Has that magical “MoJo” returned to the ballpark in the SoDo district?
Well, let’s not go quite that far yet.
But something is definitely going on at T-Mobile Park that makes one wonder if this team that continues to exceed expectations and find ways to win games it shouldn’t (or wouldn’t in past seasons) might continue to do for the rest of the season.
For the second straight night, the Mariners’ winning run was scored when an Oakland A’s reliever couldn’t throw a pitch close enough to be caught by the catcher.
With two outs and the bases loaded, A’s closer Lou Trivino had the unenviable task of facing Mitch Haniger, who had doubled and blasted two homers already on the night.
With most of the 30,843 fans in attendance remaining and standing in anticipation for the possibility of Haniger blasting a walkoff grand slam for his third homer of the night in bottom of the ninth, they instead saw Trivino spike a first-pitch curveball about a foot in front of the plate that catcher Aramis Garcia had no chance of blocking.
As the ball rolled to the screen, Jarred Kelenic sprinted home while the largest crowd of the season roared in ecstasy at the stunning 5-4 victory. As he stomped on home plate and sprinted toward his teammates spilling out of the dugout, Kelenic was pelted in the face by some baby powder from teammate Ty France as part of the unexpected winning run.
“To me, it seemed like he was kind of a little bit all over the place with his off-speed pitches,” Haniger said of getting that unhittable first-pitch curveball. “I was surprised by that. But a win is a win, and we’ll take it.”
With the win, the Mariners have now won two of three in this all-important four-game series. They are now 53-46 and 2.5 games out of the second wild-card spot held by Oakland (56-44).
“I’m sure that’s the last guy they wanted to see come to the plate in that spot with as well as he’s been swinging the bat,” manager Scott Servais said. “Oftentimes, you try to get a little nastier or make it a little harder or tighter. He just overcooked it. It doesn’t happen unless those guys have the walks and the big at-bats ahead of that. We benefited from him trying to throw a nasty breaking ball, and we’ll take it.”
Indeed, the Mariners were able to load the bases after Luis Torrens’ lead-off single thanks to very disciplined walks from Kelenic and Jake Bauers. In a situation where everyone wants to play the hero, they didn’t chase pitches out of the zone.
“We had multiple guys that inning that led to putting a lot of pressure on a pitcher where he has to be fine with his stuff,” Haniger said. “That’s how we have to win games.”
The Mariners are now 22-8 in one-run games.
“We’re happy with how we we’ve been playing, but I don’t think we’re surprised by how we’ve been playing,” Haniger said.
Marco Gonzales will start Sunday in the series finale while Oakland will go with lefty Cole Irvin.
Haniger was part of all four runs that the Mariners scored off A’s starter Chris Bassitt.
In the first inning, he ripped a double off the BECU sign on the wall in deep left-center just in front of the mass of well-served and unwatching fans in The ‘Pen. The ball was hit so well that the person operating the fireworks behind the left field upper deck fired off the fireworks in a premature celebration. Haniger would later come around to score on a single to right field from Ty France.
In the second inning, Haniger cut the A’s lead to 3-2, launching a deep fly ball to the exact same spot. This time the ball carried into the stands with a collection of those fans in The ‘Pen actually watching the game disrupting Ramon Laureano’s attempt at a homer-robbing catch.
“He was pretty close to catching that,” Haniger said. “That would have been really nice play, and I’d have been pretty pissed off, but luckily it was just out of reach.”
Haniger gave Seattle a 4-3 lead in the fifth inning, sitting on a hanging breaking ball from Bassitt and sending it over the wall in dead center for a two-run homer.
His third multihomer of the season gave him 25 total on the season, easily the most on the team with Kyle Seager behind him with 18.
“He’s got good stuff,” Haniger said. “For me, I’m just trying to be really selective with him. Some nights you foul off good pitches to hit and some some nights you barrel them up. I got some good pitches to drive with him and luckily put a good swing on them.”
Haniger’s homers took starter Logan Gilbert, who struggled in the outing, off the hook for the loss.
After working through the first two innings scoreless, allowing just a double to Tony Kemp and striking out four of the seven batters he faced on high 90s fastballs, the A’s quickly adjusted their approach the second time through the lineup vs. Gilbert. They realized he didn’t have a feel with his secondary pitches. They stopped chasing at elevated fastballs, forcing him back down in the strike zone where they could handle it.
Gilbert never got out of the third inning, succumbing to a myriad of long at-bats where he simply didn’t have enough feel for a secondary pitch to put away hitters, who were fouling off fastball after fastball.
With one out and Elvis Andrus, who led off the third with a single, leadoff hitter Mark Canha worked a nine-pitch walk. Tony Kemp followed with a RBI single to center off a 1-0 fastball. The second out of the inning came on a deep fly to center from Matt Olson. Gilbert wouldn’t get the third out. Veteran switch-hitter Jed Lowrie didn’t chase three fastballs outside of the zone and then turned a 3-0 fastball at the bottom of the zone into a top-spinning single to right field that scored two runs and gave Oakland a 3-2 lead. Gilbert’s night ended when he lost a 13-pitch battle with Ramon Laureano that resulted in a single to right field. The at-bat was indicative of Gilbert’s issues. He fell behind 3-1 on back-to-back sliders and then threw nine consecutive fastballs to Laureano, knowing he couldn’t spot any other pitch to avoid walking him.
With 41 pitches thrown in the third inning, about 10 extra due to Laureano, Mariners manager Scott Servais had no choice but to pull his young starter.
Of his 75 pitches thrown in the outing, Gilbert threw 57 fastballs, which the A’s took 30 swings at and missed just four, 16 sliders that generated five swings and two whiffs and one curveball and one changeup.
And in that 41-pitch third inning, he threw 31 fastballs and just 10 sliders — six of which weren’t even close to strikes.
It was just the third time in his first MLB season where Gilbert failed to pitch past the third inning and one of those — a two-inning start vs. the White Sox on June 26 was due to a rain delay and eventual postponement. The other shortened outing came in the second start of his career. He pitched just 2 2/3 innings vs. the Tigers before being lifted. It was an outing that felt eerily similar in so many ways, including a pitch-filled third inning (39 pitches vs. the Tigers) that forced him out of the game. And it was also the last time the Mariners lost a game in which Gilbert had started.
Doing what it has done all season, the bullpen kept Seattle in the game. J.T. Chargois replaced Gilbert and struck out Mitch Moreland to end the interminable third inning.
He also worked a scoreless fourth.
Anthony Misiewicz (fifth) and Casey Sadler (sixth) each added scoreless frames. However, Drew Steckenrider couldn’t maintain the one-run lead provided by Haniger. With one out in the seventh, Steckenrider fired a 1-2 fastball that stayed up in the zone was lofted to right field by Garcia, the No. 9 hitter. The ball stayed just inside the foul pole and barely cleared the wall just over the 326 foot sign for Garica’s third homer of the season.
But Paul Sewald pitched a scoreless eighth and Kendall Graveman, making back-to-appearances for the fourth time this season, tossed a scoreless ninth to keep the game at 4-4.