ANAHEIM, Calif. – There was going to be game where things finally went right. A game where all the frustration from unsuccessful at-bats, pitches swung at and missed, base runners left stranded, the wasted opportunities, the linedrives caught and the lost games would be channeled into one major run-scoring outburst.
That game came on Sunday afternoon in the sweltering heat of Angels Stadium in an 8-5 victory. With the win, the Mariners avoided being sweep by the Angels, while improving to 62-43. With Oakland getting swept at Coors Field, Seattle’s lead in the race for the second wild card increased to two games.
Right-hander Felix Pena, who was inserted into the rotation as a sixth starter in mid-June, endured that offensive fury from the Mariners. The right-hander never made it out of the first inning, getting just one out – a strikeout of Kyle Seager – while giving up seven runs on six hits with two walks and receiving more than a smattering of boos when he exited.
“Our guys came out fired up today with really good intent,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “It started really when we got into the clubhouse today. We needed to relax, put a smile on our face, relax and go play. We are really good when we do that.”
The Mariners, using a slightly different batting order from past games, were all over Pena from the first pitch of the game, which Dee Gordon lined into center field for a crisp single. After stealing second, Gordon scored easily on Jean Segura’s single into left field. Denard Span, who was moved up into the No. 3 spot, doubled just under the glove of a sliding Justin Upton in left field to score Segura. Nelson Cruz made it 3-0 with a RBI single to center.
The Mariners weren’t finished. A pair of walks to Mitch Haniger and Ryon Healy, sandwiched by Seager’s strikeout, loaded the bases. Ben Gamel singled to center to score another run, and Mike Zunino doubled into the left-field corner to score two runs and end Pena’s outing. Set-up man Jim Johnson recorded the final two outs of the inning.
“Their pitcher did not settle in at all,” Servais said. “We took advantage of it.”
Seattle has struggled on offense for much of the month of July, averaging just over three runs per game and hitting around .230 with a sub .600 on-base plus slugging percentage. But over the last few games vs. the Angels’ battered pitching staff, Mariners hitters had plenty of hard-hit balls – most getting caught.
“Definitely the offense has seemed stagnant of late,” Span said. “The last two days were very frustrating. Guys were having good at-bats and putting good swings on balls and nothing to show for it. Today if felt good to see some balls get through. The line kept moving and we were able to put up a big number in that first inning and set the tone for today.”
The Mariners added just one more run in the game on an RBI single from Mike Zunino against a parade of relievers following the first inning.
“We’ve been having good at-bats,” Zunino said. “Once you start piecing them together and things start to fall, you can have games like this. It’s been a while since we have had that. It’s nice to see that happen.”
Handed a seven-run lead before throwing a pitch, Marco Gonzales, the Mariners’ most consistent starting pitcher this season, worked six innings, allowing two runs on seven hits with two walks and seven strikeouts to improve to 12-5. Gonzales has had better command and more dominant outings this season, but that wasn’t needed.
“Marco wasn’t really sharp in that first inning,” Servais said. “He left some balls up, but made an adjustment. He probably didn’t have his best stuff today by any means. He didn’t have his top-notch curveball and his changeup was just okay. But that’s what he’s done all year. Even when he doesn’t have his A game, he’s able to keep us in the ballgame.”
Gonzales worked out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fourth inning, striking out Jefry Marte and getting Jose Briceno to fly out without allowing a run to score. The Angels finally got to him with two outs in the fifth. Mike Trout singled and Justin Upton golfed a low breaking ball over the wall in left field for his 21st homer of the season, cutting Seattle’s lead to 8-2.
“When you have that kind of lead in the first inning, I was really just trying to go out and throw strikes,” Gonzales said. “I wasn’t going to get beat by putting guys on base. If they are going to beat me, they are going to have challenge me and do damage.”
Gonzales has recorded wins in his last five starts, allowing two runs or fewer in each of them. He’s started five games against the Angels this season and is 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA with 32 strikeouts and seven walks in 30 innings pitched.
Because he has four usable pitches and a willingness to throw them in any count, he doesn’t fall into patterns, continually adjusting how he will attack the Angels.
“That’s all Mike Z behind the plate and our coaching staff has done a great job of keeping track of sequencing,” Gonzales said. “It’s a collective effort from top to bottom. With Z getting creative back there, I’m just trying to trust him as much as I can. I don’t think I shook him off maybe more than once today. That’s a credit to him and the work he does and the prep our staff does.”
What should have been an easy finish to a victory and an off-day for the back of the Mariners’ bullpen became a little tense after Nick Vincent’s struggles versus the Angels, particularly in Anaheim, continued.
Called on to pitch the seventh, Vincent never finished the frame, giving up three runs on three hits and walk. It could have been much worse if not for Denard Span’s brilliant leaping catch to rob Andrelton Simmons of a three-run homer, limiting it to just a sacrifice fly and getting the second out of the inning. That ended Vincent’s outing. Juan Nicasio came on and got Ian Kinsler to fly out to end the drama.
“I knew I had a bead on it,” Span said of the catch. “As I was running back, I knew I was getting closer and closer to the wall and just tried to keep my eye on the ball. Playing outfield, it’s kind of having (sixth) sense and knowing that the wall is getting close and having it in your peripheral vision and keeping your eye on the ball.”
Alex Colome worked a 1-2-3 eighth inning and the Mariners avoided injury disaster when Mike Zunino and Ryon Healy collided on a pop up in foul territory with two outs.
“That was rough,” Servais said. “Those are two very big dudes. It was obviously a really big out in the game and both guys are busting their tail to get to it. Really good effort. They are probably going to be a little sore tomorrow but everybody came out of it ok.”
Said Zunino: “I just dropped a shoulder on him. It was nothing but shoulder into sternum. Other than that, we are all good. I got up first. We have video replay.”
Edwin Diaz added to his MLB-leading save total, notching No. 39 with a scoreless ninth after issuing a leadoff walk.
“Everybody contributed,” Servais said. “We needed to get this ballgame, get back home and keep the offense going.”
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