The Mariners’ biggest win of the season just came out of nowhere

Aug 3, 2022, 1:15 PM | Updated: 10:45 pm
Mariners Yankees...
The Seattle Mariners celebrate after defeating the New York Yankees on Tuesday night. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The Mariners had a big day on Wednesday.

Luis Castillo, Seattle’s blockbuster trade deadline acquisition, made his debut for the team. Not only that, he did it against the New York Yankees, reported to be one of the teams the Mariners had to beat out in trade proposals with the Cincinnati Reds to get Castillo. And by the time the two-time All-Star stepped on the mound, the M’s offense had already spotted him six runs thanks to three home runs before Yankees ace Gerrit Cole could even get to three outs.

It was a huge win, one that boosts the team’s confidence as it heads back to Seattle for a big homestand that starts Friday.

It wasn’t the biggest win of the Mariners’ season, though. Actually, that came the night before.

The Mariners had their back against the wall on Tuesday. After losing three of four to the American League West-leading Houston Astros over the weekend, they were overmatched in the opener in New York against the AL-leading Yankees on Monday, falling 7-2.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the M’s are all kinds of banged up. No Julio Rodríguez. No Ty France. Mitch Haniger is still on a rehab assignment. Heck, even two of the three players the Mariners traded for Tuesday before the 3 p.m. trade deadline are on the injured list.

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Nobody would have faulted a Mariners team with a patchwork lineup for losing a series to the Yankees, which would have been their third series loss out of four since the All-Star break. Not exactly a great way to build momentum, but definitely a great way to put a ton of pressure on key players to hit the ground running upon their return from injury.

The Mariners, of course, didn’t let that happen. In fact, the embattled Mariners lineup didn’t let that happen.

Despite Seattle having lost four of its previous five games and sitting at a 4-7 record out of the break, the offense struck for runs in each of the first three innings Tuesday to take a 4-0 lead. And when breakout starter Logan Gilbert allowed three runs in the third, the M’s answered in their next turn at bat with a pair of runs on a Carlos Santana double. And then when Gilbert found too much of the plate and the Yankees tied things up 6-6 with two homers in the sixth inning, pinch-hitter Sam Haggerty smoked a solo shot of his own to open the seventh to put Seattle ahead for good.

The Mariners won 8-6, with Adam Frazier adding a key insurance run in the ninth and reliever Andrés Muñoz walking the tightrope by loading the bases on his way to striking out the side to get the save.

Listen, I know the baseball season is long. There are 162 games and each one counts the same as any other. Recency bias is always a consideration when people make declarations like this, too. But I’m telling you, that was the biggest win the Mariners have had all year, and it may still hold that distinction when the season ends.

The M’s were really just trying to hang on. They’re holding a playoff spot, currently in the second wild card in the AL, but injuries keep cropping up and there isn’t a whole lot of room to breathe. And while they made a huge splash before the deadline with the Castillo deal, the timing was such that the deadline day was a letdown. There’s no question in my mind that if the M’s had made the Castillo trade right before Tuesday’s deadline instead of four nights ahead of it, the mood among the fan base would have been very different. But that’s not how it happened, and spirits were a bit low Tuesday afternoon.

Seattle needed to get momentum back on its side, and those watching the team had pretty much resigned to the idea that it would be another week before it happened, because that’s when the schedule gets considerably easier. But before then, the Mariners still have another series at home against the Yankees next week, which will be their fourth against the two best teams in the AL since the break.

The Mariners’ lineup wasn’t waiting. Neither was the bullpen or defense. So when Gilbert, who has been a revelation in a rotation that has carried Seattle this season, hit a bump in the road, it was guys like Haggerty, Frazier, Santana, Eugenio Suárez, Paul Sewald and Erik Swanson who picked him up. The Mariners were the aggressors, and when the Yankees counter-punched, the M’s fought back even harder. And then the next morning, the M’s picked up where they left off, flexing their muscles for their new ace as if to say: “We can do this for you, now go do what you do.”

The M’s sent a message. They may not be at full-strength, but they are still the team that won 14 games in a row heading into the All-Star break. The one that surprisingly took another high-pressure series in the Big Apple against a hot New York team earlier in the season (May 13-15 against the Mets, a series Seattle came into with a 14-18 record). And the one that will be even better when its three best hitters all return soon.

It’s been 21 long years since the Mariners last tasted the playoffs. If they do end that drought this season, I’d be willing to bet that stealing a series at Yankee Stadium thanks to a hard-fought win on Tuesday, Aug. 2 will have played an important part in it.

ESPN’s Passan: Mariners had good, not great deadline; set to “really take off” in ’23

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