This was the best-assembled lineup the Seattle Mariners have put together this season.
That’s subjective, sure, but it’s certainly the closest to a full-strength, best-matchup lineup manager Scott Servais has written on his card, when you factor the Mariners were facing a right-handed pitcher and deployed left-handed Daniel Vogelbach, right-handed Mike Zunino and left-handed Ben Gamel as the bottom of the order.
The Mariners needed every bit of that lineup firepower to rally past the Texas Rangers for a 9-7 victory on Saturday in Arlington, Texas.
And then they needed Edwin Diaz's 40 pitches, shaky command and a two-out, bases-loaded fly ball near the warning track in left field to walk away with the ‘W.’
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That’s the second consecutive win for Seattle (11-8) against the Rangers and the third time in 19 games this year that the Mariners have scored at least nine runs.
And they trailed 4-1 after three innings.
“Some nights it’s ugly,” Servais said. “But the key is you get it done and you come back tomorrow for the sweep.”
They rallied after James Paxton’s labored start thanks to a five-run seventh inning, featuring Jean Segura’s two-run, game-tying double and Robinson’s Cano’s go-ahead two-run home run.
Start with Paxton working up a major sweat.
He certainly didn’t have a few things go his way – one being a delay that lasted one hour and 25 minutes because of heavy rain.
The game started at 8:30 p.m. central time.
Paxton struck out former Mariner Shin-Soo Choo to start the game but Nomar Mazara’s double two batters later scored Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Paxton would need 32 pitches to get out of the inning.
So his margin was already thin.
But the Rangers continued to be difficult outs. Paxton struck out six batters in four innings, but he needed 96 pitches. He needed 34 pitches to get out of the third inning.
“His stuff was fine,” Servais said. “The velocity was there. Just attacking and getting ahead in the count and put people away earlier just wasn’t happening for whatever reason. Everything is hard. He has to find a slow-down pitch, which is typically his curveball. He didn’t have that here the past two or three outings.”
Then the Mariners’ offense.
They scored 6 runs in losing four of five games entering this series – though, that was against the Athletics’ Sean Manaea, who threw a no-hitter against the red-hot Red Sox on Saturday, and then former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel, Gerrit Cole (who had the fourth-best ERA in MLB entering Saturday, 0.96), Charlie Morton (second-best ERA in MLB, 0.72) and Lance McCullers.
This was against 44-year-old Bartolo Colon, who is the only active major-league player who was pitching when Servais was still a major-league catcher, not a major-league manager.
The Mariners have now scored 15 runs their past two games.
“Defensively we had a couple of miscues that did not help out pitching at all,” Servais said. “But our offense was great. Exactly what we needed. We needed to put some big numbers up tonight.”
And that seventh inning encapsulated what has made their offense so special the first 19 games of the season – as in, the top of their lineup.
It actually started at the bottom of the order with Guillermo Heredia executing a pinch-hit infield single, with the Mariners trailing 6-4.
Then Dee Gordon – he picked up his third hit of the game, slicing a 74-mph slider into right field before racing to second base for a double.
One hit would tie it. Jean Segura delivered with a double to left field.
Then Robinson Cano followed with his third hit – a go-ahead, towering home run just over the wall in right field.
And two outs later, Mitch Haniger followed with his sixth home run of the season to make it 9-6 Mariners. It was one day after his game-tying home run in the Mariners’ 6-2 win over the Rangers.
And that came three innings after Nelson Cruz’s two-run home run (one pitch after a would-be home run landed just foul).
TIGHT ROPE: Diaz might have been more lucky than good.
The Rangers had a runner on with two outs and Diaz walked Joey Gallo.
He had already allowed his first run of the season on Ronald Guzman’s RBI groundout (and he was called out at first on a close-as-can-be throw from Robinson Cano that stood the Rangers’ challenge. That should have been a double-play that Cano botched before recovering for the out at first).
