Perhaps they should’ve pushed the opener just a little while longer and the results might have been different.
The opener strategy has generated a fair amount of acrimony in the Mariners’ fan base. They don’t like it, don’t understand it, don’t think it works and don’t want it used.
And yet, for one game, it all changed. The anger wasn’t the use of a reliever to start the game. No, it was removing the opener too soon in a 5-4 loss Monday night to the New York Yankees.
New York was powered by a pair of homers from Mike Ford, who was in Mariners spring training in 2018 as a Rule 5 pick. Seattle sent Ford back to the Yankees and he gave the Mariners a taste of what might have been.
After getting a stellar 1-2-3 first inning from opener Matt Wisler, which included strikeouts of Aaron Judge and Brett Gardner, and total of 12 pitches thrown, left-hander Tommy Milone entered the game to start the top of the second. The first batter he faced, Gleyber Torres, wasn’t going to let Milone ease into the outing with an easy first-pitch, get-me-over strike. Nope, Torres demolished the 86 mph fastball from Milone, sending it over the wall in dead-center for his 33rd homer of the season and his 13th homer in the month of August.
Milone looked like he might limit the damage to just one run. With two outs and a runner on second, he gave up an RBI single to Austin Romine. That third out wouldn’t come for another five batters. Ford pulled a fly ball over the wall in right field for a two-run homer to make it 4-0. The Yankees loaded the bases against Milone with two outs. But after crushing the first pitch of the inning, Torres flew out on the last pitch of the inning.
The game had all the feel of snowballing into yet another lopsided blowout that the Mariners endured for much of the season but had avoided lately.
Instead, the Mariners answered immediately against starter and one-time Mariner J.A. Happ. With two outs and two runners on in the bottom of the second, Dylan Moore clubbed a three-run homer to center to trim the lead to one run. It was Moore’s second straight day with a homer.
Milone came back from the four-run second inning with a 1-2-3 third inning.
But Ford got to him again in the fourth inning, launching a solo homer to deep right field that made it 5-3. It was Ford’s third homer in two days. Also six of his eight homers have come off left-handed pitching.
To Milone’s credit, he allowed just that one run after the four-run second inning. He gave Seattle five innings and kept the deficit within reach.
Mallex Smith trimmed the lead to 5-4 in the seventh inning with his sixth homer of the season. Smith smashed a solo homer to right field off lefty Nestor Cortes Jr. that MLB Statcast measured at 384 feet, which is surprising pop for a player not known for his power. He also wouldn’t have gotten the at-bat had Keon Broxton not been ejected in the second inning by plate umpire Manny Gonzalez. Upset about a called third strike from Gonzalez, Broxton voiced his displeasure, then turned his back and walked toward the outfield. In the process, he ripped off his batting gloves and threw him behind him in disgust. One of the gloves hit Gonzalez in the arm, earning the automatic ejection.
Seattle never had a realistic chance to tie the score. The power duo of right-hander Tommy Kahnle and closer Aroldis Chapman each worked scoreless frames in the eighth and ninth to secure the win.
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