Winning two of three games at home is not as remarkable an achievement for a baseball team as, say, winning 22 consecutive times.
Cleveland did that in 2017, setting an American League record, and brought virtually all of that first-place, 102-victory club to Seattle for a season-opening series at Safeco Field. The Mariners held their own, providing a sneak preview of what has the feel of a wild, six-month ride.
“Heck of a series by our guys,” manager Scott Servais said after the Mariners’ 5-4 victory in the Sunday afternoon rubber game. “A fun weekend and a nice way to start. Our fans are definitely into it — we felt the energy here all weekend.”
The series had a little bit of everything for the Mariners: Terrific starting pitching by Felix Hernandez and Mike Leake, who earned the victory Sunday with a seven-inning effort against a superior lineup. A day after 44-year old Ichiro Suzuki made a web-gem catch over the left-field wall, newly acquired lead-off hitter Dee Gordon showed off his athleticism in center before putting the Mariners ahead with a seventh-inning home run.
The bullpen was solid in the two victories and even better in the 6-5 defeat on Saturday, when it gave the team a chance to win by holding Cleveland scoreless over the final five innings.
Mitch Haniger and Robinson Cano are locked in at the plate, while the presumptive first-base duo of Ryon Healy and Daniel Vogelbach is a combined 0-for-16, with six strikeouts.
If a theme can be deduced from the Mariners first three games, it’s that surprises could be in store on a daily basis. A few hours before the Thursday night opener, they learned catcher Mike Zunino would sit out with a slight oblique strain. Then DH Nelson Cruz, moments after hitting his second home run in two games, slipped on a dugout step Saturday and twisted his ankle.
As Servais awaited results on Cruz’s MRI exam Sunday, he could be forgiven for sensing the only kind of luck awaiting his team was bad.
But in the fifth inning, trailing 2-0, catcher David Frietas led off with a double to right-center off Indians starter Trevor Bauer. Gordon bunted Frietas to third, which is when things got interesting.
Jean Segura doubled to right field, scoring Frietas, before Cano struck out and Haniger was plunked on the shoulder. Two on, two out, Bauer went into his 24-hour mode — when he gets into jams, it takes him about 24 hours to get out out of them — and with the hitless-for-the-series Kyle Seager at the plate, Bauer was in a jam.
Seager hit a hard grounder toward first that took a fortuitous bounce over the head of Cleveland’s Yonder Alonso. What should have been an inning-ending out turned into an RBI double for Seager.
“That’s a shame, because I thought Trev did a really good job,” Indians manager Terry Francona said after Cleveland lost its first series since Aug. 3, 2017. “There was a ton of traffic but he got the ground ball he desperately needed and it just hit something and went right over Alonso’s head.”
Francona should not expect a sympathy card from Servais.
“It’s about time we got a good hop,” he said. “We’ve had a few bad hops go our way with all the injuries and everything else. I’d like to say they all even out. Once in a while you’ve got to be a little lucky.”
You also might want a little early momentum. The Mariners opened at Houston last season and promptly dropped their first three. The road trip continued to Anaheim, where they got swept.
Before the team had unpacked its bags from spring training, it was 1-6. By the time the Mariners climbed to .500 in late June, they trailed Houston by 12.5 games.
A year later, they were beginning the season by winning a series against the powerhouse Indians.
“I’d put their lineup toward the top,” said Leake, who scattered five hits and struck out four. “You’ve got a lot good lineups right now, especially in the A.L., but I’d put Cleveland in the Top Five, at least. Getting two out of three right here was big, especially against a team that’s going to compete all year.
“Hopefully, we’re competing all year with them.”
So far, so good. So very good.