Drayer: Looking for Mariners’ leadership? It was in series win over Twins

Jul 27, 2023, 12:56 PM | Updated: 1:46 pm

Seattle Mariners...

The Seattle Mariners do their celebration dance after beating the Twins on July 26, 2023. (Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

(Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

On Monday night in Minneapolis, Andrés Muñoz was given the job of protecting a one-run Seattle Mariners lead in the ninth inning against the Twins. He didn’t come through, giving up doubles to American League Player of the Week Alex Kirilloff and Max Kepler, who drove in the tying run on a 2-2 slider that stayed in the middle of the plate.

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Muñoz eventually got out of the inning, but the win was ultimately turned into a Game 1 loss to open the big three-game series when Paul Sewald, pitching in his fourth game in the previous five days, gave up the winning run in the 10th inning. Once again, the Mariners were back at .500.

The next afternoon when media members arrived at the field, Muñoz could be seen walking the perimeter of the outfield grass with Mariners catcher Tom Murphy. Both in shorts and T-shirts in the stifling 90-degree temperatures and excessive humidity, both barefoot “earthing” or “grounding” – a common practice now in Major League Baseball and other sports – deep in conversation for the better part of 45 minutes. Muñoz needed the time to process what had happened the night before.

The slow walk the pair took was a window into a relationship on the team. Pitcher and catcher, veteran and 24 year old. It was also a look at the commitment to trying to turn around a disappointing season by these two players. The loss clearly not shook off by Muñoz, and Murphy clearly invested in helping a teammate get to a better place to help the team.

While Murphy wouldn’t reveal the conversation he had with Muñoz, in an interview that ran on the Mariners Radio Network pregame show that day he expressed appreciation for the athlete Muñoz is and where he is in his young career.

“A lot of people don’t know Muñoz was a triple jumper for Team Mexico at age 14 and what that takes,” Murphy said, shaking his head. “Then to see what he is on the field, it’s an incredibly rare product – 103 mph fastball and wipeout slider?

“All the physical ability is there, just like with everyone else here. The part that we don’t often talk about is the mental and emotional side. It’s one of those things where you look at the product on the field and think it’s complete, but nobody is ever really complete, and it’s usually not the physical that we need to work on, it’s that other side. Time is the only tell of those things. Once those things get shored up, you really start to see the physical come through, and that’s the way it is going to be with Muñoz, for sure.”

Murphy as a competitor appreciated Muñoz feeling the sting of not being able to come through when the team needed him. He also understood the importance of getting beyond that and took the time to help Muñoz take that step forward.

Two days later

On Wednesday afternoon, Muñoz was back on the hill, again in the ninth inning, again being asked to protect a one-run lead and give the Mariners a dearly needed win.

He gave up a leadoff single to Twins catcher Christian Vázquez, which brought a string of potential winning runs to the plate.

First up, Carlos Correa, who shot the ball back at Muñoz, who threw to first for the out.

Next, Edouard Julien, who did major damage to the Mariners in a previous series in Seattle. He sent a sharp grounder to third that Eugenio Suárez turned into out No. 2.

That brought up Kepler, who came up with the game-tying hit off Muñoz two days earlier. Two 101 mph fastballs were all it took to lock up the win, with Kepler grounding out to second.

“My plan was to throw all fastballs. I know he hit my slider better, I tried to do the opposite,” Muñoz said in his walkoff radio interview following the win.

It wasn’t just the approach or even the extra mph on the fastball in the heat that led to the win. The conversation with Murphy the day before was top of mind with Muñoz in that moment.

“That really helped me a lot mentally, especially with the pitcher-catcher relationship we have right now,” Muñoz said. “That is pretty cool to have that. I have that confidence in him, and to be 100% agreeing with all the pitches he calls, that’s very good for me.”

With many pointing to the missing veteran leadership on this Mariners team following the departures of Carlos Santana and Adam Frazier last offseason, plus Robbie Ray not being with the club due to injury, there was a glimmer of it seen with Murphy and Muñoz. It’s the work that goes on regardless of the position the team is in. It’s a sign that they as players believe they are still in it. This is investment in team.

As is what Sewald did in the series against the Twins.

How Paul Sewald is stepping up

Like Muñoz, Sewald bounced back after the Game 1 loss, coming back the next day to lock down the save. He did so pitching in his fifth game in a six-day period. A tremendous workload, one that led to two more runs being added to his ERA.

Just two weeks ago in a radio interview, Sewald explained that he knew when he could go and when he couldn’t. He’s able to draw the line and alert the team on days when he needs to be down, but with the Aug. 1 trade deadline looming and the season perhaps hanging in the balance, he found a way to go out there and help push the Mariners over .500 once more.

Again, this is investment in team. Their team.

Murphy and Sewald are two of the Mariners’ longest-tenured players, and both came to Seattle near crossroads in their careers. Both have been vocal advocates of many of the systems the Mariners employ. They are also names you hear could be traded if the team is pushed to full sell mode. They know this, but neither player is sitting around watching MLB Network or scrolling social media to see what possibly could transpire. Rather, both are focused on what’s in front of them, where they want to be at the end of the year, and what they can do to help get the Mariners there. They have been valuable parts of the Mariners puzzle.

More on the Seattle Mariners

Dylan Moore hits a pair of homers, Mariners outlast Twins 8-7 to win series
Seattle Mariners trade with Toronto for RHP Trent Thornton
Mariners Trade Deadline: Is doing nothing a viable choice?
Mariners’ Paul Sewald details how he handles potential of being traded
Morosi: What does Seattle Mariners OF Kelenic’s injury situation illustrate?

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