Then Diaz walked Choo on four pitches. Then he started with three straight balls to Isiah Kiner-Falefa and his fourth pitch was a ball, too, according to MLB’s pitch tracker. So was his fifth pitch that Kiner-Falefa sent near the warning track in left field.
Heredia was underneath it, though, and corralled it for the final out.
It goes down as Diaz’s eighth save and his first four-out one after he got former Mariner Adrian Beltre to fly out with runners at second and third in the bottom of the eighth inning.
TOP OF THE ORDER: The Mariners’ 1-4 hitters – Dee Gordon, Jean Segura, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz – combined to go 10-for-20 with two home runs, two doubles, six runs scored and seven RBIs.
Segura’s two-run double tied the game in the seventh inning and Cano followed with a go-ahead two-run home run.
That doesn’t even account for Haniger, who has hit home run in back-to-back games three different times this year. Haniger was a serviceable No. 4 hitter for the Mariners while Cruz was on the disabled list with a sprained ankle.
“It was on our offense tonight,” Servais said. “And guys stepped up, got some big hits and put a rally together. And it was enough.”
PAXTON’S PITCHES: This wasn’t the first time James Paxton has been plagued by pitches.
Just too many. He needed 32 pitches to get through the first inning and then he needed 34 to escape from the third. He exited after the fourth inning having thrown 96 pitches.
It’s the sixth time in his major-league career he’s thrown more than 90 pitches while pitching fewer than five innings, including when he threw 103 pitches in 3 2/3 innings on June 1, 2016.
A couple of things factored into that for Paxton on Saturday.
One was an unfavorable strike zone. Another: His stuff was so good that the Rangers kept fouling pitches off instead of putting them in play. The Rangers hit 24 foul balls against Paxton, including 14 with two strikes.
That came to a hedge against Jurickson Profar, who had a 1-2 count on him for what felt like 20 pitches. He fouled off seven pitches in the at-bat before roping one of Paxton’s 89 mph slider/cutter pitches that was in the bottom-inside corner of the strike zone for a two-run double down the left-field line.
Still, Paxton did strike out six batters in those four innings.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Edwin Diaz had thrown nine consecutive balls. And it really could have been 11.
But with the bases loaded, Diaz got a fortunate strike call on a 3-0 count against Isiah Kiner-Falefa. The ball was tracked inside, which would have plated a run.
Servais seemed to hastily look to pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. to get someone warming up in the bullpen for his best pitcher.
But Diaz’s next pitch was sent to the warning track before Guillermo Heredia got under it for the final out of the game to preserve the 9-7 win.
“I felt good,” Diaz told reporters after a career-high 40-pitch outing. “I’m ready to go four outs, five outs, three outs – whatever. Every day. Whatever they need from me.”
Top pitcher: How about Chasen Bradford?
He started the season at Triple-A Tacoma, but when Paxton was pulled after four innings Bradford then pitched two innings in relief.
He did allow a run, but he picked up his second win. He has a 1.86 ERA and he kept the Mariners in the game long enough for their offense to break through..
Top hitter:Robinson Cano’s two-run home run gave the Mariners an 8-6 lead in the seventh inning, after they began the frame trailing 6-4.
Cano was one of three Mariners with three hits, alongside Dee Gordon and Nelson Cruz. Cano scored three runs.
Seravis once faced the 44-year-old Bartolo Colon when they were both in the big leagues. Now he was managing against him.
But maybe the most impressive feat Colon did on Saturday was beat Dee Gordon to first base.
Granted, he had a bit of a head start from the pitcher’s mound, but he just go to the bag in time to get a toss from first baseman Ronald Guzman and get the ultra-fast Gordon for the out.
And it came one batter after covering first on Ben Gamel’s ground out. Gamel is also fast.
“He’s a marvel,” Servais said. “What he’s doing at his age and still very, very competitive in this league. He knows how to pitch and he knows how to cover first base. He got over there tonight. I was very impressed.
“But I’m glad we got to him.”