Three innings into their game against Texas Sunday afternoon, the Mariners were down five runs. It was only four days earlier that they were up five on Houston only to lose by that many. But rather than here-we-go-again, this game had a different feel. The Mariners had an off day and two wins separating them from the disaster of a series finale against the Astros, and with those two wins came confidence, at least on my part, that Sunday’s game could be an opportunity to flip the script.
If the Rangers failed to add on, why couldn’t the Mariners blow by them as the Astros did to Seattle on Wednesday?
They did just that in an 8-7 win in which the team showed a little bit of everything. Solid and bend-but-don’t-break bullpen performances, good at-bats and a couple of big hits, a tremendous defensive play, ninth-inning quiet heroics and apparently enough good mojo to overcome umpire C.B. Bucknor all added up to a win that completed the Mariners’ first home sweep of Texas and improved their record to a more palatable 5-8.
This victory perhaps did a bit more than just adding one in win column. It had every look of a defining game. In Sunday’s win, the 2017 Mariners, a group that everyone liked on paper, may have found the final piece to help get those numbers off the paper: their identity.
“It’s been a rough start to our season and we’re starting to get some momentum going,” said manager Scott Servais, who watched the final innings from his office after being ejected from the game in the sixth. “I talked to the players about dialing up the intensity. The coaches, and myself. These games are all important. We know where we’re at. We dug ourselves a little hole and now we’re starting to climb out. We’ve got to fight and claw for everything.”
“Fight and claw for everything” is not the label one would put on this team on paper, not with a roster that looked to easily have a top group of 3-4-5 hitters and established bats throughout the order. It’s one they can respond to. It’s one that helps reinforce good at-bats, good at-bats, good at-bats, and we are playing this game as a team, not just my at bats or my struggles.
All of this was illustrated beautifully in the ninth inning Sunday after the Mariners had taken another punch with Edwin Diaz allowing a home run to give Texas back the lead. In the bottom half of that inning, Jarrod Dyson came off the bench and did what Dyson can do better than just about anyone in this game right now: put immediate pressure on the closer. We’ve seen it for years from the other side. Leadoff batter in the ninth gets on first and before you can blink, leadoff batter is on second with nobody out. The Mariners now have one of those guys.
That’s pressure in the best of situations, but for the Rangers, with Sam Dyson off to a horrific start having blown four saves entering Sunday, he had to be rattled. Perhaps enough to hold onto the Leonys Martin bunt that came his way next and left him with runners on first and third, no outs. Momentum.
Martin stole second and Mike Freeman was then intentionally walked to load the bases. Mitch Haniger, with his Superman cape on, a home run and a home run robbery already in Sunday’s game, then did the right thing. Rather than come up with the big hit, he came up with the big walk.
“You have to trust the guy behind you,” Servais said. “If you don’t get your pitch, you trust the guy behind you and you keep working the pitcher and grinding, and that’s what he did.”
The Haniger walk brought in the tying run. Two batters later, Nelson Cruz hit an infield single that scored the winning run and the comeback was complete thanks to two runs in the ninth scored without a ball leaving the infield. Whatever it takes.
And while wins and losses are supposed to be put behind you the next day, Servais hopes this one will linger.
“Wins like that hopefully leads into some bigger things here coming up in the next series against Miami,” he said.
If good things continue, Sunday’s win will be referenced many times, well past the Miami series.