They can’t all be walkoff grand slams.
Sometimes a solo homer will do just fine.
After ending the game Sunday in grand fashion, Shed Long Jr. returned to T-Mobile Park on Tuesday and delivered the Mariners’ fifth consecutive victory and their eighth triumph in nine games.
Facing right-hander Tyler Kinley with one out in the eighth inning, Long smashed a 95-mph fastball over the wall past dead center for what would be the winning run in Seattle’s 2-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies.
Given a one-run lead in the ninth, right-hander Kendall Graveman worked a 1-2-3 inning to pick up his sixth save of the season.
Long’s homer was the 7,000th in Mariners’ franchise history, but only his second of the season. Though it’s likely he’ll tally a few more with his current approach at the plate and the way he’s swinging the bat.
“I knew he threw hard,” Long said. “So I was just sitting on something hard. I just wanted to get something on the plate that I could just drive. I really wanted to find something up to drive. That was my biggest thing, let him have the bottom of the zone and don’t chase under the zone, just find something up I can drive.”
Even on an unusually warm night, even for the second day of summer, to hit a ball over the wall in dead center with the roof open is an accomplishment to be noted.
“Shed Long’s got it rolling,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “It’s hard to hit a ball out to dead center here and that it’s gone the minute you hit it. He certainly got all of that one.”
So did Long really know it was, um, “long gone” off the bat?
“For sure,” he said. “Immediately when I hit it, I knew it was gone. There was no doubt in my mind.”
Perhaps the biggest positive is that Long didn’t try and pull the pitch. His approach of hitting to all fields is a sign of maturity. During his struggles in 2020, he admittedly got pull happy.
“I’ve been really impressed on how he’s hung in on some pretty good left-handed pitching,” Servais said. “The only way to do that is you have to give up a little something and that’s what he’s doing. He’s just trying to stay in the middle of the field. And he hit a ball about 400-some feet tonight in middle of the field so it’s all good.”
The Mariners got a second consecutive strong start from right-hander Chris Flexen. After tossing eight scoreless innings in his previous outing, he carved up the Rockies for the first six innings, shutting them out and limiting them to just two hits – a single from Brendan Rodgers in the fifth inning and a single to Raimel Tapia in the sixth.
Using a fastball with a little bit of extra life, Flexen challenged hitters and they weren’t hitting it.
“You saw him get some balls by some pretty good fastball hitters,” Servais said. “He was locating it well, locating it away to right-handed hitters. I thought his changeup was very effective as well. When he’s got that life and with that high arm slot, it really is effective. You go down in the zone early and then up in the zone late in the count.”
His teammate gave him a minimal 1-0 lead in the fifth inning, loading the bases with one out against Kyle Freeland.
After Long struck out swinging, J.P. Crawford battled Freeland to a 3-2 count and then hit a hard ground ball into the hole at shortstop. Rodgers made a difficult stop on the play, but his throw to first was well late to get Crawford, who dived headfirst into the base. The Mariners’ chance to add on was squelched when Dylan Moore, who was on first base, didn’t see that the runner ahead of him – Jake Fraley – had been held at third. Moore was halfway to third before realizing it. He was tagged out at second base trying to get back.
“We ran ourselves out of an opportunity for more runs,” Servais said.
Flexen’s scoreless innings streak, which dated back to his start June 9, ended at 15 with two outs in the seventh inning, Flexen threw a first-pitch 95-mph fastball to big first baseman C.J. Cron. The pitch didn’t quite get to the outside corner and stayed more on the outer half. Cron, who was once a heralded home-run hitting prospect with the Angels, showed he still has some power in his big frame. He stayed on the pitch, sending a line drive over the wall past right center. MLB Statcast measured the blast at 410 feet with a 109-mph exit velocity.
It looked for a moment as if the Rockies might have back-to-back homers off Flexen when Rodgers sent a towering fly ball to deep left-center that Fraley couldn’t run down. It stayed in the park and went for a triple, therefore ending Flexen’s outing.
“I think each outing I’ve continued to grow, to trust myself, trust my plan,” Flexen said. “For me, every time I take the ball, I just want to go out and try to win a ballgame for the team, stay on a consistent routine and try to get better each time out.”
The Mariners are 10-3 in games Flexen has started this season.
“I’m really happy with the strides that he has taken,” Servais said. “He looks really comfortable. He believes he belongs. He’s a big part of our rotation now and going forward. He fits age-wise and I am surprised that he has improved as quickly as he has and what he’s done here. The last six or seven starts have just been outstanding.”
In eight starts at T-Mobile Park, Flexen has a 2.05 ERA with 32 strikeouts and just eight walks in 48 1/3 innings.
With the go-ahead run at third base, Servais went to his bullpen. Right-hander JT Chargois entered nd coaxed Garrett Hampson into an inning-ending ground out to first base to keep the game tied at 1-1.
Freeland had one of his best starts since being a Cy Young candidate in 2019, pitching six innings, allowing the one run on five hits with a walk and seven strikeouts.
Paul Sewald pitched a scoreless eighth inning and got credit for the victory in relief.