OAKLAND — So often in this Mariners season of surprise, to just about everyone outside of their confident clubhouse, there have been countless times in which they’ve looked down and out. Yet every time it looks like Seattle is on the cusp of a spiral, it climbs its way back into the thick of postseason contention.
That resilience has never been on a more prominent display than during this make-or-break road trip, which enters its final leg after Seattle completed a sweep of the A’s on Thursday afternoon at the Coliseum, its first four-game sweep in Oakland in its 30th such series. The win was also the club’s sixth in its seventh contest on this final 10-game marathon of a road trip.
Following a 6-5 decision, Seattle (84-69) moved to just two games back of the second American League Wild Card spot, currently occupied by the Yankees (86-67), who were idle on Thursday. So were the Red Sox (88-65), who hold the top spot by two games. Toronto (85-67) is playing Minnesota this evening.
The Mariners have now won a franchise-best nine straight games against the defending AL West champion A’s, putting their division rivals’ season on life support in the process by creating two games of separation with them in the postseason standings. Seattle has won 12 of 15 against Oakland in 2021, with one final three-game series remaining against them next week at T-Mobile Park.
“We’re doing the things that we preached are going to be very important for us as we continue this journey,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “And all year long. I think I’ve said, ‘Just focus on getting better.’ And we are continuing to get better.”
Thursday’s victory formula wasn’t exactly of the Mariners’ ilk this season, aside from its persistence. They trailed by three runs after Yusei Kikuchi stumbled his way through just three innings, but big homers from Cal Raleigh, Mitch Haniger and Luis Torrens helped power them back.
The latter two were in the sixth inning, with Haniger tying the game on a solo shot for his 35th, pushing him into a tie with Kyle Seager for the team lead, and Torrens taking the lead in a huge pinch-hitting spot with two strikes and on a 95.7 mph heater from Jake Diekman.
“Just the constant belief in our dugout, if we can just put up some zeros up there, we’ll come up with some big hits,” Servais said. “And that’s exactly what happened today.”
Thursday was perhaps the flashiest that the Mariners have been in this stretch that has otherwise been their standard, methodical formula. But by record, they are playing their best baseball right now.
Mariners’ record by month
A huge part of that was again on display under the sun-soaked Northern California skies on Thursday: contributions from the lower portion of the lineup, which has typically been the club’s Achilles’ heel all season. The Mariners had received a combined .201/.281/.351 (.632 OPS) worth of production from the Nos. 6-9 spots in the order, but those spots accounted for five runs in the finale.
Raleigh’s afternoon was particularly encouraging, given that he entered the day hitting .167/.209/.270 (.479 OPS), and as such, hasn’t seen as much playing time lately.
“It’s crazy,” Raleigh said. “Night in, night out — whether it be our starting pitching or bullpen; the bottom of the order, the top of the order — guys are picking each other up constantly. And it may not be the, ‘Rah rah, let’s go, kick in the butt.’ It might be taking a hit by pitch, taking a walk, coming in [during] a tight spot. Guys are doing their job extremely well, and it’s been a lot of fun to be here.”
The Mariners didn’t leave Oakland on a complete high note, however, as they now face the quandary of what to do with Kikuchi’s rotation spot his next turn through on Tuesday against the A’s at T-Mobile Park, though that is an issue they won’t settle immediately.
And while they head into Anaheim this weekend needing help to control their own destiny, it’s hard to envision them not keeping this race interesting until the end.