Daniel Vogelbach figured he’d ask grandma to get out the rye bread and some mustard.
It was grand Vogelslam time.
No better time for the Seattle Mariners, either. With two outs in the top of the eighth inning, Vogelbach hit a pinch-hit, go-ahead, first-career big-league grand slam.
The 25-year-old from Fort Myers, Florida, got ahold of a 98-mph fastball from Hector Rondon and sent it 398 feet over the wall in right-center to scores the Mariners first and only runs of a 4-1 comeback victory over the Houston Astros on Monday at Minute Maid Park in Texas.
Vogelbach got a couple more excited high-fives from Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz before standing in front of the Mariners’ dugout and pumping his fist in jubilation.
“Any time you get that opportunity – those are the chances you dream of when you’re a kid,” Vogelbach told Root Sports afterward. “I tried not to let the moment get to me and see a pitch and put a good swing on it.
“I’m coming off the bench, I haven’t hit all game and he’s going to attack me and try to get ahead and put me away,” Vogelbach added to reporters afterward. “It was a heater elevated and I was able to get a barrel to it.”
That was the Mariners’ second go-ahead, bases-loaded hit in three games after Cano’s three-run double beat the Angels on Saturday.
Where was all this offense the past two months?
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p lang="nl" dir="ltr">VOGELSLAM <a href="https://t.co/2eOQeJ3CxZ">pic.twitter.com/2eOQeJ3CxZ</a></p>— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) <a href="https://twitter.com/Mariners/status/1041884823130755073?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 18, 2018</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
The Mariners improved to 60-19 this year when they score at least three runs, but they’re one of five teams in the American League with at least 71 games when they’ve scored three runs or fewer.
The Mariners improved to 83-67 and prevented the Astros from moving closer to their second consecutive American League West crown. Seattle is now seven games back of the Oakland Athletics for the AL’s final wild card with 12 games remaining.
But to get to Vogelbach for his first pinch-hit grand slam since Franklin Gutierrez’s in 2015 against the Tigers, Denard Span had a gutsy,two-out pinch-hit walk after being down 1-2 in the count, laying off some borderline strikes.
Kyle Seager had just before extended his hit streak to seven games after Nelson Cruz’s leadoff single. So that set the stage for Vogelbach’s second home run in two days after his mammoth two-run tying shot against the Angels on Sunday.
“Absolutely great at-bat there in a big moment,” Mariners manager Scott Servais told reporters afterward. “Right guy at the right time.”
So fitting considering what Servais said about Vogelbach’s place with the Mariners earlier in the day:
“Being in a situation where somebody commits just 350-400 at-bats in a season to him and see what you got at the end of the day, that’s probably what he needs,” Servais said. “Is that what he’s going to get? I don’t know. You got to be in the right place at the right time for that to happen. But he’s certainly produced at the Triple-A level, no question about it.
“He needs to get the opportunities, and then take advantage of it when it’s there.”
Enough about the eighth inning, though.
Let’s get to it, three takeaways:
Vogelbach’s homer also set the stage for Edwin Diaz’s 56th save of the season.
That means he’s now by himself for the third-most saves in a single-season in MLB history, passing former Dodgers closer Eric Gagne (2003)and Braves’ John Smoltz (2002).
Diaz only trails former White Sox closer Bobby Thigpen, who had57 saves in 1990, and Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez, who set the single-season record with 62 saves in 2008.
So maybe the playoffs are a long, long shot for the Mariners at this point, but, hey, there’s that record to shoot for.
Wade LeBlanc would have had a 2.92 season ERA entering Monday if he could remove his previous five appearances against the Houston Astros this season.
The 33-year-old lefty and the right-handed heavy Astros lineup don’t have a great relationship.
Except LeBlanc finally did figure those Astros out. He didn’t allow a hit until two outs in the fourth inning and he exited after allowing just three hits and one run in 5 1/3 innings with five strikeouts.
“Just execute when I needed to and keep the ball off the barrel,” LeBlanc said. “That’s really all I have regardless of how the stuff is and the life on the pitches. I got to keep the ball off the barrel.”
