglesias, who was batting in the No. 9 spot, launched a solo homer to left field on a hanging slider in the third inning and then blooped a single to right in the fifth to tie the game at 2-2.