Seatte Mariners manager Scott Servais stepped to the postgame table, took his usual seat in front of the media and cameras and paused for a moment.
He put his hands on the bill of his Mariners cap, and tilted it slightly to his right.
It remained off center for just a few seconds.
“No, no I won’t go there yet,” Servais then said before straightening the bill back out.
It was an ode to the Mariners’ newly acquired reliever, Alex Colome, whom he hadn’t said much but “hello” to earlier in the day before saying he’d see Colome in the ninth inning.
His words were prophetic. The Mariners had just gained a two-run lead in the eighth and turned to Colome for the save, letting him flash his electric fastball that helped him lead the American League in saves a season ago.
“They know me – I just throw fastball,” Colome said. “Don’t have to do too much.”
That was the cap of another Mariners comeback, with these cardiac kids that call themselves the Seattle Mariners earning the 3-1 win in dramatic fashion to defeat the Minnesota Twins on Sunday and complete the series sweep.
This was without Dee Gordon, without Jean Segura and Robinson Cano – the Mariners’ once top three in the order from what feels like ages ago.
Ryon Healy didn’t appear to care about that so much when he stepped to the plate with two outs and with two runners on in the bottom of the eighth inning.
He tattooed a line drive to left field that got past Eddie Rosario (who took an atrocious angle to the ball). It rolled to the wall and had Healy standing at second base and pumping his fists, pumping his chest and shouting “let’s go” at the Mariners’ dugout after the go-ahead two-run double.
The Mariners (32-20) earned their first series sweep of the season and have now won eight of their past nine games. In the American League West, they’re a game back of the reigning World Series champion Houston Astros, who lost their second consecutive game to the Cleveland Indians on Sunday.
“What can I say?” Servais said. “Really outstanding series.”
Colome was only closing because Edwin Diaz was resting after having pitched in four of the past five games. But it's easier to imagine those two shutting down the eighth and ninth innings together now.
And the Mariners will need a lot more of these kinds of games to keep pace with the super teams in this American League such as the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Astros. They moved 3.5 games ahead of the Angels for what would, as of Sunday, be the second wild card spot to the playoffs.
“We all want it,” Healy said. “We all want to win. That’s the bottom line, every single day. It’s not I want to come here and get my hits, I want to come just to play. I want to come here and win. If I go 0-for-4 in the process but I have good defensive plays and I save a couple of runs – I want to win. And I think everyone feels that way in this locker room and it shows on the field.
“It’s our will to win. And it’s special.”
The Mariners played a game decided by more than one run for the first time in seven games. Their six-game streak entering this, including Saturday when Mike Zunino lasered a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th inning, of one-run games tied a club record.
They lead the majors with 15 one-run victories.
“There’s a belief that things are going to happen,” Servais said. “We just got to keep them right there. Keep them close. Get somebody on and the momentum starts to build and you just have to have a good at-bat. You aren’t always going to get it done, you aren’t always going to get the big hit. But if we keep creating opportunities, we like our chances.”
But you have to look at how they’ve done it.
It certainly hasn’t been through gaudy offense. The effects of an injury-riddled lineup have left the Mariners scoring three runs or fewer in six of their past seven games, but the remedy has been this pitching staff.
Starter Mike Leake had arguably his best performance since the Mariners acquired him from the St. Louis Cardinals last season, pitching eight innings and allowing four hits, one run, no walks and two strikeouts. He threw just 86 pitches (62 strikes) to get through those eight innings.
But that just continued the roll the Mariners’ starters have been on. What seemed like the Mariners’ weakness to start the season has been their greatest strength in this stretch that has them 12 games over .500 for the first time since late in the 2016 season.
Mariners starters have combined for a 3.18 ERA since April 24, and entering the day their 3.28 ERA since then only trailed the Astros and Los Angeles Angels as the best ERA in the American League in that span.
“What’s been amazing about this whole thing is how great our pitching has been,” said third baseman Kyle Seager, who had a big Sunday, as well. “They’ve been absolutely carrying us here the last little while. A game like today – Leake threw the ball unbelievably well and absolutely carried us in this game.”
The Mariners trailed 1-0 before Seager’s ninth home run of the season to lead off the fourth inning, a solo shot to tie it.
But the Mariners didn’t have much going against Twins starter Jose Berrios until they chased him in the eighth and Healy drove home Mitch Haniger and Seager for the go-ahead runs.
That was Healy’s third hit of the day and had him about jumping out of his shoes at second base. He didn’t have a hit his previous three games.
“I released so much energy on that double,” Healy said. “I think I let out about 10-15 strikeouts, a couple of broke bats – you just kind of yell it all away.
“I feel like a monkey is off my back right now. It’s awesome.”
A lot of these close games can be attributed to fortunate breaks and timely hitting, but the Mariners have also played so clean. They haven’t beat themselves with defensive miscues and made the difficult plays that spare baserunners and pitches.
Seager made about 30 of those on Sunday.
Twins second baseman Brian Dozier stopped his sprint just before first base. He was too in awe of Seager’s play, so he halted turned and pointed at Seager with a smile and a few words. Essentially a tip of his cap.
He shot a hard ground ball down the third-base line that Seager picked with a back-hand stab and threw a strong throw to first to stop Dozier in his tracks.
Seager also took back-to-back slow ground balls down the line that he scooped and threw on the run with a strong throw to first base, getting speedy Byron Buxton and, again, Dozier in the third.
“Seager, some of the stuff he does at third base sometimes we take it for granted – and we really shouldn’t,” Servais said. “Those are tremendous slow-roller plays and the back-end bullet that Dozier hit there in the middle of the game was – those things go unnoticed as just another out. No, it’s a huge out and a number of times this series we stepped up defensively.”
The Twins struck in the second inning when Eddie Rosario, who led off with a single, scored from first base on Eduardo Escobar’s double over Ben Gamel’s head in left field. Rosario dove to the backside of the plate and just avoided first-day Mariner Chris Hermann’s sweeping tag for a 1-0 Twins lead.
That almost felt like it would be all that was requisite for the Twins this day, against this depleted Mariners lineup and with curveball extraordinaire Jose Berrios on the mound.
The top three hitters in the Mariners’ batting order: Guillermo Heredia, Ben Gamel and Mitch Haniger. All were rookies last year, and they batted somewhere between 6-9 when the Mariners were fully healthy earlier this season – though that feels so long ago now.
No Dee Gordon (fractured toe), no Jean Segura (concussion protocol), no Robinson Cano (80-game suspension/fractured finger).
But Gamel had his first three-hit game of the season, Guillermo Heredia had another hit and has reached base in 10 of his past 11 starts.
“It’s a different confidence level with this group,” Seager said. “It’s a different group. It’s much more resilient, more energy in this group. It’s been a lot of fun to be a part of and watch this thing work at times.”
Even Chris Herrmann, who found out about two hours before the game he would make his first start for the Mariners at catcher after he was selected from Triple-A Tacoma, had his first hit in a Mariners uniform, while jelling quickly with Leake.
“We knew each other 15 minutes before pitching,” Leake joked. “He’s got a really good feel back there, though. He helped out a lot today as far as mixing it and keeping them off balance.
“We’re not putting the bunches up (offensively) but at least our pitching is keeping us close and keeping us a competitive club. That’s what you can ask for when you’re hurt and having guys on the shelf. We just have to keep battling until we get our troops back.”
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