By Jacob Thorpe
For The Spokesman-Review
SEATTLE – On Wednesday, Marco Gonzales pitched in an inconsequential game that was full of significance. The Mariners’ postseason fate was already decided – a trip to Toronto as the second wild-card team – so all that was left was to play out the season.
But for Gonzales, pitching in Wednesday’s season finale all but ensured he will not pitch in that first series, a bitter result for the hurler out of Gonzaga who has been a fixture near the top of the Mariners’ rotation and in setting Seattle’s playoff standard.
Gonzales, along with J.P. Crawford and Mitch Haniger, are the veterans on a team full of talented young players. In recent years, the core had become vocal about the team’s 21-year playoff drought and what teammates – and management – must do to end it.
“I think it started with setting a process and expectation every day of coming to work and putting the prep in and competing. On the player side, and staff side, that’s been our mission for a few years now,” Gonzales said.
“It feels good to be on the cusp of this.”
As the team finally enters the postseason for the first time since Ichiro Suzuki was a rookie, Gonzales won’t be there. He is one of the few key Mariners with actual playoff experience, having been a reliable reliever on the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals and picking up a pair of wins in that team’s series win over the Dodgers.
“We thought the other four guys maybe matched up a little bit better than Marco,” M’s manager Scott Servais said.
Still, on Wednesday Gonzales had a job to do.
Though he won’t pitch this weekend, Gonzales set up the Mariners for success with a refreshed bullpen. By pitching seven full innings, he gave an extra day of rest to all but two of Seattle’s relievers. It was a clutch performance from a star pitcher who has not been at his best down the stretch in 2022.
“It’s who he is,” said Bulldogs associate head baseball coach Brandon Harmon, who coached Gonzales his final year at GU. “From the time he stepped on campus until what you see now, he’s always been a consummate professional, always willing to put the team in front of his own agenda. That’s not easy to do in college for a first-round guy, but no ego. Just works his tail off.”
Keeping the bullpen fresh is not the only impact Gonzales will have on the playoff Mariners, nor on their ability to make the postseason. Though his ERA (4.16) has gone above 4.00 for the first time since 2018, he has played a role in the development of ace young starters George Kirby and Logan Gilbert, who are sure to play a key role in any potential playoff run.
Gilbert (3.21 ERA) is expected to start the potential third game of the series and was recently named the team’s pitcher of the year by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Gonzales took Gilbert and Kirby under his wing this season, making sure the young pitchers were equipped to handle the grind of life in the big leagues. Coach and mentor is not a new role for Gonzales; in fact, it is one he still plays for his alma mater.
Every now and then, Gonzales will hop on a Zoom call with the current Bulldogs and takes 45 minutes or an hour to impart some advice. A couple of years ago, the GU coaches connected him with a promising freshman pitcher out of Eagle, Idaho, named Gabriel Hughes, who they thought would benefit from Gonzales’ tutelage and mentorship.
In June, Hughes became the first Bulldog selected in the first round of the MLB draft since Gonzales in 2013.
“The biggest thing for me has always been just seeing the type of leader he is,” Harmon said. “In college, he had every type of accolade and we were just getting into the social media era. I don’t ever remember him talking about his individual agenda.”
While Gonzales, who has been Seattle’s opening-day starter three times, may not take the mound this weekend, he will still see his team-first goals come to fruition thanks in part to the impact he has made in Seattle.