Seattle Mariners

Ryon Healy awakened Mariners’ sleeping offense for much-needed series win

They weren’t starving for offense, but they were hungry.

They weren’t determined to hit a dinger, but they certainly wanted one.

And they weren’t desperate for a series win, but they needed one.

Two sweet swings from Ryon Healy supplied the remedy for each.

This is the first time in the first baseman’s young career he’s had at least three hits and six RBI in a game. He crushed a three-run home run in the first inning and another in the eighth – giving him 20 for the season.

Add in that Marco Gonzales didn’t allow the first Chicago White Sox their first hit until two outs in the sixth inning and the Mariners’ rolled to an 8-2 victory on Sunday at Safeco Field to win the three-game series.

“We came in here out from the break thinking we need to win the series and get this thing rolling in the right direction again and pick up some momentum,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Nice game today.”

Oh, and the Mariners (60-40) just avoided becoming the first team in MLB history to win at least 60 or more of their first 100 games with a negative run differential. Healy’s eighth-inning bomb put them at a plus-1 run differential for the season.

“Yeah, we’re OK today now,” Servais quipped. “We’re good with that.”

But it is still the lowest run differential in MLB history for a team with at least 60 wins in their first 100 games, lower than the 1954 Brooklyn Dodgers, who had a plus-14 run differential.

If you care for context, the Houston Astros entered Sunday leading the majors with a plus-197 run differential.

Servais preferred to look at the plus-six differential for this win.

“I worry about today,” he said. “Day to day. You guys can worry about the other stuff. I’ll try to be plus-1 on Tuesday, that’s what we’re shooting for.”

Fair enough.

The Mariners just needed their sleeping offense to wake.

They entered averaging fewer than three runs per game offensively this month and they hadn’t hit a home run in a season-long stretch of 60 innings until they took a 2-0 lead on Kyle Seager’s bases-loaded walk and Denard Span’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the first inning.

Healy made that 5-0, crushing a three-run home run – the Mariners first since recently optioned David Freitas’ first career homer on July 11 in Anaheim.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="es" dir="ltr">ELEVATE. <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#TrueToTheBlue</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) <a href="">July 22, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Of course, it shouldn’t go unnoticed the Mariners’ pitching, which has kept the Mariners 20 games above .500 despite their swooning offense of late. Gonzales lowered his ERA in July to 1.40. His 3.38 season ERA is the 10th-lowest in the American League and he has pitched at least six innings and allowed two earned runs or fewer in four consecutive starts.

Let’s reset.

The Mariners offense broke their funk with better plate discipline.

White Sox starter Reynaldo Lopez had little command out of the gate and the Mariners didn’t let him off the hook. Jean Segura singled, Mitch Haniger drew a walk, Nelson Cruz had an infield single just off of leaping first baseman Jose Abreu’s glove and the bases were loaded for Seager.

He missed on three elevated pitches in a row in the strike zone, but Seager rebounded from a 1-2 count to draw a bases-loaded walk.

Span followed with a sacrifice fly to score Haniger.

Then it was Healy’s turn. He didn’t miss a 95-mph fastball in the middle of the plate, sending it 419 feet for a three-run home run.

“I was just trying to be on time for his fastball,” Healy said. “I got a couple fastballs to hit there and put a good swing on it.”

The Mariners previously hadn’t gone more than two games without someone hitting a home run.

Healy’s 20 homers trails only Nelson Cruz (22) for the team lead, yet those are the two players specifically singled out by Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto last week as ones who will likely see less playing time when Robinson Cano returns from his 80-game suspension for violating major league baseball’s joint drug agreement. Cano will spend time at second, first and designated hitter, though Dipoto said Gordon will remain their primary second baseman.

Healy was traded to the Mariners from the Athletics in the offseason much because the A’s had a logjam at first, third and designated hitter.

“All I can do is go out there and be Ryon Healy,” he said. “This isn’t the first time this has happened to me or this game. This game is very difficult. I want to help this team win every single day, whether I’m in the lineup or not, and I’m going to find a way to do that when Cano come back or whatever. I want to compete and I want to win and I want to go where this team hasn’t gone before, and I know I’m going to be a big part of that.

“So I’m excited for the opportunity. My job is to make their job as hard as possible when that opportunity comes.”

Hard to take a 20-home-run bat out of the lineup. But harder to not play Cano.

“When he slows it down and gets in good sports, he’s got a good swing and he’s certainly got power,” Servais said of Healy.

“For Ryon, it’s not about physical ability. It’s about approach. When he can slow it down he’s going to be in good spots with guys on base. Just slow it down, don’t put too much pressure on himself and that’s what he did today. He’s got a lot of talent and he’s got to let it come out.”

Healy’s 19th homer of the season gave Mariners had a 5-0 lead and they made Lopez throw 40 pitches that first inning.

It took Gonzales until the fourth inning to throw his 40th pitch.

He was rolling through 5 2/3 innings having faced the minimum. He struck out the side in the fifth inning and the only batter to reach was Matt Davidson on a ball that screamed past Segura at shortstop in the second inning.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Aaaaand that&#39;s why Jean&#39;s an All-Star. <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#TrueToTheBlue</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) <a href="">July 22, 2018</a></blockquote>

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Gonzales had faced 26 consecutive batters without allowing a hit or walk spanning from his July 11 start against the Angels, until Adam Engel broke up the no-hit bid with a two-out infield single.

Not that Gonzales knew. He thought his no-hitter was over by the second inning.

“I didn’t,” Gonzales said. “I thought the ball to Jean in the second inning (an error) was a hit. So it was actually pretty good for my psyche I think.”

Tim Anderson then left no doubt on his hit, sending Gonzales’ changeup over the left-field wall for a two-run home run.

So back to a negative season run differential (minus-two) for the Mariners, until Healy’s second three-run homer, coming in the bottom of the eighth.

Gonzales walked off to a standing ovation with one out in the seventh inning following singles from Abreu and Matt Davidson. He had thrown only 84 pitches, but the Mariners had a rested bullpen, an off day awaiting them Monday and Servais wasn’t going to take any chances with the series on the line.

“In this game momentum is key,” Gonzales said. “I just hope we can ride that. We got the bats hot today and that’s going to be good. The floodgates have opened, and it’s going to be good from here.”

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677; Twitter: @TJCotterill
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