Finally, Ariel Miranda provided the Mariners with a competitive outing from a starting pitcher. Finally, Nelson Cruz provided them with the big hit they’ve been lacking.
Finally, the Mariners scored more than one run in a game. Finally, they found a way to win in the nation’s capital. Finally, they can breathe a bit easier.
Cruz’s three-run homer in the sixth inning Thursday afternoon lifted the Mariners to a 4-2 victory over Washington at Nationals Park.
"Everything starts with one game," Cruz said. "It’s like as a hitter. You’re struggling, and one swing can get you going. A win can definitely change everything."
The Mariners needed lots to change.
They had lost five in a row while scoring exactly one run in each game. They had never won in D.C. in eight games over a 13-year span. They had been blown out by a cumulative score of 39-4 over the previous four games.
"You saw the adrenaline spike on everybody today," manager Scott Servais said, "myself included. It’s a competitive game, and we want to play better than we have been."
We’ll get to that spike in a moment.
Edwin Diaz reclaimed his closer’s role by pitching a scoreless ninth inning for his eighth save in 10 chances. That followed a bullpen relay of Tony Zych, James Pazos, Nick Vincent and Marc Rzepczynski.
"The key was our guys leading up to the ninth inning," Servais said. "It’s a cumulative effort. Eddie just happened to be the guy at the end of the day, but we like him in that spot. Hopefully, he can build on it."
Diaz noted: "It was big for me, but it was a great game for us."
Now about that adrenaline spike: Servais was angry after Wednesday’s loss at what he perceived as a lack of effort. There was also a players-only meeting followed by some harsh self-appraisals.
It boiled over in the sixth inning when Servais barked loudly at a called third strike by umpire Adam Hamari on Guillermo Heredia. The Mariners trailed 2-0 at the time but had a runner on first.
Hamari responded by ejecting Servais.
"I was yelling the loudest," Servais admitted. "It happens. It’s very competitive, and the adrenaline spikes. That ballgame, I thought we were right in it, and every pitch was important."
Everything changed at that point but, first, let’s reset.
Neither club had a hit until Kyle Seager’s one-out double in the fifth inning against Washington starter Gio Gonzalez, who then walked Danny Valencia before a wild pitch moved the runners to second and third.
Gonzalez loaded the bases with another walk, to Taylor Motter, but Mariners came up empty when Mike Zunino and Miranda struck out.
Anthony Rendon — who else? — then opened the bottom of the inning with a 385-foot drive to left for his fourth homer in the series. He only had five before the Mariners hit town.
Washington led 1-0 and wasn’t done.
Jose Lobaton pulled a one-out double to left and, after Trea Turner drew a two-out walk, Jayson Werth grounded a fastball up the middle for an RBI single and a 2-0 lead before Miranda (4-2) ended the inning.
"I tried to keep doing the same things," Miranda said, "but I made some mistakes with some pitches, and they hit them."
Still, two runs in five innings? The Mariners will take that after being outscored by a combined 33-1 through five innings in their four previous games.
They still needed to get their lineup churning, though. That happened in the sixth inning — as soon as Servais got ejected with Jean Segura at first after a leadoff single.
Robinson Cano lined a single to left, which prompted the Nationals to replace Gonzalez with Jacob Turner (2-3) to get a right-on-right matchup against Cruz.
Here, finally, the Mariners got a big hit: Cruz unloaded on a 2-1 slider for a 415-foot drive to center field for a three-run homer and a 3-2 lead. It was the Mariners’ first multi-run inning in a week.
The Mariners added another run in the seventh before their bullpen closed out the victory.
"It was nice to get it going," Cruz said. "Nice to score. And it was especially nice to have the lead late. We haven't done that in a while."
And nice to win.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Cruz’s homer provided the Mariners with their first multi-run inning since May 18 when Segura hit a three-run homer in the fifth inning against White Sox pitcher Dylan Covey.
Between those three-run homers, the Mariners scored six runs in 55 innings — and never more than one run in any inning.
PLUS: Five relievers combined for four scoreless innings…Cano went 2-for-5 with an RBI single and is 5-for-11 in three games since returning from the disabled list…Segura also had two hits and raised his average to .335…Boog Powell had a leadoff pinch single in the seventh inning that led to the game’s final run.
MINUS: A brutal day at the plate for Zunino: 0-for-4 with three strikeouts…Segura was caught stealing after a leadoff walk in the first inning. He is 5-for-10 on stolen-base attempts.
STAT PACK: The Mariners lead the majors with 42 players used this season — with one more pending. Right-hander Rob Whalen, who appears likely to start Saturday in Boston, would be No. 43. Toronto ranks second in players used with 39, followed by the Los Angeles Angels at 37.
QUOTABLE: "Our at-bats were outstanding today," Servais said. "They grinded. They worked the pitch count up on Gio and got into their bullpen. Eventually, it’s going to pay off.
"We had the opportunity to score more runs than we did today. But we had the opportunities, and that’s what we haven’t had recently."
SHORT HOPS: Servais’ ejection was his second of the year and the third of his managerial career…Cruz has 79 go-ahead homers in his career…Miranda is 7-3 with a 3.42 ERA in his last 15 starts dating to last year…Matt Wieters’ career-high 11-game hitting streak when he flied to left as a pinch-hitter for the game’s final out…the Mariners are now 2-13 against the Nationals since the franchise moved to Washington from Montreal in 2005.
ON DECK: The Mariners open a three-game weekend series against the Red Sox at 4:10 p.m. Pacific time Friday at Fenway Park in Boston.
Right-hander Yovani Gallardo (2-4 with a 5.84 ERA) will oppose Red Sox left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez (3-1, 3.10) in the series opener.
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN and the Mariners Radio Network.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners