SEATTLE – After scoring three or fewer runs in 18 of their past 23 games – including six straight – going into Sunday’s series finale against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Mariners were desperate to rediscover their offense to avoid a four-game sweep in their own park.
And thanks primarily to Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager’s embrace of the long ball, the club was able to take a step in the right direction.
They combined for three homers and drove in all of the Mariners’ runs on the way to a 6-3 victory at Safeco Field, helping Seattle avoid the sweep and breaking a five-game losing streak. With the A’s also winning, the Mariners (64-48) remained 2½ games in back of Oakland for the second wild-card spot.
Cruz and Seager hit back-to-back home runs (Cruz’s a two-run blast and Seager’s a solo shot) in the bottom of the seventh to turn a 3-3 tie into a 6-3 ballgame, putting the Mariners ahead for good. Alex Colome and Edwin Diaz pitched the final two innings to preserve the lead, with the latter picking up his 41st save of the season. With the win, Seattle improved to 45-6 when leading after six innings.
It was a vastly more competitive outing compared to most of the rest of the seven-game home stand, where the Mariners were outscored 32-11 going into Sunday’s finale and ultimately went 2-5.
“It’s nice to see a complete game out there by everybody,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “A lot of really good at-bats offensively today.”
“Hopefully today’s a bright spot,” he added. “Hopefully we’ve turned a corner here going forward.”
Cruz’s performance was a continuation of his recent outburst, which comes after a mostly slumping July. Over the past 10 games, Cruz is batting .308 (12 for 39) with seven home runs, 14 runs batted in, eight runs scored and one double.
And the designated hitter lifted the team to victory in typical Cruz fashion: His go-ahead two-run homer in the seventh was a 404-foot, broken-bat blast.
“(He’s) a special, strong player, no doubt,” Servais said.
Given Seager’s struggles before going on paternity leave for the entirety of the Astros series, Servais had been anticipating a special outing from the third baseman.
“We had the Seager game today,” Servais said. “He was due. There was no doubt about that.”
“Today feels good,” Seager said of breaking out of his rut. “But it is what it is. I think it’s been like that for the team as well – we haven’t been doing what we want to do and I certainly haven’t been doing my part. Today felt good and hopefully we’ll continue to put up some good at-bats and score some runs.”
To give the team a chance to win despite its offensive sluggishness, the Mariners once more needed their starting pitcher to put together a strong outing for the team to stay competitive. Today, that man was Mike Leake, and he did just that.
“We don’t get in that position if Mike Leake doesn’t do his job,” Servais said. “Really, really good effort, kept them off-balance. He made the one mistake (a two-run homer by Aledmys Diaz) … but really clutch by him going out there, taking the ball.”
Said Leake: “Collectively our starters have kept the mindset of that pretty well: We know we have to keep the score low just to compete. We do a pretty good job of having that mindset every day.”
Leake’s outing, his fourth consecutive quality start, wasn’t completely seamless: Despite allowing four multihit innings, he threw five scoreless frames out of 6 2/3 innings pitched. Leake ended the day allowing nine hits, three runs, five strikeouts and one homer.
Toronto (51-60) threatened to take an early lead in the first, but Leake struck out Kendrys Morales to strand runners on the corners. In the two innings afterward, the infield turned two double plays to eliminate encroaching Jays base runners.
In the bottom of the third, Cruz’s two-out single with the bases loaded went off the glove of Aledmys Diaz, scoring Andrew Romine and Denard Span. It was the first lead the Mariners had earned since the first inning of Thursday’s series opener, when Cruz put the team ahead with a two-run homer.
“That was huge,” Cruz said of the two-RBI single, “to get good momentum and get some space for Mike to work, and he threw the ball pretty good.”
Luke Maile got Toronto on the board with an RBI single in the top of the fifth that plated Aledmys Diaz, who had doubled.
Seager’s solo home run to right field in the bottom of the sixth gave Seattle slightly more breathing room with a two-run cushion, but it wouldn’t last for long. Aledmys Diaz tied things up with a two-run homer to right field in the top of the seventh, with a very Toronto-friendly crowd erupting in cheers.
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