And no pitcher has come from out-of-nowhere for the Mariners, maybe in all of baseball, than LeBlanc.
He was with the Mariners briefly in the 2016 season before spending all of last year out of the Pirates’ bullpen. Since he converted from late-spring signing and Mariners reliever to Mariners starter at the start of May, LeBlanc has a 3.38 season ERA in 25 starts after his performance on Monday.
Overall for the season, including his five relief outings, he has a 3.49 ERA, which is the 13th-lowest among qualified starters in the American League this year – lower than that of pitchers such as the Astros’ Dallas Keuchel, Athletics’ Sean Manaea, and even James Paxton.
The only batter to reach into the fourth inning against LeBlanc was a walk to Jose Altuve in the first. He got two outs in the fourth when Yuli Gurriel got the Astros’ first hit on a double down the right-field line, though Mitch Haniger almost threw him out.
More on Haniger in a bit.
So then the Astros’ Mariner-killer, Marwin Gonzalez, followed with an RBI double to get the Astros their lone run.
LeBlanc exited in the sixth after walking Altuve, again, before reliever Adam Warren stranded him.
Entering the game, LeBlanc had an 8.31 ERA (16 ER, 17 1/3 innings pitched) in five appearances against the Astros this year … and a 2.92 ERA against everyone else .
Actually, the other three teams in the AL West have combined for eight runs in 30 1/3 innings against LeBlanc (2.37 ERA).
Defense x 2
So can Mitch Haniger.
But Guillermo Heredia got the first out of the Astros’ fifth inning when he charged on a blooper into shallow center field, slid and caught it just before landing between himself, Dee Gordon and Haniger with a back-hand catch.
Gordon gave Heredia a hug for that.
But Martin Maldonado followed with a hard liner down the right-field line and Haniger chased it, grabbed it, quickly turned off his backfoot and fired to second to get Maldonado by about five feet trying to turn that into a double.
That was Haniger’s 12th outfield assist of the season, which is tied for the most in the majors this year with Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton.
But it was the angle Haniger took to get the ball that made the play. He grabbed it before it could get to the wall and fired a rope to second to get the not-so-fleet-footed Maldonado, who was with the Angels earlier in the year.
Play of the game
One name: Daniel Vogelbach.
Two words: Grand slam.
See “Play of the game” ... AKA, Daniel Vogelslam.
But Kyle Seager and Dee Gordon also added two hits each. Gordon tripled right after Vogelbach’s slam and might have had an inside-the-park home run had third-base coach Scott Brosius not stopped Gordon at third.
Seager extended his hit streak to seven games.
Wade LeBlanc allowed just three hits and one run in 5 1/3 innings on 90 pitches. He struck out five and walked three to lower his season ERA to 3.49 in what is a career-high 152 innings pitched this season.
Astros rookie Framber Faldez allowed just two hits in five innings, though he walked five Mariners batters and struck out six.
Scott Servais said the Mariners arrived in Texas at about 3 a.m. because of mechanical issues with their plan.
“Really credit our guys, we had a horrific travel day,” Servais said. “Guys were really dragging and tired and they showed up tonight and they kept grinding through it.”
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p lang="de" dir="ltr">VOGELBOMB!</p>— Mitch Haniger (@M_Hanny17) <a href="https://twitter.com/M_Hanny17/status/1041897203298648064?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 18, 2018</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">M’s take the 1st game in Huston 4-1! BIG BLAST by Vogelbach Grand Slam in the 8th to drive 4R’s. LeBlanc had a great outing 5.1 Innings 1ER. The pen was perfect , Sugar D got the safe.<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Mariners?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Mariners</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/GoMariners?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#GoMariners</a></p>— Edgar Martinez (@11EdgarMartinez) <a href="https://twitter.com/11EdgarMartinez/status/1041891266311671809?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 18, 2018</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">.<a href="https://twitter.com/EdiDiaz44?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@EdiDiaz44</a>'s historic season continues. <a href="https://t.co/QPW19eEbOK">pic.twitter.com/QPW19eEbOK</a></p>— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) <a href="https://twitter.com/Mariners/status/1041900055433596928?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 18, 2018</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>