If you enjoy exit velocities and long-distance sendoffs, this was your night.
Nelson Cruz: two home runs (three RBI)
Mike Trout: two home runs (two RBI)
Ryon Healy: one home run (two RBI)
Albert Pujols: One home run (one RBI).
But the Seattle Mariners were content settling for Trout’s one-man bashing, even his 459-foot, 115-mph exit velocity missile off of the batter’s eye over the center field wall in the eighth inning.
They still left with the 5-3 victory – shockingly a win by more than one run – against the Los Angeles Angels on Monday at Safeco Field for their ninth win in their past 11 games, with Edwin Diaz pitching a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his 24th save, leaving Trout in the on-deck circle.
“Two-run win but it felt like one run with (Trout) sitting there,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “
The Mariners (42-24) reclaimed sole possession of first place in the American League West standings, moving a half-game ahead of the Houston Astros (42-25) and pushing the Angels (37-30) to 5.5 games back.
Only one team has more wins in the major leagues than the Mariners – and that’s the Red Sox (45), who come to Seattle for a four-game series later this week.
With all the home runs, this game came down to a key strikeout.
Wade LeBlanc allowed Trout and Pujols home runs in the top of the first inning and that made this appear as if it might be the day LeBlanc would (finally?) regress to the mean. He had a 4.29 career ERA entering Monday, but a 2.29 ERA in his seven starts this season.
Keep on waiting.
LeBlanc exited a gutsy performance with a shout and stomp off the mound to end the fifth inning with a bases-loaded, full-count strikeout of Justin Upton, leaving with a 5-2 lead after a season-high 92 pitches.
“You kind of at the start use those first at-bats to see what they are trying to do and what their game plan is and I made a couple of mistakes to hall-of-fame caliber hitters and they made me pay for it,” LeBlanc said. “Coming back around you just try to attack them maybe in a way they aren’t looking for.”
He’s gone 16 consecutive outings without taking a loss as the starting pitcher – tied for the fifth-longest such streak since 1920.
“The pitching is what has got us here,” Cruz said. “We are just scoring enough runs to be able to win most of the games. We just find a way to scratch runs and today it was with the long ball.”
And none of these were scratching.
They were scorched.
Trout cut into the Mariners’ lead late with his 459-foot bomb – which was the second-hardest hit home run he’s had in the past three seasons, according to MLB’s Statcast, which began tracking exit velocities in 2015 – 115-mph exit velocity.
Mike Trout hit his 28th career HR against the Mariners in the 1st inning Monday.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 12, 2018
It's the most HRs he has against any opponent. pic.twitter.com/GExgZZPBDr
That was one of three home runs this game to leave at exit velocities over 110-mph, with Nelson Cruz smoking a 114.6-mph shot over the center-field wall for a go-ahead home run in the fourth inning and Pujols launching his at 110 mph in the first.
“Those guys have power – they really do,” Servais said. “They square the ball up. Mike Trout really squared the last one up. They are special players. The guys who have put up numbers in this league and continue to.
“When you’re in the other dugout and Mike Trout steps up there it’s not a great feeling. He had a good night tonight and we got to try to make some adjustments with him tomorrow. He’s a tough out.”
Cruz has been, too, lately.
Cruz tied the game in the bottom of the first inning with a two-run homer over center field – his third consecutive game with a home run.
Then he gave them the lead with his solo shot his next at-bat in the fourth and Healy provided the insurance with his two-run homer two batters later in the fourth. Cruz has hit nine of his team-high 15 home runs since May 24.
Those bombs got Angels manager Mike Scioscia to pull starter Andrew Heaney after three-plus innings and five runs allowed. That was after Heaney pitched a one-hit shutout against the Royals last week.
But all the bashing aside …
A few takeaways:
Maybe this is what proves that Wade LeBlanc is on more than just a good stretch of pitching. That maybe he has some staying power.
LeBlanc neared his season-high for pitches and the Mariners issues an intentional walk to Mike Trout to load the bases with two outs for No. 3-hitter Justin Upton.
Manager Scott Servais could have called on Chasen Bradford out of the bullpen for a right-on-right matchup. Bradford was warm. But he stuck with the lefty LeBlanc with the tying run at first base.
