“We really needed that.” The words were heard from multiple players and coaches on the field after the Mariners 9-5 series- and possibly road trip-saving win over the A’s in Oakland Thursday afternoon.
Kelenic helps Mariners beat A’s 9-5 after Julio exits early
As cool as they tried to play it, as much as they tried to lean on or into the “no panic” mode that carried them through a rocky first two months and periods of adversity throughout the season, the relief that was shown on the field exposed the façade that hid the unavoidable unease that had cropped up with the team losing their top two offensive players on this trip and dropping six of their last eight games.
“It was big to bounce back from the last two days,” said Ty France in his walkoff interview. “To come out and put together good at bats right away was huge for us. It got us rolling.”
Offense has been the concern with the Mariners scoring just one run in four of their five losses on their final regular season road trip. The home runs that carried the offense in the second half were nowhere to be found. Throughout the year, manufacturing runs has been a challenge for this team and perhaps never as evident as it was on this trip. For that reason, as big as the Jarred Kelenic home run was, it was the three runs put up in the first inning and an add-on run in the seventh that perhaps had Scott Servais most encouraged coming out of the win.
“I really am happy with the ability to add on runs,” he said. “Two out, nobody on, D-Mo with the base hit, steals the base, Carlos gets him over, we get him in with the sac fly? That’s what we do when we are going well.
“The key to the game today, you saw it in the first inning, is we control the strike zone. We just keep the line moving. Don’t try to do too much, just hand the baton to the next guy. It’s something we talk about all the time. We talked about it again today before the game and we went out there and executed. Great job for our guys.”
The message of “don’t try to do too much” has been pushed the past two days in Oakland in individual meetings Wednesday and then in the hitters meeting Thursday. The message is nothing new, rather something to get back to. That foundation is needed as adversity appears to have struck again with Julio Rodríguez exiting the game in the second inning when his back locked up on him for the second time in less than a week. He will undergo an MRI in Kansas City Friday to better determine what he is dealing with.
Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez leaves the game with low back tightness
The situation with Julio’s back is concerning, but one the team should be able to deal with better coming off Thursday’s win.
As valuable as he is, from the loss of Mitch Haniger at the beginning of the year to the suspensions from the brawl with the Angels that were served during the team’s 14-game winning streak, this team has managed to pick up and carry on through every turn of adversity. That perhaps is why what we saw in Anaheim was so shocking. This group had done far too much good since mid-June to all of a sudden fall back into the May version of themselves.
Thursday’s game should be a reminder of that. No Suárez, no Julio, no matter.
At the beginning of the season, did anyone have the Mariners shrinking their magic number to nine with France at third base, Dylan Moore at shortstop, Carlos Santana at first base and Sam Haggerty in left field? This was the “whatever it takes lineup,” and please, can we have a moment of appreciation for France, who moved across the diamond to play third base, a position he hadn’t played with regularity since 2018?
“Once Geno went down, it made the most sense,” he said of his willingness to move. “It took me a few days of ground balls to get my feet under me. Overall, we have a big goal we are trying to meet, it just made the most sense, so whatever I can do to help the team win.”
Kelenic is clearly on board as well, telling reporters Wednesday that he was available for anything, playing in the outfield, pinch running, he even offered to pitch. He did much more Thursday, going 2-for-3 with a home run, double and walk that brought home a run.
“I’m really happy for him,” said Servais. “He’s going to help us here down the stretch. He’s going to continue to play. As long as he keeps a really good approach at the plate, he will continue to get good results.”
The Mariners will need him and every other player on the 28-man roster. Regardless of strength of schedule, things are not going to get easier with each game more important than the last in the chase for the top Wild Card spot. There could be other challenges as well.
In addition to Julio’s potential injury situation, it’s worth keeping an eye on George Kirby, who between the majors and minors has now thrown 146 2/3 innings, over double the number of innings he threw in 2021. They certainly have pitching depth, but Kirby hitting the wall would be a blow.
If they expected any kind of smooth sailing into their first postseason appearance in 21 years, well, it seems that wouldn’t quite be Mariners now, would it?
The good news is, while they may have forgotten it for a short time this week, the 2022 Mariners seem to thrive in the chaos. It might not be the preferred route, but should adversity come their way, they shouldn’t have to look too far back to know what to do.
And with all that said, they really needed that win in Oakland Thursday.
Catch Mariners on 770 AM Sunday as they wrap up final road trip