CHICAGO – Nelson Cruz and the bullpen. Just like Saturday night. Only different.
Yes, Cruz hit a game-winning homer Sunday afternoon that propelled the Mariners to a 7-6 victory over the Chicago White Sox in 10 innings. And, yes, the Mariners got another stretch of dominance from their relief corps.
This time, though, the bullpen had to cover seven innings behind an ineffective Andrew Moore, and Cruz’s blast was merely the final punch in the Mariners’ comeback from a five-run deficit.
“Same formula,” manager Scott Servais agreed, “Only a little different road to get there. Down 5-0 early, guys kept hanging in there. (Kyle) Seager with a big homer. (Danny) Valencia was huge in getting us back to even.”
Seager started the comeback with a homer in the fourth inning against Chicago starter Derek Holland, but Valencia supplied the key blow with a three-run blast in a four-run fifth that pulled the Mariners even at 5-5.
Moore gave up five runs in three innings before a relay of Emilio Pagan, James Pazos, Steve Cishek, Nick Vincent and Edwin Diaz held the White Sox to one run and three hits over seven innings.
That set the stage for Cruz, who opened the 10th inning by swinging at a 3-0 fastball from Chris Beck (1-1) and pulling a drive to left that stayed just fair for his club-leading 19th homer of the season.
“Just looking location (when it’s 3-0) and for something you can drive,” Cruz said. “It’s not every time that you’re going to get it. But you’re looking for something you can do damage with.”
When Diaz struck out the side in the Chicago 10th for his third save of the series and 16th overall, the Mariners had a rare three-game sweep at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“You obviously want to win series,” Valencia said, “and sweeps are definitely a bonus. It’s crunch time for us. The next couple of weeks will be very telling to see the direction this club decides to go.
“We believe in each other in here. We have a really good team. Everybody expects us to have a good second half and make the playoffs.”
How rare was this sweep?
The Mariners, before this weekend, had not even won a series in Chicago in 10 years. Their last sweep was May 2-4, 2003. Edgar Martinez was their designated hitter, and Ichiro Suzuki hit a home run against Bartolo Colon.
Suzuki and Colon were still in their 20s.
The Mariners have won four in a row overall and are back to within one game of .500 at 46-47. They are also 2 1/2 games behind the Yankees for the second wild-card spot.
“We’re playing good ball,” Servais said. “Our guys understand that we’re kind of up against it and need to turn it on. We stubbed our toe before the break, but it’s nice to see guys come back refreshed with a lot of energy.”
Moore gave up homers to Avisail Garcia and Omar Narvaez in a three-run second inning, and another homer to Garcia in a two-run third before the Mariners went to their bullpen.
“He just didn’t have the fastball command,” Servais said. “That’s his strength. He just didn’t have it today.”
Down 5-0, the Mariners grabbed one run back on Seager’s two-out homer in the fourth inning and loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth on two singles and an infield error.
Jean Segura’s sacrifice fly made it 5-2 before Valencia pulled the Mariners even by crushing a high breaking ball from Holland for a three-run homer on a 414-foot drive to left.
The Mariners loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth inning, which knocked out Holland when the White Sox opted for Anthony Swarzak to face Segura.
Swarzak bounced a breaking ball past Narvaez for a run-scoring wild pitch before striking out Segura. The Mariners led 6-5, but Chicago pulled even in the seventh on doubles by Alen Hanson and Jose Abreu.
It stayed 6-6 until the Cruz broke the tie.