Why settle for a walkoff single when you can have the walkoff “salami?”
As the ball left Shed Long Jr.’s lacquered gray and black bat, traveling toward the right-field stands, the roar from the crowd of more than 18,000 in attendance built in decibels with each foot it traveled.
After it finally landed in the right-field seats for a walkoff grand slam and bedlam ensued in the stands and chaos reigned on the field with a mosh pit at home plate, Long leapt into his Seattle teammates’ arms and on to home plate to celebrate a stunning 6-2 extra-innings victory Sunday over Tampa Bay at T-Mobile Park. Amid all the noise, you could almost hear that familiar rasp of Dave Niehaus screaming, “Get out the rye bread and mustard, grandma, because it’s grand salami time!”
“It’s quite an exclamation to put on this weekend,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “Coming into this series, I mentioned early on that I was looking forward to it. I thought our team was as well to kind of see where we were at.”
The victory completed a four-game sweep of the defending American League champion Rays, who came into the series tied for the best record in the AL. Three of those victories came in walkoff fashion. Seattle now has won seven of its past eight games and is two games over .500 at 38-36. Meanwhile Tampa has lost six in a row to fall to 43-29, including four walkoff defeats in that streak.
The bottom of the 10th was trending toward a major wasted opportunity for Seattle. Taylor Trammell, who was inserted as a pinch runner for Ty France and started the inning on second base, moved to third on Dylan Moore’s perfect bunt that didn’t result in an out.
But with the contact play on, Trammell got caught in rundown between third and home on Jake Bauers’ ground ball to second base. Trammell stayed hung up long enough to allow Moore to hustle to third. Luis Torrens worked a walk off the Rays’ Diego Castillo to load the bases with one out.
Jake Fraley’s fly out to shallow left wasn’t deep enough to allow Moore to tag up. It brought Long to the plate with two outs.
After taking a slider for a strike and refusing to swing at a slider in the dirt, Long got a slider in the middle of the plate he could handle.
Long knew he’d hit it well, but on a warm and moderately windy Father’s Day afternoon, he knew better than to assume he’d notched baseball’s ultimate result.
“I didn’t know it would be a grand slam off the bat,” he said. “It was unbelievable. It’s one of the coolest things you can do in baseball. It was a great feeling just rounding the bases and knowing that I was able to help my team win.”
As has become custom, Long was mobbed and wrestled by teammates while being doused with water, Gatorade and dusted with baby powder. And it all felt surreal.
“Honestly, that whole moment is just like it was kind of a blur,” he said. “I don’t even know who threw what. I know I enjoyed it.”
It’s without question Niehaus would love this young team that can be maddening at times and marvelous at others. It plays with athleticism, energy and an intense reckless abandon that draws people in to believing there’s something more.
Yet, the Mariners also are prone to awful team-wide slumps at the plate when just getting hits seems like an ordeal. Their inexperience still surfaces often at inopportune times, the roster had obvious flaws even before being riddled with injuries and they’ve yet to put their best lineup on the field for more than a handful of games this season.
It leaves fans fighting an internal tug of war between the hope in their heart and the reality in their head. At some point, the heart and head will unite for similar reasons to pull in the same direction, but until then, grab some antacids.
“I couldn’t be any more excited about this group going forward,” Servais said. “We’re playing on top of our game right now and it’s really fun to watch young players’ confidence grow and what they can do and the excitement they bring. Hopefully our fans are enjoying it.”
The Mariners hoped to get at least six innings out of Marco Gonzales in his fourth start back from a month-long stint on the injured list with a flexor strain.
Gonzales gave Seattle six innings, allowing just one run. He didn’t quite make it through the seventh much to his disappointment.
With the score tied 1-1 in the seventh, he retired Yandy Diaz for the first out of the inning. It would be the only out he’d record that inning. Brandon Lowe stayed on a sinker low and away and drove it to deep center. Fraley, who had made a nice leaping grab against the wall in the fourth inning, couldn’t quite make a similar catch while looking into the afternoon sun. Even with Fraley wearing sunglasses, the ball struck the thumb of his glove as he collided with the wall and bounced away. With Long alertly backing up on the play, Lowe was held to a double.
But that extra base saved didn’t matter when former Mariner Mike Zunino, who had struck out in his previous two at-bats against Gonzales and looked bad doing so, was able to make contact with a lunging swing on the third consecutive changeup thrown to him. Long didn’t seem to pick up the ball off Zunino’s bat and the line drive went over his head, bouncing over the wall in left for a ground-rule double, a RBI and a 2-1 lead.
With the lead lost, Servais went to his bullpen. Anthony Misiewicz recorded the final two outs without incident.
Gonzales’ final line: 6 1/3 innings, two runs allowed on five hits with three walks (one intentional) and six strikeouts. He threw 87 pitches with 51 strikes.
France made sure Gonzales wouldn’t be taking the defeat.
Facing right-handed reliever Ryan Thompson, France launched a moon-shot solo homer into The ‘Pen to tie the game at 2-2.
Seattle got scoreless innings from Paul Sewald, Drew Steckenrider and Rafael Montero to get to extra innings.