When did you know that the Mariners had the game won?
Was it the second the ball came off Shed Long’s bat?
Was it the moment it appeared out of right fielder Manuel Margot’s reach?
Or was it before that? Has this team managed to convince you that, when it’s close, they’ll end up with the cigar?
Sunday’s 6-2 win over the Rays marked the Mariners’ fourth come-from-behind victory in as many games. When Long ripped a two-out grand slam in the bottom of the 10th, it spawned Seattle’s third walk-off celebration in four contests. The Mariners’ extra-innings record this season? That’d be 8-1. And their 38-36 record marks the first time they’ve been two games over .500 since May 8.
You can point to an array of areas to explain their recent success (they’ve won seven of their past eight and just completed a four-game sweep of the reigning American League champs). But perhaps the main reason the Mariners can still dream of a playoff berth at this point in the season is because of their ability to convert winning opportunities into actual wins.
“Couldn’t be more excited about this group going forward,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We’re playing on top of our game right now. It’s really fun to watch the young players’ confidence grow, and what they can do and the excitement they bring. Hopefully our fans are enjoying it.”
They’re certainly enjoying the results. The way the results are achieved might have aged each fan 10 years, but they’re enjoying them. In games decided by two runs or fewer this season, the Mariners are 21-15.
In games decided by one run, the Mariners are 16-6. That’s how they’ve managed to be two games over .500 despite having allowed 46 more runs than they’ve scored.
Doesn’t hurt that the bullpen has been scorching. Just once — in the ninth Saturday against the Rays — have the M’s given up a run in the eighth or ninth inning in any of their past seven wins. Paul Sewald has gone nine consecutive appearances without giving up a run. Drew Steckenrider hasn’t allowed a run in 12 of his past 13 appearances, including his past seven. The two blanked the Rays in the eighth and ninth, respectively, on Sunday, with Sewald fanning two and Steckenrider striking out the side.
Doesn’t hurt that the young talent is starting to prosper. Shortstop J.P. Crawford, 26, leads the team in Wins Above Replacement (2.3) and has watched his slugging percentage jump from .330 at the start of the month to .404 currently. After struggling mightily in his first two starts, 24-year-old pitcher Logan Gilbert has gone at least five innings in his past four starts, at least six innings in two of his past four starts, and has watched his team win in each of his past five appearances.
Doesn’t hurt that their ace seemed to rediscover his form Sunday, either. Even before the forearm strain that sidelined him for all of May, Marco Gonzales had been struggling for the M’s. He came into Sunday’s game with an ERA of 5.44 but ended up throwing 6 1/3 innings vs. the Rays while giving up just two runs.
His strikeout of Austin Meadows to end the sixth with two on might have been the play of the game before Long’s 10th-inning heroics. If he keeps churning out performances like that, this team has a chance come September.
“I felt like I finally had the fastball command that I’ve been after,” Gonzales said. “Besides a couple pitches, I really felt confident in a lot of at-bats against these guys.”
It seems the whole team is starting to feel confident. Winning breeds confidence in general, but winning these types of games will grow that confidence exponentially.
Still, it’s important to keep perspective. Despite the Mariners’ 38-36 record, fangraphs.com gives them just a 1.1% chance to make the playoffs. The site likely sees that minus-46 run differential and figures the close ones will start going their opponents’ way.
Doesn’t mean this isn’t fun, though.
On Sunday, Long was asked at what point he thought people would start taking notice of what the Mariners are doing despite many of the injuries they’ve endured.
Answered Shed: “If they haven’t yet, then they better now.”
Take notice, folks. These wins might not keep coming, but they’re coming in droves right now.