When manager Scott Servais warned those listening in his pregame media session that they might see some unique pitching decisions, including a position player pitching, the idea of Luis Torrens being brought in to pitch in a tie game in extra innings, well, that wasn’t on the list of likely possibilities.
Not only did the backup catcher pitch in the top of the 10th inning, but he picked up with the win when the Mariners rallied in the bottom of the inning for a 7-6 walkoff victory on Abraham Toro’s sacrifice fly to center that scored Carlos Santana from third base.
The victory, coupled with Boston’s 6-0 rain-delayed victory over Tampa Bay at Fenway Park, gave the Mariners the No. 5 seed as the second wild-card team. Seattle will open the wild-card series Friday at Toronto. No. 6 seed Tampa Bay will play the other AL series at No. 3 seed Cleveland. The times for those games have yet to be announced by ESPN.
“I can’t wait to get on the plane tomorrow after the game,” Servais said. “All the teams are good right now. To get where we want to go you’re gonna have to go on the road. You’re gonna have to hit, you’re gonna have to pitch, defend and play well, in a pretty electric environment. Our guys are looking forward to it. This team’s not afraid of anybody. We certainly respect every team that’s in the playoffs, but we’re not afraid. And that’s what I love about this team.”
Although the nightcap was largely meaningless, the Mariners’ offense put in some work, rolling to an easy 9-6 win to complete the doubleheader sweep that started at 3:10 p.m. and ended at 10:34 p.m.
“I can’t say enough about our team,” Servais said. “I often say, ‘Our guys like to compete, they know how to compete, they are grinders and they are gamers.’ Today is the epitome of that. We’re right at the end of the season. We know we’re going into the playoffs, but our guys don’t quit. They want to win every game. They want to win every at-bat. They want to win every pitch when they’re out there. That’s a credit to them. They just don’t back off.”
Toro continued his big day at the plate, driving in four runs with a two-run homer and a two-run single. Cal Raleigh also hit his 27th homer of the season.
But it was the weirdness of the opening game that highlighted the interminable day at the ballpark.
While it didn’t register quite the level of excitement as their walkoff win on Friday night that ended their postseason drought, players still mobbed Toro and congratulated Torrens on his accomplishment.
Torrens is the first position player to pick up a win as a pitcher in Mariners history. He is the first position player not named Shohei Ohtani to win a game as a pitcher since catcher John Baker won a game with the Cubs on July 29, 2014 in Colorado.
“I told you it was going to be different today,” Servais said with smirk.
The last thing Servais wanted in a doubleheader on the penultimate day of the regular season was to see extra innings in the opening game. Not wanting to tax his bullpen, he turned to Torrens, who made an appearance as a pitcher earlier this season, to start the 10th inning of a 5-5 game.
“I played some catch in the indoor batting cage,” he said of his warm-up
“Doubleheaders at this time of year when we are trying to manage through some workload issues are always going to be a challenge,” Servais said. “Your worst nightmare is running out of pitching. And that’s what happened. We gave Luis a heads up earlier today that if it does go extra innings, he was going to be out there and I thought he did a great job.”
The backup catcher threw with a relatively strong pace hitting 83 mph on his first pitch.
“I loved pitching,” he said of his youth. “I always try to throw in the bullpen after catching them.”
Had there not been an automatic base runner at second base, Torrens might’ve worked a clean inning. He allowed two deep fly balls to center, the first of which allowed Akil Baddoo to tag up and advance to third, and the second, which allowed Baddoo to score for a 6-5 lead. After a single and misplaying a ground ball back to the mound, he got Kody Clemens to fly out to right field to end the inning. His last pitch was 89 mph.
“My arm was tired,” he said. “I have more in there than that.”
Down a run, Seattle answered immediately. Santana led off with a single to left off Tigers closer Gregory Soto that scored automatic runner Eugenio Suarez. Santana then went first to third on Jarred Kelenic’s single up the middle, setting up Toro, who had struck out three times in the game, to be the hero.
Making his first start since August 9 and tasked with trying to give the Mariners as many innings as possible, Chris Flexen pitched four innings, allowing three runs on five hits with a walk and two strikeouts on 71 pitches.
He worked the first two innings before allowing a leadoff double to Victor Reyes and a one-out double to Riley Greene in the third inning.
Seattle answered in the bottom half of the inning, catcher Curt Casali, playing in his first game since the birth of his son, hit a solo homer to left field in his first at-bat as a dad.
The Mariners continued to add on. J.P. Crawford worked a walk and Mitch Haniger, who knows about dad strength, hit a moonshot of a homer into The ‘Pen in deep center to give Seattle a 3-1 lead.
Flexen couldn’t hold the lead. With two outs, Jeimer Candelario reached on an infield single and Spencer Torkelson, the Tigers top prospect who struggled for much of the season, hammered a mistake pitch to deep left for a tying two-run homer.
Detroit grabbed a 5-3 lead in the top of the seventh against Matt Festa, who was in his second inning of work. A leadoff single from Torkelson was followed by a two-run homer off the bat of Reyes that made it 5-3.
But a Mariners offense that has been sluggish more often than not in recent weeks responded in the bottom of the inning. With two outs and Adam Frazier on second, Ty France singled off the glove of Torkelson at first base to score Frazier from second.
A walk to Haniger put France into scoring position and allowed Suarez to tie the score with a hard single to left field.