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In the games he’s played this season, Seattle Mariners backup catcher Tom Murphy has often showed he can be just as productive as his everyday counterpart. Regular starter Omar Narvaez, as usual, had the night off for a Mike Leake start Friday night, and Murphy again put his worth as part of this catching tandem on display.
He recorded the first hit off Angels starter Tyler Skaggs in the third inning, doubling deep to center on a fly ball that was inches from clearing the wall. He then scored Seattle’s first run of the game on a single Dylan Moore jammed through the infield. He didn’t think that first ball was going over the fence.
“I was worried more about (Mike) Trout catching that one than I was anything, because you never know what that guy can do,” Murphy said. “But, I didn’t think I got that one high enough. It just kept going.”
His next at-bat, he knew. After just missing the first time through the lineup, Murphy launched a two-run opposite-field homer, his fifth of the season, to give Seattle a decisive three-run lead in the fifth.
“That one I knew I got,” Murphy said. “That’s kind of something we’ve been working on in the cage a little bit is just kind of catching the ball a little deeper. … All of the hitting guys have been working real hard with me trying to get things straightened out and today it just kind of clicked.”
The Mariners did enough to hold on in the final frames, including getting a solo homer from Jay Bruce — the 300th of his career — to break out of a three-game skid with a 4-3 win over the Angels at T-Mobile Park.
“We haven’t had many leads lately,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “It started with the pitching, Leake throwing some zeros up there to get us into the game, and then getting a few big hits. Skaggs threw the ball very well also tonight. It was tough to come up with many hits tonight, but we got a couple big ones.”
The low-scoring pitching duel between Leake and Skaggs, who each worked through the seventh inning, was a welcome departure from the blowout losses — and less often blowout wins — the Mariners have become so used to in recent weeks.
Leake (4-6, 4.71 ERA), after losing three of his past four starts, and allowing 12 earned runs in his past two, pieced together one of his sharpest outings of the season to notch his first win since mid-May. He retired 17 of the first 19 batters he faced, at one point sitting down nine in a row, and worked seven complete innings allowing just five hits. He struck out two, and did not allow a walk in a quality start.
“For the last few outings I would say I lost a little bit of the sharpness,” Leake said. “Sometimes your body doesn’t feel the best every outing, so it’s jut a matter of trying to pitch your best when it doesn’t feel the best.”
But, he was back in form Friday. The Angels produced a base runner with less than two outs just once with Leake on the mound, when Brian Goodwin singled with one out in the seventh. But, Murphy promptly threw him out trying to steal second base. The other two singles Leake allowed each came with two outs, and he retired the next batter on a flyout to end each inning.
“I thought that’s the best Mike Leake has thrown in quite some time,” Servais said. “Just really good rhythm. Mike’s a feel guy, and he was feeling it with the breaking ball early tonight. Ran some cutters in there, and just kept them off-balance all night.”
Servais also noted the Mariners’ defense — which had a rare clean outing — as a key in helping Leake through the first seven innings.
“I think Mike only had a couple strikeouts, but we made the plays, and some great plays,” Servais said. “The ball (Mitch) Haniger ran down for the final out in the seventh, and (Kyle) Seager with an awesome play there in the ninth inning to get a big out for us. Murphy, another good defensive play. The throw out at second base was a really big play in the seventh to help Leake out.”
Angels slugger Mike Trout and designated hitter Shohei Ohtani, who was held out of Thursday night’s matchup against Japanese countryman Yusei Kikuchi, combined for Los Angeles’ only two runs, launching back-to-back two-out homers in the sixth. It was the first time this season the Angels have hit consecutive homers.
Trout’s homer was a no-doubter that crashed off the scoreboard above the Mariners’ bullpen in left center, and traveled 440 feet. It was the 21st homer of Trout’s career at T-Mobile Park. He’s hit more homers in Seattle than any other opposing ballpark, and more against the Mariners in his career (35) than any other opponent.
Ohtani took Leake’s next pitch 362 feet to left to cut Seattle’s lead to 3-2. But, Leake, who cleared 100 pitches for the fifth time this season, then got Kole Calhoun to ground out to first base to end the inning and preserve the lead.
Bruce gave the Mariners some needed insurance in the seventh, sending his milestone home run to straightaway center to push the lead back to two runs. The 417-foot shot came moments after he nearly pulled a ball over the right-field fence, but it was just foul. Four innings earlier, he sent a warning-track shot to center.
When Bruce returned to the dugout after the solo shot, he was greeted with hugs from teammates. When the Mariners returned to the clubhouse after the win, he was gifted with a beer shower.
“Personal beer shower that’s probably my first one,” Bruce said, adding that it was good, but cold. “If you had told me I was going to hit my 300th homer playing first base for the Seattle Mariners, I probably would have called you crazy.
“But, you take what you can get, there’s no rhyme or reason. I’ve been welcomed by a great group of guys here, and guys that have made me part of this thing, and I appreciate that. I don’t take that stuff for granted because you move around a lot. This is my fourth team now. It’s been a good transition.”
Bruce became the eighth active player in the majors to record at least 300 home runs and 300 doubles in his career, joining teammate Edwin Encarnacion, among others.
Celebrations during the game, though, were short-lived. Three different relievers appeared in the eighth, and the Mariners nearly lost their lead. Austin Adams recorded two outs in the frame, but also walked two batters. Mariners manager Scott Servais called lefty Jesse Biddle in to face the left-handed hitting Ohtani. But, Ohtani took advantage of the matchup, and singled to left to score another run and make it 4-3. Biddle then walked Kole Calhoun, loading the bases.
Servais signaled to the bullpen to grab right-hander Anthony Bass, again going for a favorable matchup, with right-handed hitter Jonathan Lucroy coming up. Lucroy looped a shallow fly ball that appeared it would drop in left, but Domingo Santana, who has often struggled with positioning this season, got a good enough jump to make the catch and end the jam.
“It’s good to start off on the right foot,” Bass said. “I’m coming in here and I want to win ballgames. Whatever role they put me in, my job is to put up a zero on the board and keep runners off base, and I was thankful to do that tonight.”
Bass returned for the ninth, and opened the inning by striking out Goodwin. Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager then made a charging play on David Fletcher’s soft ground ball, and narrowly tossed him out at first. Bass then struck out Jared Walsh on a full count to secure his first save of the season, and fourth of his career.
“Bass really picked us up tonight,” Servais said. “Again, he hasn’t been with the ball club that long, but I like what he does. He doesn’t give in, he can change speeds, and he makes pitches when he has to make them.”
Skaggs (4-5, 4.50) recorded the loss despite working seven impressive innings, and striking out eight. He hadn’t lost to the Mariners since 2016.