The energy and emotion felt palpable.
The highs, the lows, the anger, the ecstasy, the bitterness of looming defeat, the joyful chaos of a late-inning rally followed by the anxiety of a potential late-inning meltdown, the disappointment of losing a lead, the begrudging meh of extra innings and finally the elation of celebrating a come-from-behind, walkoff victory.
The re-opening of T-Mobile Park on a perfect shirt-sleeve Friday night felt like a gauntlet of melodrama for those playing and watching, including irascible anger toward the umpiring crew and their treatment of reliever Hector Santiago.
But the announced crowd of 28,638, the largest crowd of the 2021 season by almost 10,000 fans, truly made its presence known in the later innings of the Mariners’ 5-4 comeback victory over the Texas Rangers in 10 innings.
Jake Fraley’s single off of lefty Taylor Hearn past a drawn-in infield scored Jake Bauers from third base, igniting an eruption that hasn’t been felt in the emerald and magenta palace since a forgettable 2019 season. And really, it felt more like 2018 when a competitive product was on the field, playing viable baseball with the intent of winning, not improving.
“I can’t say enough about the crowd tonight,” Servais said. “We have not had a feeling like that, not just in the 2020 COVID year, but it’s been a while, you know what I mean? And you can just feel the electricity in the ballpark. The crowd’s hanging in there with us. We’re starting to come back in the game and we take the lead. I really do appreciate the effort all our fans gave tonight. You can definitely feel the energy and excitement they bring.”
With the win, the Mariners improved to 10-1 in extra-inning games this season, and 44-39 on the season. They’ve won 13 of their past 16 games.
“You felt the energy and we feed off of that,” said J.P Crawford. “Having the fans there screaming and into the game definitely helped us win the night. So shout-out to the fans for staying there that whole long game and cheering us on that whole time.”
While it started well before the first pitch of the four-plus-hour marathon with the Mariners’ usual high-quality game production and re-do of traditional opening-day activities, the crescendo came in the eighth inning with Seattle trailing 3-2.
Luis Torrens, who left many of the fans in the stands and those watching on television grumbling with another defensive miscue earlier in the game, elicited only positive reactions when he crushed a game-tying solo homer to deep right-center off lefty reliever Joely Rodriguez.
The Mariners took their first lead of the game later in the inning when Crawford, who was greeted with stadium-wide chants of “J.P.! J.P.! J.P.!” when he stepped in the box, continued to build his All-Star resume and popularity among the fans, bounced a single through the left side of the infield, scoring Fraley from second base for a 4-3 lead.
“I’ve never had a whole stadium chanting my name,” he said. “It was really cool. I really couldn’t feel my body at the moment. When the whole stadium is chanting your name, you’ve got to come through, you’ve just got to come through.”
The Mariners’ defensive woes reappeared in the least opportune time as Kendall Graveman was trying to close out the ninth inning. With one out, Eli White hit a routine groundball to Ty France at third base. After fielding it cleanly, France spiked the easy throw to first, bouncing it well in front of the base. Jake Bauers couldn’t glove the short-hop and it bounced away, allowing White to advance to second. The free runner scored moments later when Jonah Heim doubled off the wall in center to tie the game at 4-4.
Logan Gilbert gave the Mariners a solid start, but it could have been so much better.
The rookie right-hander pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits with two walks and six strikeouts on a season-high 104 pitches.
All three of the runs scored off him were avoidable if plays would’ve been made.
He retired the side in order in the first two innings, striking out three batters and looking dominant while flashing a fastball that touched 98 mph.
But after allowing a one-out single in the third, his defense let him down. Charlie Culberson hit a fly ball to shallow right field. As Mitch Haniger sprinted in to make what seemed like a relatively easy catch, the presence of Bauers, who sprinted back from first base to possibly make a play on the ball, seemed to distract him. Haniger took his eye off the falling baseball for just a moment, causing the ball to hit off the top of his glove for an error as Nick Solak sprinted for third and Culberson advanced to second.
It only got worse.
Brock Holt followed with a single to right field that scored Solak easily from third. Haniger picked up the ball and fired home, making sure Culberson wouldn’t score. The strong throw bounced once but was catchable. However, Torrens, who has struggled on throws to the plate all season, didn’t touch any part of the ball with his glove. Not only did the ball get past Torrens, but Gilbert was slow to back up the throw home. The ball bounced past him and to the wall behind home, allowing Culberson to score on the play. Haniger was charged with his second error of the game.
The 2-0 lead grew to 3-0 in the fifth inning when a failed play resulted in a run. Gilbert issued a leadoff walk to Jonah Heim to start the problems. But Gilbert was able to get Solak to hit a groundball to third base. France fired to second base for what seemed like a certain double play. However, Shed Long Jr. bounced his throw to first base and Bauers couldn’t glove it.
The baserunner loomed large when Culberson looped a line drive into the left-field corner that got hung up on the wall, allowing Solak to score from first base.
“Not our cleanest ball game,” Servais said. “We made a few defensive miscues tonight, but when you don’t play your best game and you’ve still got an opportunity at the end of the game to win it, it says a lot about the fight our guys have.”
Trying to overcome a 3-0 lead against Rangers starter Kyle Gibson isn’t exactly an ideal situation for success. The lanky right-hander came into the game with a 6-0 record and an American League-leading 2.00 ERA in 15 starts this season.
The Mariners chipped away against Gibson and his nasty array of pitches. Fraley got their first run with his first career homer at T-Mobile Park, launching a moonshot fly ball into right field that carried over the wall for a solo blast. It was the only run Gibson would allow, working 5 2/3 innings and allowing the one run on five hits with three walks and seven strikeouts.
After being gifted a few runs, the Rangers returned the favor with a pair of errors in the seventh inning that allowed Seattle to cut the lead to 3-2.
Since he is awaiting the ruling on his appeal of a 10-game suspension for violation of the league’s latest moral cause — using sticky substances on baseballs — from a not-so-independent arbiter employed by MLB, Santiago is still allowed to pitch for the Mariners. He entered in the eighth inning. And since he’s maintained that all he used was rosin from the rosin bag behind the mound when he was accused of violating the policy and ejected from a game in Chicago, Santiago wanted to remove any doubt that he’s still doing anything illegal. He picked up the rosin bag from behind the mound, walked it toward the dugout and tossed it out of play.
The umpiring crew answered his gesture by coming over and discussing what he was doing, which brought an irritated Scott Servais out of the dugout.
And after Santiago pitched a scoreless frame, including a pair of strikeouts, umpires stopped him in front of the Mariners dugout to check him for substances despite him being under appeal and the rosin being gone, apparently thinking he conjured up a sticky substance out of the night air of the Pacific Northwest. The cheers from the fans turned into a serenade of boos while Santiago was visibly angry at receiving the inspection and conversation. His teammates swarmed him in the dugout rallying behind his effort.
But there was more to it. The umpires didn’t like the color of Santiago’s glove. They wanted him to change because it wasn’t black, but gray. His reply was that umpires had confiscated his other glove. Had Santiago needed to pitch the ninth inning, he would’ve had to use another glove. So he went up in the clubhouse to find a teammate’s glove just in case.
“You’re not allowed to use a gray glove,” Servais said. “It’s a black glove in my opinion, but we’ll just leave it there.”