Surprise – a one-run victory.
Not really, though. This is the norm for Mariners baseball these days.
As Seattle Mariners manager Servais keeps stating, seemingly over and over in the Mariners’ past nine games, they’ll take timely hitting over good hitting.
And they’ll ride this wave of near untouchable pitching for as long as they can, too.
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“It’s been a crazy run we’ve been on,” Servais said. “And it feels like I’m saying the same thing every day.”
Who would have thought, especially with a staff like the Houston Astros have, that the Mariners, starting players such as Wade LeBlanc, Marco Gonzales and Christian Bergman, would pitch performances comparable to the best in the big leagues through the first two months of the season?
Less than a week after pitching a career-high seven innings, Marco Gonzales allowed one unearned run in 6 2/3 innings in a 2-1 victory over the Texas Rangers to begin their four-game home stand on Monday – their ninth win in their past 10 games.
“It would be really nice if we went out tomorrow and won by like 10,” said Kyle Seager, who drove in the go-ahead run with a line-drive, two-out single in the sixth inning. “I’m sure the bullpen wouldn’t mind it and I’m sure the Skip wouldn’t mind it.”
The Mariners (33-20) are now 13 games over .500 for the first time since late in the 2014 season and earned their 16th comeback victory of the season, which trails only the Boston Red Sox (17 entering Monday) for most in the big leagues this season.
They remain one game back of the Astros in the American League West
The Mariners have won 16 games by one run, the most in the majors and improved to 21-9 in games decided by two runs or fewer.
In the past week, the Mariners took a lead in the sixth inning or later five of the seven days.
But let’s look at the way Gonzales has solidified himself in this Mariners’ rotation.
He heard questions all offseason about whether he even deserved to be among the five starters entering 2018.
Now Gonzales hasn’t allowed an earned run in his past 19 1/3 innings pitched. Over his past three starts. The left-hander out of Gonzaga University has been in an All-Star-caliber form his past seven starts, going 4-1 with a 2.08 ERA and 34 strikeouts and 12 walks in 43 1/3 innings (an average of 6 2/3 innings pitched).
Servais saw something, though, especially this spring. Gonzales is now two years removed from the Tommy John surgery he had with the St. Louis Cardinals, not too long before the Mariners acquired him last season in exchange for outfield prospect Tyler O’Neill.
“There were a lot of questions, from a lot of people,” Servais said. “And I’m really happy for him. I think that’s what our scouts saw when we made the trade for him. The guys in our front office recognized that we get this guy, we get him back completely healthy and in a good environment he can be a guy who can carry innings. And he’s working his way deeper into ball games which is great to see.
“He continues to build confidence which is great to see and we’re going to need it as this thing continues on. He’s a guy we’re relying on now for six solid, sometimes seven innings.”
How much confidence? Especially since the end of last season?
“Night and day,” Gonzales said.
He not only added a cut-fastball this offseason, with his arm feeling stronger, but his curveball has become a go-to pitch, using it far more often and effectively these past seven starts than any time before in his young career.
“It started in spring training,” Gonzales said. “I think I finally knew that I was over some things and found a good routine for myself. Been able to stay on the process of my arm care and things like that are really important every day.
“I think the second year back from surgery has done wonders, but my body is feeling good and my arm is feeling good and that’s No. 1. That and knowing I need to get ahead of guys and get in good counts and keep that aggressive approach. I think that’s something I’ve been working on and putting together.”
The Rangers got their only run against Gonzales, unearned, in the third inning. Second baseman Rougned Odor led off with a bunt single, reached third after a couple walks and with two outs he scored on a passed ball.
But he got out of the jam when he turned and fired off the mound to second base to pick off Ronald Guzman, one of his two pickoffs in the game.
And he received just enough run support.
The Mariners got some help from the Rangers’ miscue in the sixth inning. Odor bobbled Denard Span’s ground ball his way. He got Guillermo Heredia in time at second, but Span reached first safe, avoiding an inning-ending double play.
So Mitch Haniger followed with a single, then Nelson Cruz tied the game with an RBI single to left field, with Span scoring the first run in his first game as a Mariner since Friday’s trade with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Then back-to-back-to-back. Seager singled to right field and Haniger scored from second for a 2-1 lead, with Seager clapping and continuing the Mariners’ recent thing of pointing both thumbs up toward the Mariners’ dugout.
“Today I actually felt the best swinging-wise,” said Seager, who went 2-for-4 with a home run in Sunday’s win. “Today felt better than yesterday. That was definitely a good improvement and hopefully I continue to see line drives.”
In the past two weeks, the Mariners’ starting pitchers – Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Wade LeBlanc, Christian Bergman (one start), Mike Leake and Marco Gonzales – have allowed 27 earned run in 130 2/3 innings for a 1.86 ERA. That’s the best in the major leagues.
Yes, their starting pitchers have collectively been the best in the majors since May 14.
Gonzales walked Ryan Rua with two outs in the sixth inning and Servais elected to bring in left-hander James Pazos as Gonzales walked off to a standing Safeco Field ovation.
Pazos got a quick fly out to end the inning before turning it over to Mariners’ newly acquired, electric reliever Alex Colomé. Colomé earned a save on Sunday in the Mariners’ 3-1 victory to sweep the Minnesota Twins because Edwin Diaz had the day off.
So this was the Mariners’ first chance to see their new eighth-ninth combo in action.
Colomé struck out two of the four batters he faced, working around Delino DeShields’ two-out single.
Then Diaz. He allowed a leadoff walk but struck out Nomar Mazara and then got back-to-back fly outs for his major-league-leading 18th save of the season.
That combination seems like it will work out well.
“That’s our job – we think nobody can beat us,” Diaz said. “(Colomé) is throwing the ball great, I’m throwing the ball great and our bullpen is throwing great. I think after somebody from the bullpen comes in we have a really, really good chance to win games.”
Since April 24, the Mariners are 22-10 – no other team in the major leagues has that many wins in the past 35 days.
And with the Mariners 13 games over .500, they also have a run differential of … plus-13.
“A lot of people say, ‘Oh, you can’t sustain that. It will catch up with you ...’ I don’t know,” Servais said. “I’m not worried about it. I’m worried about tomorrow’s game and that’s how we’re looking at it. We’ll find out tomorrow how to win.”
"It's a group that likes playing with each other, they get along, they give each other a hard time, they enjoy being with each other, coming to the ball park and taking on that days’ challenge. The culture that is in our clubhouse right now, it’s conducive to winning. Guys got smiles on their faces and just go out and be who you are.
"I’ve said that from day one here, and as we continue to add guys — Denard Span and Colomé — whatever it takes. If you want to wear your hat sideways, I don’t care. Be who you are. Go out and do your job."