Drayer: Mariners don’t back down, look different in 4 straight series wins

Jun 9, 2022, 11:48 AM | Updated: 11:48 am
Julio Rodriguez celebrates defeating the Astros with Ty France on June 08, 2022. (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
(Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

After watching the Mariners drop 21 out of 27 games from April 27 to May 27, a winning road trip that included a series win in Houston seemed to be “dare to dream” territory. As it turns out, the dreaming might have been part of the plan.

Raleigh, France HRs help Mariners win 1st series in Houston since ’18

Following the Mariners through the slide, it struck me that the team, coaches and players alike remained unfailing upbeat about where they were. That’s not to say there were dance parties following losses, but when they would hit the ballpark the next day there was no trace of the previous day’s loss or overall struggle as they got ready for the next game.

Under normal circumstances, this is a good thing. But 21 losses in 30 days? As someone who has always understood and believed in the length of season and preached patience and avoiding overreaction, to hear players talk about everything being OK, enjoying teammates and having fun was a little concerning. Did they understand where they were?

The game changes, the players change, how they are coached and respond changes. I wasn’t looking for a Lou Piniella flip the post game spread tirade or individuals anger at the situation in the clubhouse – we are well past that era of motivation – but felt there should be some sort of sense of urgency considering the hole that was being dug.

As it is, this might turn out to be a learning experience 20-plus years into covering this team.

“This game, it can be really hard on us,” said Ty France in Houston. “The lighter we can keep it, the better we are, so I just try to keep it light.”

Over the last couple of weeks, multiple players have gone so far as to call the last month fun. Whether or not they believe the struggle is part of the process is unclear, but one thing is certain – they believe in the guy next to them in locker, the lineup, the bench or bullpen.

“Good things happen when we are all on the same page and we are going out there doing our jobs,” said France. “It makes it a lot more fun and a lot more comforting knowing whoever comes in the game, they are going to shut it down. Whoever goes up to the plate, they are going to get it done. I think we are just in a very good place now.”

And two weeks ago? While there was no panic, it turns out there was concern and it was tackled in an interesting manner with a meeting not with the players, but the manager, coaches and some members of the front office on how to best help the players through the struggle. In doing so the pressure was put on them, rather than the players.

“We’ve gone through a tough grind,” said Scott Servais, pointing to injuries and the worst travel in baseball. “I think our team realized where we were at. We lost two out of three to Oakland, Houston was coming into town and we needed to turn up the dial a little bit on the intensity level without trying too hard.”

The team did indeed realize where they were. If we are witnessing the turnaround of this team, the Mariners may have the Oakland A’s to thank for getting them on the right track.

“That was one of those series where we were at home playing against a division rival, they’re not the same team they were last year, but they come out with a lot of conviction,” France noted. “They want to win baseball games. I think we took them lighter than we should have and they handed it to us. I think that was an awakening moment for us where if we want to have the season we are expected to have, we need to go out and handle business every single night.”

Since the series loss to the A’s, the Mariners have gone 7-3. They’ve won four series straight, two of them against the division-leading Astros. The travel on that trip was still brutal and key players are still on the IL, but this team has looked different in these wins.

“I think it is just a matter of stay aggressive,” said Servais of the change. “I know with our team it is attack, attack, attack. When we get passive, when we start thinking too much, we don’t play very well. We are not wired that way. That’s what I am learning about our team. We play much better when we are on the attack.”

We witnessed that in Houston and where a good amount of that attack came from is perhaps the No. 1 reason for optimism in the Mariners’ path forward this season. It was the youth that led the way in the team picking up two series wins in the past two weeks against the division leaders.

Julio Rodríguez homering after the benches clearing scuffle in Game 1.

Cal Raleigh not only leading a pitching staff to four wins over the Astros, but contributing with the bat as well.

Logan Gilbert with one shutdown start and one “find a way” win over them. Andrés Muñoz with a critical 1-2-3 inning in the road series clinching win where he displayed a 102 mph fastball and perhaps his best slider that will be remembered by Astros hitters.

More important than the results in the win-loss category, these youngsters did not back down. Five-time division winners in recent years? Minute Maid Park house of horrors? This group flat-out did not care.

“They’re just a really good team. They are a veteran team, they know how to play, they play really well in this ballpark,” said Raleigh in his walk-off interview Wednesday. “We’re gunning for them. We want to take their spot, we want to win the division. If you want to be there late in the season you have got to beat them so it was a good series for us.”

An affirming series, according to France.

“This is a good baseball team,” he said. “They have been good for years and we are coming out holding our own, winning ballgames against them. It’s nice knowing we are all on the same page. We are all ready to go to war with each other whether that means clearing benches or whether that means just winning games. We are all in a good spot. We are all fired up.”

The Red Sox, who come into town Friday, will present a good test. If there is any thought an off day Thursday will slow the Mariners momentum, one need look no further than the sweep in Boston for motivation. Fired up, motivated, still no panic, this Mariners club is doing things differently. Have they turned the corner? Well they have certainly found it and one thing is clear. They will leave the worrying to us. They believe they are on the right track.

“I think it goes back to last year,” said France, echoing what other teammates have said the past few weeks. “The way we started last year wasn’t very good and it was honestly very similar to last year and the way that year ended, kind of just gave us that confidence knowing, alright, we are going to be alright. We’re in the same position we were last year, we won 90 games. There’s no reason to panic, there’s no reason to start changing things, we will just keep going out, handling our business and I think things are turning for us.”

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