The M’s rallied from a five-run deficit early and a one-run deficit in the ninth for an 8-7 win over Texas, which gave them their first sweep of the season.
It’s a game the Mariners seemed destined to lose, twice. Down 6-1 after three innings and facing Cole Hamels, Seattle’s win chances seemed to fall somewhere between “not a chance” and “stop kidding yourself.”
After defying those odds and tying the score at 6-6, the Mariners watched their closer Edwin Diaz serve up a solo homer to Nomar Mazara in the top of the ninth, silencing the rejuvenated crowd of 19,678 on Sunday.
After working so hard to get back into the game, another rally seemed unlikely.
Marlins @ M’s, 7:10 p.m., ROOT
Instead, the Mariners refused to settle for a series win against the reigning American League West champion. Seattle rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth with rookie Mitch Haniger working a bases-loaded walk to tie the score and Nelson Cruz hitting an infield single that scored the winning run in an 8-7 walkoff win.
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It secured the Mariners’ first three-game sweep of the Rangers at Safeco Field since Sept. 28-30, 2007.
The series against Texas featured a level of baseball and execution that was lacking as the Mariners slogged their way to a 2-8 start.
“Great comeback,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Obviously our guys showed a lot of character today. There was a lot that went into today’s win. It was a big one for us. We know what Texas has done in our division the last two years. We are starting to get some momentum going our way. Wins like that hopefully lead into some bigger things coming up.”
Servais had to watch the ending in his office after getting ejected by first-base umpire C.B. Bucknor after the sixth inning.
“I don’t know what’s more stressful, watching on a TV or in the dugout,” he said.
Haniger, who has been the Mariners’ best performer early in the season, had perhaps his best game in a Seattle uniform with a three-run homer, the tying walk in the ninth and a marvelous leaping catch to rob Joey Gallo of a two-run homer in the eighth inning.
“Mitch Haniger had quite a game,” Servais said.
It’s difficult to know what aspect of Haniger’s performance was the most important. They all had value.
Following three less-than-stellar innings from Hisashi Iwakuma, the Mariners were down 6-1. Iwakuma had no rhythm or command and it showed. Shin Soo-Choo punished him with a three-run homer and a two-run double.
But Haniger provided an immediate answer in the bottom of the third, knocking a sizable chunk out of the five-run deficit. He sat on a 1-1 changeup, driving it over the wall and into the “The ‘Pen” area in deep left-center.
Haniger has seen the cold temps and the size of Safeco take some homers. Not this time.
“I would’ve been pretty pissed if that stayed in the yard,” he said. “Last night, we put up five in one inning. You are always in the game. You have to remind yourself of that, especially after some of the tough losses we’ve had.”
The leaping catch came in the eighth inning with the Mariners having just tied the score at 7-7 in the bottom of the seventh on Guillermo Heredia’s solo homer to left. With Choo on second, Gallo — a power-hitting prospect of regard — hit a moon shot to right-center. Haniger tracked the ball the entire time, running toward the wall and briefly checking to see where he was at in relation. He timed his jump perfectly and reached over the wall to the pull the homer back in.
“I got a good jump,” he said. “I knew the warning track was coming up so I just tried to get up and bring it back in some way and get some glove on it.”
While the homer highlighted his power and the catch served as a reminder of his athleticism, it was the plate appearance in the ninth that showed his maturity.
The Mariners loaded the bases against soon-to-be-demoted Rangers closer Sam Dyson. Jarrod Dyson singled off Sam Dyson’s bare hand and stole second.
Leonys Martin put down a perfect bunt to third that Sam Dyson fielded but couldn’t make a play. After Martin stole second, the Rangers intentionally walked pinch-hitter Mike Freeman to load the bases. Haniger showed a refined patience, not swinging at 2-0 strike and working the count to 3-1. Dyson’s 3-1 fastball was low and off the plate away for ball four.
“He has a good sinker so I was just trying to see him up,” Haniger said.
Haniger has impressed the Mariners with his professionalism from the first day of spring.
“It’s very difficult,” Servais said. “We’ve talked about our ability to control the strike zone and within that, you have to trust the guy behind you. And that’s exactly what we are talking about. It says a lot for the maturity of the type of player he is right now.”
Not many hitters would’ve been able to lay off the 3-1 pitch.
“I think I would’ve swung,” Cruz admitted with a laugh.
Cruz got to swing a few minutes later. With one out and the bases loaded, he hit a hard ground ball up the middle that his former teammate, Elvis Andrus, stopped with a dive, but there was no chance of an inning-ending double play.
“I was beating that out,” Cruz said.
Lost in Haniger’s heroics was a solid showing by the Mariners bullpen, specifically right-hander Evan Marshall, who gave the Mariners 21/3 shutout innings. James Pazos, Tony Zych, Marc Rzepczynski and Dan Altavilla combined to work a scoreless 22/3 innings, despite some anxiety-filled moments.
“I really tip my hat to our bullpen guys,” Servais said. “It was great job. We hung in there and our guys really responded.”