In the 838 previous games that he’s served as manager of the Mariners, Scott Servais has easily accumulated more than 3,500 trips to the mound for a variety of reasons — usually to remove a pitcher from the game.
But in his 839th game, which came on a near-perfect late-summer Sunday afternoon at T-Mobile Park, an eighth-inning mound visit, rare in the fact that it didn’t result in a pitching change, would later generate this comment after the Mariners’ 4-3 win over the Royals:
“I will never forget that mound visit for as long as I manage the game,” he said with an exhausted chuckle.
What could have possibly generated such a statement that without the context of the four-game series with the Royals and this crazy Mariners season could be viewed as hyperbole upon first glance?
After Kyle Seager’s two-run homer in the seventh gave Seattle a 4-2 lead, Servais turned to right-hander Paul Sewald, his most effective reliever in the 2021 season, to pitch an eighth inning where Salvador Perez was scheduled to bat third.
In the midst of a season where he will almost certainly finish in the top three in American League MVP voting and would win it in almost any other season if not for Shohei Ohtani, Perez has almost crushed the Mariners’ postseason hopes with his powerful bat.
He hit a grand slam Thursday to erase a 4-0 Seattle lead and spark a comeback win for K.C. He hit another grand slam Friday, erasing a 5-1 lead in what also would be another Royals win. Saturday, he could only hit a two-run homer for the Royals, which turned a 1-0 lead into a 3-0 lead in the fifth inning of an eventual 4-2 win.
In his third at-bat Sunday, he hit a first-pitch fastball from Marco Gonzales off the foul pole in left field to tie the game at 1-1.
So when Nicky Lopez reached with a one-out single off Sewald to bring Perez to the plate as the tying run, Servais asked for time and ran to the mound to have a discussion about their plan to pitch to Perez — which was not to really pitch to him.
They weren’t going to simply intentionally walk him to put the tying run on base with one out. But they also weren’t planning on giving him anything he could hit.
“He’s certainly the hottest hitter on the planet over the last four days so you go out there with the guy getting on in front of him, I wanted to make sure we executed pitches,” Servais said. “Paul assured me that he was not going to throw him anything he could hit.”
The hope was that perhaps with Perez bursting with confidence he might get himself out by swinging at something outside of the zone. If he didn’t, the Mariners would walk him if Sewald fell behind 2-0, 3-0 or 3-1.
“Unfortunately, we did not execute,” Servais said.
Indeed, Sewald left a 1-1 fastball on the outside corner. Perez stayed on it, sending a line drive to right-center that hit off the wall, about a foot below the top. It resulted in an RBI single.
“We were actually very fortunate that the ball did hit the wall,” Servais said. “You need a little luck in this game once in a while. We did not execute. We were not going to throw him a strike. But Paul did have a little issue with his command today and getting the ball up. If he’d got the ball up, neck high where it was supposed to go, he would have been fine. But he didn’t. And we were fortunate. But I won’t forget that visit for sure.”
With his homer in the finale of the previous series against Houston, Perez has homered in five consecutive games. He is the first opposing player to homer in all four games of a series against Seattle since Paul Konerko did it in July 26-29, 2010, with the White Sox.
Perez had seven hits in 17 at-bats in the four-game series with four homers, 12 runs batted in, two walks (one intentional) and two strikeouts. This season, he has a .277/.315/.544 slash line with 19 doubles, 38 homers, 94 RBI, 20 walks and 137 strikeouts. He’s second in homers behind Ohtani’s 41 homers.
“I think we would have won the series and may have swept the series if Salvador Perez stayed in Kansas City,” Servais said. “Unfortunately, he didn’t. That was some kind of offensive show he put on here the last four days.”
The Mariners will see the Royals for three more games on Sept. 17-19 at Kauffman Stadium.
“I don’t know if we’re gonna figure out Perez,” Servais said. “He’s been some kind of hot and you have to give him credit, he’s as hot as we’ve seen a player in here. We’ve seen Mike Trout and some other guys get going here. He barreled up everything.”