Mike Leake bounced back from two less-than-stellar outings, but Trevor Story's walk-off homer clinched a sweep of the Mariners and made them losers of eight of 11 heading into the All-Star break.
DENVER — There was no question the ball was going over the fence when it left the lacquered black bat of All-Star shortstop Trevor Story. Given the park, the hitter and what has been transpiring for the Mariners on this road trip, it was only a question of how far it would travel.
The answer: Far enough that center fielder Ben Gamel didn’t need to bother making a hollow effort at a game-saving catch at the wall. It was too far gone for such theatrics.
Story’s walkoff homer in the bottom of the ninth off reliever Nick Vincent gave the Rockies a 4-3 win on Sunday and sent the reeling Mariners into the All-Star break. It’s a much-needed, four-day sojourn from losing for the Mariners.
“It’s a game you desperately wanted to win going into the break,” M’s manager Scott Servais said.
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But desperation doesn’t necessarily yield results.
The Mariners had an outstanding first “half” of the season, finishing 58-39, which is the fourth-best record in baseball. Few people outside of the Mariners organization thought such a start was possible. But these last 11 games, in which they’ve lost their last four and eight total, were a grim reminder of mediocrity past.
The Mariners saw their lead for the second wild card go from nine games to just three over the Oakland A’s, who have won 20 of their last 26 games.
“The break couldn’t come at a better time for us, unfortunately we kind of limped into it,” Servais said. “We’ve put ourselves in a position with the way we played in the first half to be in a good spot down the stretch in the second half. Hopefully we get to where we want to go; that’s into the playoffs. This team certainly has enough talent to do that.”
Panic? Probably not from the team, but there is a portion of the fan base teetering on the brink of hysteria. Losing the last three series served as a glaring reminder that the Mariners and their postseason hopes are far from guaranteed.
“This isn’t going to easy,” Servais said. “When you are trying to put something behind you — we haven’t been to the playoffs in a long time here — there are going to be some challenges along the way. You find out what you are made of. But I know what this club is made of, and I like our chances.”
In the clubhouse, it was no different from any other loss. The frustration resonated, but the recuperating power of four days away permeated
“We aren’t worried at all; nobody in here is going to do that,” Dee Gordon said. “It’s baseball. You aren’t going to win every game. You just have to keep playing. We all need a break. We played hard this first half and played well too. Everybody needs the break, enjoy it, recharge our battery for the second half.”
Still, Servais held a team meeting after the game before players could depart. His message wasn’t complicated:
“Take these four days and go clear your mind,” Servais said. “Come back in four days mentally refreshed and ready to get after it. I want guys to clear their minds. I don’t want guys walking out of here with their shoulders down and drooping. We’ve done a lot of good things in the first half.”
Mariners starter Mike Leake did his job, bouncing back from two less-than-stellar outings. He pitched six innings, allowing two runs on six hits with a walk and two strikeouts. He probably could have kept going if not for his batting spot in the order coming up in the seventh inning with a runner on second.
“Mike really threw the ball well in some tough conditions,” Servais said. “It was really raining hard.”
The Mariners’ failure to hit at a park that rewards hitters cost them the game. And this recent anemia at the plate isn’t limited to just this series, but also the prior two that they lost. They’ve scored just four or more runs just five times in this span.
The Mariners grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first inning against Rockies starter Tyler Anderson. Consecutive singles from Gordon, Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger led to the first run, giving Haniger 67 RBI before the All-Star break. With two outs, Denard Span doubled into the gap in left-center to make it 2-0.
Anderson settled in, retiring 14 straight batters and working six innings, allowing just those two runs on five hits a walk and six strikeouts.
The Rockies answered in the third inning, scoring their only two runs off Leake. A two-out walk to D.J. LeMahieu started the problems. Charlie Blackmon followed with a broken-bat single to center and Nolan Arenado singled to right field. With the wet conditions, Haniger dropped the slippery baseball as he threw and he stumbled on the soaked turf. It allowed two runners to score.
“You are not expecting to make plays and then unfortunately slip,” Haniger said.
Seattle grabbed a 3-2 lead in the top of the seventh against lefty Jake McGee. Guillermo Heredia led off with a single and moved to second on David Freitas’ sac bunt. After pinch-hitter Nelson Cruz struck out swinging, Gordon delivered with two outs, lacing a single on a 3-2 pitch to left to score Heredia. But even Gordon didn’t think it was enough.
“Not in this park against this team,” he said.
He was right. Juan Nicasio gave the run right back in the bottom of the inning. A leadoff triple to Ian Desmond, in which Haniger again fell down on the soaked turf, eventually led to a run on Chris Iannetta’s sac fly to left field.