LeBlanc got Justin Upton swinging at a 3-2 cutter for the final out.
He shouted and stomped off the mound with the Mariners maintaining their 5-2 lead. He threw a season-high 92 pitches.
“I’ve always had a lot of confidence in that cutter,” LeBlanc said. “It allows me to get guys off of changeups and getting the ball off the barrel is really the No. 1 goal for me.”
So why leave LeBlanc in there, with the bases loaded, the tying run at first base and Bradford warmed up?
Because Upton was 3-for-24 against LeBlanc in his career.
“Huge out in the ball game,” Servais said. “He’s on the edge and getting to the end of his pitch count, but that was great to see. He was fired up to get through it and so was I.”
LeBlanc has gone 16 consecutive starts, dating back to his 2016 tour with the Mariners, without taking a loss. That’s the fifth-longest streak in baseball since the live-ball era in 1920, trailing the Yankees’ Whitey Ford (22), Expos’ Kirk Rueter (22), Reds’ Brooks Lawrence (18) and Yankees’ Jim Coates (17).
It came down to Heaney vs. Healy.
And Ryon Healy launched his 10th home run of the season with a two-run shot to give the Mariners a 5-2 lead. They didn’t score any more after that, with no outs in the bottom of the fourth, but it was enough to chase Angels starter Andrew Heaney out of the game.
Healy is the fifth Mariners hitter with 10 home runs this season, joining Cruz (15), Mitch Haniger (13), Kyle Seager (12) and Mike Zunino (10).
Heaney had come off a one-hit shutout against the Royals on Tuesday, when he struck out four and walked one in the 1-0 win.
“Those guys didn’t miss him,” Scioscia said. “Cruz got ahold of a couple fastballs. It just didn’t seem like he got settled in to be able to repeat pitches like he did in his last start.”
Both of Cruz’s home runs came on 93-mph fastballs from Heaney.
Play of the game
The Angels had runners at second and third with one out in the fifth inning and LeBlanc was already at the second-most pitches he’d thrown all season – and facing the top of the Angels’ order.
But he got Ian Kinsler to fly out to shallow right field, so shallow that former Mariners prospect Jabari Blash had to stay at third base.
That allowed LeBlanc to intentionally walk Mike Trout to load the bases for Justin Upton, who was 3-for-24 against LeBlanc for his career to that point.
LeBlanc tossed a 3-2 cutter to get Upton swinging for strike three.
“It was a big pitch, big at-bat in the game. Big time in the game,” LeBlanc said. “I was able to execute a cutter and get out of there. The offense did great and Zunino did his thing and I was able to ride their coattails.”
Nelson Cruz and Mike Trout each hit two home runs – combining to travel 1,703 feet. Trout hammered his two at 102.2 and 115 mph exit velocities and Cruz hit his at 107.5 and 114.6 mph.
But give Cruz the nod. The Angels sucked some life out of Safeco Field with Trout and Albert Pujols’ first-inning home runs off of Wade LeBlanc, but Cruz fired back with a game-tying two-run shot to reset the score.
Is this the best Cruz has looked all season?
“It certainly looks that way, healthwise,” Servais said. “He feels good about his swing and where his body is right now. Home run hitters go in streaks. You see guys go five, six or seven homers in a 10-day period. They just get in a groove and he’s certainly in a groove right now.
“I hope we can ride it as long as we can.”
Cruz has homered in three consecutive games and four of his past six games.
Wade LeBlanc allowed the two first-inning home runs but escaped in the fifth inning to finish at five innings, four hits allowed, two runs, two walks and five strikeout to improve to 2-0 after eight starts.
The Mariners’ bullpen then combined for one run in four innings between Chasen Bradford, James Pazos, Ryan Cook and Edwin Diaz, who earned his major-league leading 24th save. Cook allowed the solo home run to Mike Trout, who is tied for the major league lead in that (21) with the Red Sox’s J.D. Martinez.
This run will test the Mariners most. After the Red Sox they get the New York Yankees for three games and another three in Boston.
“Me, personally, and our coaching staff are really looking forward to the next couple of weeks of baseball,” Servais said. “We really believe in this team. Our guys believe in themselves and we’re going to face some good clubs and we’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677