HOUSTON – Four days ago, they dressed in angry, frustrated silence. Getaway days following a defeat are rarely ebullient postgame settings, but this was different.
The embarrassment of lopsided of back-to-back defeats to an inferior team – the Texas Rangers – and the queasy feeling of a postseason spot, once thought to be inevitable, now slipping away had them reeling and uncertain more than at any point in a monthlong stretch of mediocrity.
An upcoming four-game series with the Astros loomed with the potential to add to their misery and possibly put everything they had worked for in the first few months of the season into something beyond doubt.
But by Sunday afternoon everything about the Mariners and their place in baseball had changed. When Edwin Diaz gloved Carlos Correa’s soft ground ball back to the mound and flipped it to first for the final out of a 4-3 victory over the Astros in 10 innings, that morose scene and helpless feeling from four days earlier had been replaced by a renewed confidence and optimism.
With pinch-hitter Dee Gordon on first base having singled with one out in the 10th, Mitch Haniger smacked a double to the left-field corner off of reliever Roberto Osuna. Since Gordon was running on the pitch he scored with ease, breaking a 3-3 tie.
“I had a feel he’d run at some point,” Haniger said. “I was looking for a heater because I figured (Osuna) wanted to be quick to home.”
After working three straight days and supposedly unavailable to pitch on Sunday, Diaz informed the coaching staff that he wanted to close out a win if there was a chance. He completed his own sweep, saving all four games and running his total to 46 this season.
“We are playing the first-place team in the division and we have a chance to win all four games, they have to know we have a good team,” Diaz said.
Diaz showed no signs of fatigue, pumping 98 mph fastballs and showing a biting slider. After allowing a two-out single to Alex Bregman, he retired Correa, his longtime friend from Puerto Rico.
“We’ve been playing great the last three days and you get a chance to get a four-game sweep of the World Series champions, you don’t get that opportunity very often,” manager Scott Servais said. “Everybody grinded through it and we got it done.”
It was a stunning turn of performance from the misery versus the Rangers in Arlington, Texas, and even the weeks prior to that. The Mariners trudged into Houston, re-examined what was necessary to their success at the urging of Servais, and proceeded to sweep the wounded Astros in a four-game series at Minute Maid Park for the first time in franchise history. Now 69-50, Seattle heads to Oakland for a huge three-game series versus the A’s starting on Monday night.
“It’s simple,” Servais said. “I think we got ahead of ourselves. We get so locked in on winning, winning, winning and you forget about just playing good baseball. We’ve played good baseball in this series and cut down on the silly mistakes.”
It was first baseman Ryon Healy who provided the heroics to send the game into extra innings on Sunday. The short-handed Mariners bullpen was without Alex Colome, who was unavailable due to workload. The duo of James Pazos and Nick Vincent gave up three runs in the bottom of the eighth, squandering a 2-0 lead.
But with two outs in the top of the ninth, Healy sent a misplaced slider from Astros closer Hector Rondon into the Crawford Boxes in left field.
Seattle got a solid start from Erasmo Ramirez, who was taking the place of Felix Hernandez in the rotation.
Making his first big league start since April 27, the Mariners weren’t quite sure what to expect from Ramirez. They probably weren’t expecting five shutout innings, allowing just two three hits with no walks and three strikeouts on 79 pitches. But that’s what he did.
Using a diving sinker, Ramirez allowed just one base runner through four innings. Things got troublesome in the fifth when the Astros loaded the bases with no outs. But Ramirez struck out Kyle Tucker and got Martin Maldonado to bounce into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play. He celebrated the clean inning with a scream and an uncharacteristic fist pump.
“You are going to see that a little more often,” he said. “It’s been a long wait to get back. And every play and every out I can get to put zero on the scoreboard is going to be a huge deal for me.”
Seattle gave Ramirez a 1-0 lead on Healy’s RBI single off Houston starter Dallas Keuchel. The Mariners pushed it to 2-0 in the seventh when Mike Zunino smashed a solo homer off the glass windows that sit behind the train tracks high above the wall in left field. Statcast measured it at 442 feet.
“He absolutely crushed that ball,” Servais said. “That’s about as far as you can hit one in this place.”
Seattle opens a three-game series at Oakland on Monday with LHP Marco Gonzales on the mound. Gonzales, who won five straight from June 29-July 29, looks to get back on track after losing his last two starts.