Mariners pitcher Mike Leake discusses near-perfect game against Los Angeles Angels
Mike Leake convinced himself to slow down between innings. Four innings went by in a flash, but as the Seattle Mariners’ offense came alive to string together three run-scoring frames, and a scoreboard malfunction in center field caused a peculiar stoppage midway through the game, Leake could feel the pace changing.
“It forced me to kind of take a deep breath,” Leake said.
The veteran right-hander knew what was unfolding, so he made sure to stay collected when his turn on the mound came, and continued to diligently sit down each Angels batter in order.
“As you get closer, you get the shakes, and you have to calm yourself down,” Leake said. “But, other than that, it’s just a matter of making your pitches.”
Leake, and his catcher Tom Murphy, felt the energy building with each out. Leake’s teammates dutifully high-fived him each time he returned to the dugout after another clean inning, but any chatter stopped as the innings grew later.
“Guys try to stay away for the most part,” Leake said. “You get little eyes coming at you, just seeing what you’re doing, but other than that they try to give you space.”
Leake’s bid for perfection ended three outs short, but it’s the closest he’s ever been in his professional baseball career, and came on the heels of arguably the worst outing of his 10-year major league career last week in Anaheim, when he couldn’t pitch his way out of the first inning.
He responded by carrying a perfect game through eight innings Friday night at T-Mobile Park, completing a one-hit shutout, allowing one walk and striking out six as the Mariners ended a six-game skid with a 10-0 win.
It was the second complete-game shutout of his 10-year career, and the first shutout by a Mariner pitcher since James Paxton’s no-hitter in Toronto last season.
“It’s baseball. It’s crazy. You just never know what you’re going to see what you come to the ballpark,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Obviously a tremendous effort by Mike Leake. He had all of his pitches working and kept them off-balance.
“That’s Mike at the top of his game right there. He’s working quick, gets them in swing mode, because all of his pitches are going to be around the plate. I thought he did a really nice job tonight of mixing speeds. There was a lot of back and forth.”
Leake worked through eight brilliant innings, retiring 24 consecutive batters in an outing that undoubtedly improved his trade value just 12 days before the MLB deadline.
Luis Rengifo finally broke up his bid at perfection in the ninth, singling to right field through a hole between first and second on a changeup Leake said he yanked. He then walked Kevan Smith before retiring the next three batters — including striking out Angels slugger Mike Trout — to complete the sixth complete game of his career. He threw just 98 pitches.
“It was more crisp this game than last game,” Leake said. “It was straight to the point with Tom (Murphy), making sure we were getting where we wanted to get with the pitches. Everything was just kind of timed up, in rhythm with the body and able to kind of release the ball easily tonight.”
Last week, Leake got just two outs in the first inning in Anaheim, allowing seven runs (four earned) on eight hits in Seattle’s first game back from the All-Star break. He said he didn’t change much about his routine between these two polarizing starts, but maybe throwing some extra long toss helped.
Whatever changed, there was no first-inning meltdown this time around. Leake worked swiftly through the first on seven pitches, and through the second on nine, and recorded the first eight outs of the game without a strikeout.
He eventually caught Matt Thaiss looking to end the third, and sat both Brian Goodwin and Shohei Ohtani down on strikes in the fourth.
Leake even worked through a bizarre fifth, when the scoreboard started to flicker, causing distractions at the plate. Umpires delayed the game for nearly five minutes while the screen was shut off completely, and Leake took one practice pitch before immediately striking out Adrelton Simmons when play resumed, and David Fletcher two batters later to end another clean frame.
“It was just going to take a little while for it to boot up, and then (we) decided to just shut it down,” Servais said. “The flashing lights were affecting the hitters there a little bit. But, Mike’s a pro. He kept his cool, waited until they got it figured out, and then struck out the guy on the next pitch.”
Two outfield swaps in the sixth — Mariners center fielder Mallex Smith left with a sore right thumb — didn’t shake Leake either, and he breezed through the seventh and eighth to set up his chance.
“That ninth inning was probably some of the most fun I think I’ve ever had in my life, just going out to the field and feeling that energy from the ballpark,” Murphy said. “I just wanted to be there for Mike.”
Rengifo ended Leake’s bid on the third pitch of the ninth, but Leake was still happy to be in the position he was entering that final frame.
“Hopefully there’s another day for another shot,” he said.
Seattle’s offense — which hadn’t produced more than three runs in a game since before the break — provided Leake with a boost in the fourth, stringing together five runs before an out was recorded.
J.P. Crawford and Domingo Santana each walked to open the inning, and Daniel Vogelbach came through with his first home run since the break, pulling a changeup that was well outside 414 feet over the fence in right center. He gave the Mariners a 3-0 lead, and also ensured the unbelievable streak — there has been at least one long ball in all 100 of Seattle’s games this season — would continue another day.
Omar Narvaez singled and Kyle Seager doubled following Vogelbach’s shot, and Tom Murphy drove in both runs on a long single that crashed off the wall in right. He was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double, but only after the two base runners had given the Mariners a five-run cushion.
Vogelbach’s second three-run smash came just an inning later in a nearly identical scenario. This time Mallex Smith walked to open the inning, Santana walked two batters later, and Vogelbach again reached across the plate to crush a pitch to right center to make it 8-0. The 441-foot homer — his 23rd of the season — gave him the second multi-homer game of his career.
Seattle tacked on two more runs in the sixth. Murphy led off the inning with a double, Dee Gordon beat out an infield single, and Crawford drove in both runs on a two-out double to right, giving the Mariners their double-digit lead.
“A lot of good signs,” Servais said. “Hopefully we can put a little streak together here. It has been a struggle for us early here in July and certainly coming out of the break. Hopefully tonight is a sign for things to come.”