Dee Gordon adjusting on the fly for Mariners in transition from infield to center field
Dee Gordon flashed a little Robinson Cano-style bat drop, a plant and turn like a wide receiver just before touching third base, low-five to third-base coach Scott Brosius, and an aggressive, bounding high-five with Jean Segura before heading into the dugout.
The Marlins certainly had to be expecting Gordon to be slapping go-ahead home runs like that and making diving plays in center field when they traded him to Seattle this offseason, right?
“Yeah … I mean, no,” Gordon laughed. “No, not at all.”
Gordon’s flash came just before Mitch Haniger’s mash.
And their seventh-inning home runs were critical in a 5-4 comeback victory over the Indians on Sunday at Safeco Field to swipe the season-opening series against the team that had the most wins in the American League last year (102).
And this was without the Mariners’ Boomstick, Nelson Cruz, and catcher Mike Zunino.
“It’s huge,” Haniger said. “At home, open up the weekend and get them without two of our main hitters – that was really good. Really good.”
Haniger’s two-run home run – his second bomb in as many days – came while he was hitting cleanup in the place of Cruz, who bizarrely twisted his ankle on the bottom step leaving the dugout to the batting cage just after he celebrated hitting a two-run home run on Saturday.
So when Gordon finished his home run trot with that leap into Segura, Mariners manager Scott Servais was just holding his breath.
“The scariest thing for me,” Servais said. “Never seen anybody jump that high after a home run — and we have issues after home runs here once in a while.
“But a lot of energy in our dugout and a great way for us to start the season.”
Gordon was making it up as he went, he said, especially after breaking what was a 2-2 tie with his leadoff home run in that seventh inning.
“Man, I don’t hit enough homers to be trying to do stuff when I hit them,” Gordon said. “So whatever happened, happened.
“I was excited. It was a 2-2 game against the Cleveland Indians. I was trying to win a ball game. If you’re not excited to win a ball game, you probably shouldn’t be playing.”
Haniger’s ensuing home run three batters later made it 5-2.
And that ended up being big because the Indians’ Edwin Encarnacion brought his big bat on Sunday, following the next half-inning with a 403-foot two-run bomb to right field off Juan Nicasio for his second home run of the game.
So it was up to 24-year-old closer Edwin Diaz in the ninth inning.
And recently recalled catcher David Freitas, too.
Freitas, in his first start for the Mariners since coming over from the Braves, wouldn’t have been in Seattle if not for Zunino straining his oblique Wednesday on the final swing of his batting practice. He went to the 10-day disabled list a day before the season actually began, which created a spot for Freitas.
He blocked a strike-three 90-mph slider from Diaz in the dirt for the first out of the ninth inning. And Diaz followed with Ks of Bradley Zimmer and Francisco Lindor – also with his slider – to earn his second save in three games.
“Really, really good job – David Freitas is really good behind the plate,” said Mariners manager Scott Servais, a former big-league catcher, himself. “He’s on top of his game behind the plate, no doubt.”
He also hit a double to kick-start the Mariners when they trailed 2-0 in the fifth inning. Freitas scored on Jean Segura’s single.
And then the Mariners got a lucky bounce.
Kyle Seager had been hitless in his previous seven at-bats to start the season before his hopper down the first-base line. It bounced hard on the infield dirt just before bouncing over the glove of former Mariners first baseman Yonder Alonso for a double into right field, with Indians starter Trevor Bauer watching with his arms on his head in disbelief.
That tied the game at 2-2 with Segura scoring.
Servais said that was due.
“It’s about time we get a good hop,” Servais said. “We’ve had a few bad hops not go our way with the injuries and everything. I would like to say they all even out, but once in a while you got to get a little lucky.”
That helped salvage a quality start from Mike Leake, who wasn’t at his sharpest, but he was certainly effective allowing two runs on five hits in seven innings to earn the win.
It was the longest outing by a Mariners starter this season, after Felix Hernandez tossed 5 1/3 shutout innings with a pitch-limit on Thursday, and James Paxton went 4 2/3 innings, allowing six runs (with no pitch limit), on Saturday.
And the only tag on Leake really was a solo home run to Encarnacion in the fourth inning, who hit 231 home runs the previous six seasons between the Blue Jays and Indians.
“He mixed all of his stuff today,” Servais said of Leake. “He didn’t have his best breaking ball, but he had a good changeup early in the game. That definitely helped him along there.
“Mike is a really good competitor. He has a lot of different weapons, some working better than others in particular today, and he quickly finds them.”
Leake had four strikeouts with three walks but got out on 101 pitches in those seven innings compared to Bauer needing 101 pitches in five innings. So he played to his reputation as an innings-eater.
“I’ve been pigeon-holed into that to an extent,” Leake said. “But I don’t mind it. It’s kind of needed now in the game, I think. It’s kind of an art that’s slowly dissipating and I think, hopefully, it can actually come back to life.”
Now the Mariners head to San Francisco for a two-game series against the Giants. They’re still awaiting the results of a Sunday MRI on Cruz’s foot, but to take two out of three in a wild series against the Indians even without him spoke some volume.
“Heck of a series by our guys,” Servais said. “Cleveland has outstanding pitching and we knew that coming into the series and I thought our guys matched them. Leake threw the ball outstanding today.
“Fun weekend. Nice way to start the season. Fans were definitely into it and we felt the energy here all weekend. So it’s a good start for us.”
GEE, DEE: Maybe that career bio that says Dee Gordon had never played center field before this season was the real April Fool’s joke.
Because his play in the third inning made him look like a seasoned veteran out there, using his elite speed to run a long way for a diving catch in the left-center gap. And he had two other catches running back to the wall, as well.
He also had a sacrifice bunt to move Freitas over before Segura scored him in the fifth inning. And then hit that home run – despite having just two home runs last season with the Marlins.
He was the Mariners’ most outstanding player on Sunday in his third game since coming over via an offseason trade from the Marlins, where he earned a Gold Glove for his work at second base.
“Oh yeah, Dee he was MVP out there today,” Leake said. “He saved extra pitches and extra outs for sure.”
LEAKE LASTS: The Mariners most liked Mike Leake, the former St. Louis Cardinals starter, because of his consistency. He’s been a pretty sure-thing to get 185 innings a year.
And then he went out Sunday and tossed seven innings, allowing two earned runs on five hits, and he did that on 101 pitches.
In comparison, Indians starter Trevor Bauer went five innings and had 101 pitches, even though he had some more electric stuff and more strikeouts than Leake.
That was the fourth win for Leake in his past six starts for the Mariners dating back to last season since he came over in a trade from the Cardinals.
HOW ABOUT HANIGER?: Mitch Haniger loves March and April.
He’s 32-for-87 (.368) during this period over the past two seasons since he came to the Mariners via a 2016 trade from the Diamondbacks. And he hit his second home run of the season.
Haniger is 5-for-8 to start this season.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677