The Mariners completed their first homestand Wednesday with a 10-5 victory, little resembling the team that began it in a baffling free fall.
Felix Hernandez got the “Will We See A Perfecto?” mystery of the way by surrounding a leadoff single. Moments later, after Hernandez allowed hits to the first four Miami Marlins batters he faced, the Mariners were trailing by two runs.
Ten days ago, this kind of start would have translated into another desultory day at the ballpark. Ten days ago, the Mariners weren’t overcoming deficits, be they early or late.
But on Wednesday afternoon, in the spirit of a slogan put to bed more than a decade ago, they glanced at the Safeco Field scoreboard and mused: “Two runs, so what?”
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Hitters reached base 21 times, 11 on hits and 10 on walks. The defense chipped in by making a pair of throws for outs at home plate.
Hernandez settled down, never really fooling an aggressive lineup, but never allowing it to break out, either. The bullpen limited the ninth-inning drama to an Ichiro Suzuki home run, which cut the lead to 10-5 and posed an opportunity for Ichiro to channel Ted Williams and retire after the game.
But Ichiro headed to San Diego with his teammates, while the Mariners packed up for a three-city road trip quite more enthusiastic about the 2017 season than they were after their last road trip.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” manager Scott Servais said after the Mariners improved their record to 7-9. “We dug ourselves into a little bit of a hole — more than a little bit. But you scratch and claw and come out of it, and you never know what can happen.”
What happened was a 6-3 homestand that turned after the third game, when the Mariners took a 5-0 lead over Houston, only to give up 10 unanswered runs. The collapse left them 2-8 during their off day, which Servais spent thinking of a creative way to remind his players that there’s no crying in baseball.
When the players showed up at Safeco Field before the opener of their weekend series against Texas, Servais had some study material for them.
“We printed out all the playoff teams from last year, and the last five teams to go the World Series,” Servais said. “They all had stretches during the course of the season where they went 2-8 or 3-7. It happens. We were the only team to do it right out of the chute.”
Servais can point to the 2016 Cubs, for instance, who won 103 games en route to their first world championship since 1908. By any definition, it was a dominant season, and yet between June 30 and July 9, they lost eight of nine. The All-Star break presented a timely chance to rest and reboot, and they returned for a second half of a season that would be just as impressive as the first.
As for the 2017 Mariners, it was their misfortune to stumble through early April without a body of work. Servais kept assuring the team was too talented to languish under .500 for six months, but deep down, there must have been some anxiety.
“We had a rough 10 games,” said left fielder Jarrod Dyson. “Houston came in here and kind of beat us up a little bit, but we took care of business against Texas and then these guys.
“You can’t win every game, but you can try to win every series. Our bats are starting to come alive. Our pitching’s been terrific. When you’re winning, it brings a lot of excitement and loosens the guys up.”
So does a revived heart of the batting order. Following breakthrough rookie Mitch Haniger in the lineup, Robinson Cano (.242), Nelson Cruz (.237) and Kyle Seager (.245) reached base a combined 11 times in the series finale.
“We have talent, and if you stick together and believe in each other, things will work out,” Servais said. “That’s what baseball does. But you’ve got to grind. People aren’t going to feel sorry for you.”
John McGrath: @TNTMcGrath