SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer: ‘Unreal’ Mariners comeback makes it clear they’re ready for big stage

Sep 12, 2022, 2:20 AM
Mariners Eugenio Suárez...
Eugenio Suárez celebrates his walkoff home run for the Mariners against the Atlanta Braves on Sept. 11. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

It took all of 17 minutes for the Atlanta Braves to wipe out every little bit of good the Mariners had done in the past eight innings. The four-run lead had been turned into a one-run deficit as the World Series champs took it to the best bullpen in the majors since June 21, and did it in dramatic fashion.

Down to their final out, the perennial October team swatted down the newcomers. Reality struck, the divide between the top teams in baseball and the up and comers still vast. The series win for the Mariners, out of reach.

Yeah, no. If there was any question at all, the Mariners showed Sunday afternoon they are ready for the big stage, here to play. This game, this series was theirs, and if you for one moment had a doubt, well, it was apparent Julio Rodríguez did not.

Sunday: Mariners stun Braves, rebound from ‘pen collapse in 8-7 win

When he sprinted out of the dugout to start the ninth inning, he took his spot in center field, jumping up and down before the first pitch was thrown. He did this several times throughout the inning, seemingly eager to get to the end of the game and celebration. He bounced after the Michael Harris II home run that cut Seattle’s lead to 6-5, and he bounced again after the Robbie Grossman blast that put the Braves on top 7-6.

No matter. Rodríguez was second up in the bottom of the inning. As he said in his walkoff interview on the Mariners radio broadcast, he knew he would have a chance to deliver for his team. The cameras caught him smiling as he ran in from center after the Mariners gave up five runs and the lead in the top of the ninth inning.

Eugenio Suárez, who hit the walkoff home run to win it, admitted that the mood was a little down in the dugout after the turn of events, but he said that Rodríguez changed that vibe quickly, yelling at his teammates that they had to get this and to never give up.

You know what happened next. Julio crushed a 1-1 hanging slider from Braves closer Kenley Jansen to tie the game up at 7, recording a Mariners record 117.2 mph exit velocity on a ball that surely left a dent on the hand operated scoreboard in left field.

Two batters later, Suárez hit his fifth home run in his last four games and 30th of the season, swatting back at the World Series champs and sending his teammates to that celebration that Julio was looking for in the top half of the frame.

The word most used to describe the finish was “unreal.” That word perhaps does not do justice to what this Mariners team has been doing all year.

“What really excites me is it is just the epitome of team,” said manager Scott Servais. “You don’t often get that at the pro level. The whole thing coming together has been awesome to see.”

Servais pointed to the work done in spring training, the early struggles and conversations that were had, and players speaking out as key elements of “the whole thing coming together.”

Buy-in has been important as well, and interestingly enough, players from the outside like Suárez have been instrumental in getting everyone on the same page.

“We just trust in our team,” said Suárez, who was acquired in an early spring training trade from the Reds. “We trust in what we have got and we are doing better and better every day. More important is that connection we have together. We are not just teammates, we are like a family. We are Seattle Mariners. It’s not about me, it’s not about you, it’s about the Seattle Mariners.”

This Seattle Mariners team has their eye on the prize, the opportunity to do something special in breaking the decades-long postseason drought. The games in September have had the feel of tests and tune-ups, with the fans doing their part in providing the atmosphere.

Offensively, the Mariners have changed their profile a bit, leading the American League in home runs in the second half of the season. On the pitching side, last week in particular we saw some boxes checked off. George Kirby, big game ready? After his start against the Braves on Saturday night I would say so. And while we are at it, Logan Gilbert is having the September surge that Servais said he expected to see.

The Mariners have got 22 games worth of tests and tune-ups ahead of them as they try to secure the AL’s No. 1 wild card spot, which would give them a minimum of two postseason games at T-Mobile Park. In doing so, going 15-7 or better would lock down the second-best regular season record in franchise history, besting the 93-win teams of 2002 and 2003. It’s a heck of a first step in the return to contention, with where those steps take them remaining to be seen.

Coming off of Sunday’s win, I don’t think Mariners fans could have asked for a better September.

Salk: Mariners have something special — and different — going on

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