CHICAGO — Two batters into Tuesday afternoon’s game, Marco Gonzales was in trouble. He stood on the mound, trying to slow his breathing while figuring out what to do next.
He’d allowed back-to-back singles to Tim Anderson and Yolmer Sanchez, and a clean first inning seemed impossible with the hulking Jose Abreu, who had gone 4 for 4 with two homers on Monday, standing in the batter’s box.
After a quick first strike to Abreu, the former Gonzaga standout came set to throw his second pitch. As he checked on Anderson at second, he saw a look from second baseman Robinson Cano that meant “Pick this guy off.”
Gonzales wheeled to second and caught Anderson sleeping. After a protracted rundown that seemed like the Mariners might mess up, Anderson was out and Sanchez was still at first base. Four pitches later, a well-placed change-up resulted in a ground ball to third that became a 5-4-3 inning-ending double play.
With the first-inning crisis averted, Gonzales went on to deliver the best outing of his tenure since joining the Mariners, tossing six scoreless innings in Seattle’s 1-0 shutout of the White Sox.
It was the first time the Mariners, who improved to 12-10, shut out an opponent this season.
Gonzales, along with relievers Dan Altavilla, Marc Rzepczynski and Juan Nicasio and closer Edwin Diaz, combined to shut down a White Sox offense that scored 10 runs the previous night. The four relievers didn’t allow a hit, Diaz dominating the ninth for his ninth save of the season.
“A 1-0 game in this park, you don’t see it often,” manager Scott Servais said of Guaranteed Rate Field.
You certainly wouldn’t have expected it with Gonzales and recent call-up Chris Volstad starting the game, given their track records. But the rare 4:10 p.m. start time covered the infield in shadows, making it difficult to see the ball.
“The shadows really played into it,” Servais said. “Take nothing away from the pitching, Marco did an outstanding job.”
Gonzales had no problem with the shadows getting some of the credit. He likes whatever bothers hitters.
“I love it,” he said. “I tried to use every advantage. I talked to a couple hitters in the first inning and asked what they were seeing out there, and what’s kind of deceiving, and what are you seeing out of his hand that I can use. Guys were saying anything that comes out of his hand looks like a fastball. You don’t know what it is. So I tried to run my cutter and change-up a lot, because I knew those were pitches I could use to my advantage.”
Seattle’s lone run came in the fourth inning. Kyle Seager hit a two-out double to right field and scored on Mitch Haniger’s shift-beating RBI single through the middle. Haniger, who saw his streak of four straight games with a home run come to an end, was happy to settle for the game-winning RBI.
“Definitely, it wasn’t going to last forever,” he said. “I was just trying hit the ball hard, and luckily it squeaked through.”
The Mariners’ single run wouldn’t have been enough if not for the crazy pickoff and that first-inning escape act.
“We saw that they were aggressive on the basepaths, every one of those guys can run,” Gonzales aid. “We wanted to show right away that we weren’t going to give in.”
The rundown executed by the Mariners wasn’t executed with the fundamentals of an old Tom Emanski instruction video. Part of it came from Anderson running back to second, where Sanchez was standing. Seager, who had the ball, anticipated one of the runners being out, since both of them were occupying second base. But just before Anderson touched second, Sanchez left the bag and sprinted back to first, trying to get the Mariners to throw it and allow Anderson to get to third safely. It didn’t happen, as Anderson didn’t read what Sanchez was doing until it was too late. The Mariners not only got Sanchez to retreat back to first, but threw Anderson out as he was trying to get to third.
The official scoring on the play: Caught stealing 1-4-5-3-6-5.
“After the pickoff, my confidence went way up,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales kept rolling along, working around minor jams, using pinpoint fastball command and a better curveball than in past outings to get key strikeouts.
Gonzales found some trouble in the sixth, but came back to strike out Matt Davidson looking on three pitches, with catcher Mike Zunino stealing the third strike on a fastball a few inches off the outside corner. Zunino’s framing picked up a handful of strikes for Gonzales and got White Sox manager Rick Renteria ejected after the Davidson strikeout by home plate umpire Mike Estabrook.
“More than I deserve,” Gonzales said of the stolen strikes from Zunino. “He’s awesome back there. We got a little extra off the plate today. That’s a credit to him.”
It was also a credit to Gonzales, who worked around the plate enough to help widen the strike zone.
Gonzales, now 2-2 on the season, was credited with six shutout innings on five hits with one walk and eight strikeouts, giving him back-to-back starts of eight strikeouts or more.
“They are an aggressive team,” he said. “And I tried to use it against them.”
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