He lost a season, albeit a shortened one of just 60 games, to a fluke foot injury that never seemed to heal. A sluggish spring training, where he looked like he’d missed multiple seasons, carried into the start of the 2021 season, leading to an abysmal slump.
Nothing seemed to feel right at the plate, he couldn’t hit a fastball — the one thing he needed to do — and the results reflected the discomfort. His playing time dwindled, and his future with the team seemed uncertain.
But in the final months of a season where few things have gone right, Tom Murphy has returned to being a contributor in the Mariners’ push for their first postseason appearance since 2001.
Murphy belted a pair of home runs off Arizona starter Madison Bumgarner, he worked with Marco Gonzales for a quality outing, and the Mariners held on for an expected but not-so-easy 5-4 victory over the Diamondbacks on Friday night at T-Mobile Park.
It was their 30th one-run win of the season, which is the most in MLB.
“Always interesting, always entertaining,” manager Scott Servais said. “That’s it. That’s the 2021 Mariners. A nice way to start the homestand. We got an opportunity to pick up a game in the standings tonight, which is really nice as our guys continue to grind through it.”
In their 141st game of the season, this Mariners team that has continued to defy expectations and thwart their predicted slide to mediocrity, moved to one game back of the second wild-card spot once again with a 77-64 record.
“I think the biggest thing we’ve done is mitigate those down stretches to find a way to win and somehow to break up the monotony of losing two, three, four games in a row,” Murphy said. “This is the best team I’ve ever been on when it comes to that. It’s incredible how much morale we have, and how much we don’t allow what happened yesterday to affect us today.”
All three teams from the American League East lost Friday night while the two American League West teams, the Mariners and A’s, picked up wins.
After winning their past eight consecutive games, including series sweeps over the A’s and Yankees, who they are competing with for a wild-card spot, the Blue Jays (77-63) tossed out a clunker at Camden Yards, losing 6-3 to the worst team in baseball — the Baltimore Orioles.
The Red Sox (80-63) got down 4-0 early and tried to rally against the White Sox bullpen, but fell short at Guaranteed Rate Field, losing 4-3.
And the Yankees continued to fade, losing their seventh straight game in a 10-3 drubbing by the Mets at Citi Field. Since winning 13 games in a row in August, the Yanks have lost 11 of 13 games to fall to 78-63.
“If you look back on how the season started, and the fact that Murph did not play at all last year,” Servais said. “He got off to a really slow start. At that point, I didn’t know if he could kind of work his way out of it. But to his credit, he’s probably been one of our most consistent at-bats here over the last week or so, just grinding through it.”
In the past 11 games, Murphy has a .321/.474/ .536 slash line with nine hits in 35 plate appearances with two homers, nine RBI, nine walks and seven strikeouts.
Seattle got a quality start from Gonzales, who relied on his fastball to pitch six innings allowing three runs — all of them unearned — on four hits with a walk and three strikeouts.
Wait, all of his runs were unearned?
Well, by rule they were all unearned, but one of them should’ve been earned since he was responsible for the error that made it unearned.
After Gonzales worked a scoreless first inning, the Mariners grabbed an immediate lead in the bottom of the first. J.P. Crawford hammered a 3-2 cutter from Bumgarner into the right field seats for a leadoff homer.
The Mariners immediately gave back the run and more in the second inning. With two outs, Josh Rojas hit a hard ground ball to second baseman Abraham Toro, who fielded it on a nice play and fired to first baseman Ty France. But the routine catch wasn’t converted. France dropped the ball, and Rojas was safe at first base.
That would loom large when Henry Ramos launched his first career MLB homer into the left field seats. The last homer that Ramos hit was a week ago in Reno. And he never actually finished rounding the bases. While playing the Mariners’ Triple-A affiliate, the Tacoma Rainiers, Ramos had some words for the Tacoma dugout while slowly rounding the bases. It resulted in a confrontation with shortstop Donovan Walton with an ensuing bench-clearing fight. Ramos was ejected from the game and will serve a seven-game suspension with Reno if he ever returns to play for the Aces.
Because of the France error, the two runs from the homer were considered unearned.
Seattle retook the lead in the bottom of the frame. Luis Torrens doubled to right-center with one out, and Murphy was gifted an 0-2 changeup down the middle that he yanked into the upper level of Edgar’s Cantina for his 10th homer of the season.
The lead would be brief as the D’backs tied the game in the third inning. After walking Ketel Marte with one out, Gonzales tried to use his effective sidearm quick throw to first base to keep Marte close to the bag. The throw was wayward and bounced into foul territory, allowing Marte to advance to third base. He scored moments later on Carson Kelly’s sac fly to center to tie the game at 3-3.
“Just so awkward,” Gonzales said of his attempt.
France got one of the runs he was responsible for back in the sixth, hammering a hard one-hopper past second baseman Andrew Young for a two-out single.
Murphy’s second homer — a solo blast into the Mariners’ bullpen in the sixth — proved to be a needed insurance run when Diego Castillo served up a solo homer to rookie Seth Beer, who was making his MLB debut as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning.