SEATTLE – Some how, some way, the Mariners did it again.
Starter Marco Gonzales pitched at less than Cy Young level for the first time in more than a month. The Mariners had a costly miscue in right-center field, twice wasted great scoring opportunities and saw the bullpen allow a pair of homers.
And yet when Mitch Haniger lined a homer just over the left-field fence with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Mariners were victorious again.
The 8-6 come-from-behind victory at Safeco Field on Wednesday afternoon not only finished a sweep of the Los Angeles Angels, it moved the Mariners (44-24) 20 games above .500 for the first time since 2007.
It was a game the Mariners seemed destined to lose after falling behind 6-4 in the top of the seventh and failing to capitalize on their opportunities in the sixth and seventh. Yet, when a team is going this well, it just expects to come back.
“When they went up two,” Haniger said, “me and ‘Z’ (Mike Zunino) were sitting in the video room and I said, ‘We are going to win this game.’ And he said, ‘I know we are.’ ”
After they did, Mariners manager Scott Servais had a message for the fan base.
“We said before this homestand we were looking forward to this stretch of games,” Servais said of the three games against the Angels and four upcoming against Boston. “A lot of fans were saying we will wait and see. Our team is really good and if you don’t enjoy and connect with our ballclub, you just don’t like baseball.
“This is what we talked about bringing to the Pacific Northwest and we have a chance to do something special here this summer. Our guys feel it and people in the ballpark certainly feel it as well.”
For a while, it seemed the Mariners might drop a game they had no business losing.
Seattle led 4-1 entering the fourth, and it seemed like that would be more than enough for Gonzales, particularly with the Angels losing starter Garrett Richards after two innings with left hamstring tightness and shortstop Zack Cozart after three innings with a stained left shoulder.
But Gonzales, who allowed five runs in his previous five starts covering a span of 33 1/3 innings, was not nearly as sharp. Still, he gutted out five innings, allowing three runs on seven hits and two walks.
He struck out seven, including the final two hitters he faced, with runners on first and third. That escape act put him in position to win the game.
That went away quickly as the Angels tied the score on a sacrifice fly after Chris Young led off the sixth with a triple that either Haniger, playing center field, and right fielder Ben Gamel could have caught. But miscommunication at the last moment allowed the ball to drop between them.
The next inning, the Angels took a 6-4 lead on solo homers from Young and Nolan Fontana. Meanwhile, the Mariners couldn’t score in the sixth after loading the bases with no outs. In the seventh, Dee Gordon led off with a single and scored on Jean Segura’s double to right field. Segura went to third on the throw home.
But Segura never made it home. Not that he didn’t try. After Haniger struck out, Nelson Cruz hit a short fly to left field. Segura was not going to try and score, but when the throw in was wide, he darted for home. He was called out on a close play at the plate, which stood up after a review.
“We didn’t situational hit well today,” Servais said. “We had guys at third and didn’t get them in … but after that happens, we feel like we are going to continue to put pressure on them and get another opportunity, and somebody will come up with a big hit. And we were able to get over the hump at the end.”
Ryon Healy came up with a big hit in the eighth, crushing a Blake Parker pitch 441 feet into the upper deck in left field, tying the score at 6 with his fourth homer of the series.
That left it for Haniger in the ninth. He made a running catch on a liner to right in the top half of the inning, and his throw beat retreating pinch-runner Jabari Blash at first base for a double play.
Haniger won the game a few minutes later with his 16th homer of the season, less than 24 hours after his pair of homers helped give the Mariners a 6-3 victory Tuesday.
“Mitch has had an unbelievable run,” Servais said. “His focus late in games … it has been awesome to watch. I am not surprised by anything he does on the baseball field.”