It speaks to the challenge Mariners pitcher Dillon Overton faced Sunday that the team’s best defensive play was made by, yup, Dillon Overton.
A reliever given a spot start against the Texas Rangers, Overton quickly found himself in a top-of-the-first jam. The Rangers already were leading 1-0, and the speedy Elvis Andrus was in scoring position for designated hitter Mike Napoli.
Then Overton performed a pivot and delivered a dart to pick off Andrus for the third out, raising the question of whether Overton had better command of his fastball to second base than over the plate.
The pickoff proved vital because Overton wasn’t going to get much defensive help from anybody else. A passed ball charged to catcher Carlos Ruiz mitigated Overton’s strikeout of Napoli, leading to another run in the top of the second. An inning later, shortstop Jean Segura airmailed a routine throw to first.
But Overton gave the Mariners what they needed in the 4-3 victory, keeping the series finale within reach until the offense warmed up. Manager Scott Servais removed the left-hander with one out in the fourth, after he had thrown 71 variously stressful pitches.
“I just tried to give the team as much as I had,” Overton said after the Mariners won for the fourth time in a six-game homestand. “I knew it wasn’t going to be a whole lot.
“Some unfortunate things happened that caused me to throw more pitches than I wanted to, but that’s baseball. It happens. You just try to minimize the damage and hang in there.”
Servais was a bit less diplomatic about the sloppy fielding.
“Overton gave us all he could, but we didn’t play very good defense behind him,” the skipper said. “We made mistakes. It’s like we were sleepwalking out there.
“The pitch count got up because we didn’t make some plays,” continued Servais, specifically referring to the passed ball that turned the first out of the second inning into a man on with nobody out. “When you’re in a game like this, every out is so important to keep that pitch count in check.”
When James Paxton joined Felix Hernandez and Drew Smyly on the disabled list Friday, it meant there will be more games where the Mariners 40-man roster is combed for an emergency start of four or five innings.
Early exits lead to the kind of chain reaction seen Sunday, when Christian Bergman served as the middle man between Overton and the late-inning specialists.
Bergman, a former Colorado right-hander who started a handful of games for the Rockies, was summoned in the fourth inning and allowed one run and one hit before Nick Vincent replaced him to begin the eighth.
“Bergman came in and kind of settled the game down,” said Servais, noting that injuries to 60 percent of the starting rotation “means asking a lot for our young guys in that bullpen, and they know that.
“You try to put them in situations where they have success, but there are going to be times you’re not quite sure what you’re going to get. The job right now is to get the guys coming in and let them play. They’ve got ability.”
All baseball games are equal, but some are more equal than others. Sunday took on significance because it followed an 8-2 victory Saturday that might have been the Mariners’ most comprehensively impressive effort of the season.
Overton didn’t dominate with lights-out pitches, but he persevered in an unfamiliar role. If Seattle ends up qualifying for the playoffs in a photo finish — say, one game —the spot start they got Sunday will loom large.
“I would like to think I contributed a little bit,” he said. “I tried to keep them in the frame as much as I could. Our guys hung in there and played really hard and we came out with the win. It was awesome.”
As was the throw that wiped out Andrus.
“First time I’ve picked somebody off second — ever,” said Overton, smiling as he thought about it.