I want to be right with you all: The approximately 48 hours leading up to the first run tonight were the lowest I had been on the Mariners all season. Faceplanting against the Diamondbacks was bad enough, but Wednesday’s fate of missing a walkoff with one foot and then being stomped in Manfredball to seal another series loss against a direct Wild Card competitor? With a day off to cook over it? Absolutely damn moods. Whether it was a lot of flushing playoff hopes down the drain, a Midwest time zone game throwing people out, or a combination of both, the energy around tonight’s match was lukewarm at best by going in, and a flat top of the first from the offense against Jon Heasley – in his Major League debut – combined with Whit Merrifield and Nicky Lopez, grinding sixteen places from Chris Flexen before Salvador Pérez made not one, but two outs did not create early confidence.
Luckily, Ty France put all the worries of not being hit with a clean single at the head of the other, and after Abraham Toro hit a double, Jarred Kelenic worked 3-1, got a hanging change and hit it harder than I did had seen him turn on one all season:
The exit speed scraped 111 miles per hour, and just like that, so many bad feelings in the home washed away. Luis Torrens laid out hard in the middle and Jake Fraley hesitated with a ball for the first time in what feels like a long time for a two-out double. Cal Raleigh grounded to finish more by scoring that frame, but seeing the bottom half of the lineup consistently square a solid pitching prospect without a book about him was good enough for me. The Flex again kept the Royals off the board despite a two-out single from Michael A. Taylor after another annoying at-bat, tightening things up even more in the third inning, needing just thirteen lanes to bypass a single from Hanser Alberto. An ugly strike-em-out-throw-em-out double play from Kyle Seager and JP Crawford wiped out any offensive hope for the Mariners hitting, but to start the fourth, the same sequence happened that started the second, again: France single , Toro erased him on a fieldman election, and Kelenic worked 3-1. It could not happen again, could it? It’s not the baseball gods to heavy, right?
Well, they were at least confident enough to let Kelenic miss a couple of lanes before Heasley flopped a cracking ball belt high.
After the ball sailed over the midfield fence, it did not matter what else happened: for me, tonight was a victory. It’s Kelenic’s first multi – homer game of his career, he added to his 100 wRC + September, and he looked perfectly comfortable in the spacious Kauffman center field – all this more than welcome development. Add the Flex, which only needs eighteen seats to cruise through the fourth and fifth innings, and we were well on our way to a stress-free victory.
If you started laughing after the last sentence, I can not go wrong with you – I laughed a little when I wrote it. Of course, things got a little hairy at the bottom of the sixth. After luring in a light Alberto flyout, Flex gave up a single to Whit Merrifield, who was immediately replaced by Lopez on a 4-3 player choice, and who other than Salvador Pérez had decayed. Flexen worked a 2-1 count, threw a fastball right on the edge, and Salvy popped it up to low on the right. Unfortunately, in what has been a not uncommon theme lately, none of Mitch Haniger, Crawford or Toro could grab it and the ball harmlessly picked a foot error. I was happy at the time that no one was injured and it was a foul ball rather than a particularly embarrassing double, but after the collision between Kelenic and Jake Bauers a few weeks ago, you would think you would see much less of that kind of miscommunication, no more.
The royals, of course, seized on this opportunity; Pérez went, Andrew Benintendi dropped a perfectly placed single to get KC on the board, and Carlos Santana worked an easy walk to load the bases with two outs, forcing Scott Servais to go for the bullpen. What should have been a third straight easy inning with a good shot to finish the seventh ended up being a nightmare about a frame for Flexen, and although Joe Smith against Taylor felt like a good matchup on paper, he saw him miss his two first lanes badly made me chatter with my teeth. But ever the smart veteran, Smith threw a perfect sinker on the low and outside corner to freeze Taylor, and I would be unhappy if I did not shout Cal Raleigh after a very nice frame on it.
JP drove in Torrens with a fieldman choice in the seventh, which ended up being great for my stomach and blood pressure, for Drew Steckenrider was shaken again. Giving up a leadoff thing for Hunter Dozier was no matter what, but right away a hit to Kyle Isbel and barely grazed the nine-hole hitter stuck pretty badly, even though the rational part of me knows that Steck has no doubt been Seattles best relief all season. He bowed to retire for Merrifield and Lopez on the flyout, and with Salvador Pérez once again threatening in a high-gear situation, Servais smashed his emergency button.
I think we all knew this matchup was predetermined. Of Route Pérez would come up in a high leverage situation this series – probably more than once! Of Route Paul Sewald would be called in to put out the fire, as he has done so many times this year. Even though we all knew this matchup was destined to happen, how confident were we of the result? A game-binding explosion and a violent strikeout felt just as likely, and no matter what happened, I was ready to accept it.
I did not have an “easy flyout” on my bingo card, and after the Royals were rejected in the seventh, we were back on cruise control. The Ms pushed their sixth and final race across the eighth thanks to a Seager single that tore through the shift, a Ty France walk, and Luis finished an excellent night with a hard-hitting single through the right side. All his at-bats tonight came against a right-handed pitcher, and if he has taken a step forward towards them while still breaking down left-wingers? Baby, we can just have a 130 wRC + bat on our hands.
Sewald worked an eighth without a goal, and Diego Castillo worked around a two-runner jam in the ninth to seal the win. Look at the scoreboard may have disappeared in the last week (Toronto lost, Yankees, Red Sox and A have all won if you were wondering), and expectations and excitement for the final stretch may have plummeted, but this team does not care what we think . Former Seattle teams may have folded now, but not these guys. After the year’s most devastating home run, they regrouped, landed in a new city to start a new series, and banished any bad mood that might have hung after Wednesday’s defeat. Strong performances from Kelenic, Flexen and Torrens gave it much more hope for 2022 and beyond – man, how much better would we all be if Jarred ended the year on a tear? Yusei Kikuchi goes tomorrow in hopes of ending an up-and-down year on a high note before diving into an uncertain future. No matter how thin playoff hopes become in the next two weeks, these are all worth keeping an eye on through the final track, and for me it’s beautiful.