TORONTO – How do you recover from an awful outing from your starting pitcher, a worse showing from one of your best relievers and a seven-run deficit with everything seemingly working against you and a sold-out crowd cheering against you like it’s Thunderdome?
You just keep playing the same stubborn, unselfish way that led to you to your success during the regular season – relentless at-bats, trust in the hitters behind you and never thinking you need to win the game by yourself.
In the chapters, not volumes, of the Mariners’ limited but growing postseason history, the magic of Saturday night’s 10-9 comeback victory over the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre will be chronicled and remembered as the night the Mariners “refused to lose” – remember that old mantra? – no matter how eventual it seemed to the Blue Jays, everyone jammed into the building ripe with baseball history and those watching the television broadcasts in both countries.
Standing in the middle of the hallway that is the visitor’s clubhouse, cigar in his mouth and champagne in his hand, manager Scott Servais offered a reminder to the people surrounding him, all armed with champagne bottles ready to be unleashed, of something they already knew and believed when others didn’t.
Using colorful language, Servais screamed that his players never quit.
His players roared in delight.
“We ain’t done!”
Moments later, the champagne bottles exploded into a deluge of sticky celebration. After experiencing it eight days ago at T-Mobile Park, the Mariners are veterans of the process.
With the victory, the Mariners will travel to Houston to face their American League West rival in the American League Division Series. It also means that on Saturday there will be postseason baseball played in Seattle with Game 3 at T-Mobile Park – the first time since Oct. 18, 2001.
“It’s a credit to our players not quitting,” a soaked Servais said later. “Just keep grinding through it. We’ve talked about doing the little things, just get on base and that’s what you saw. Nobody tried to hit a home. It was just keep the line moving. And all of the sudden, big things happen.”
Those big things came late in the game.
With one out in the top of the ninth, Cal Raleigh, because he always seems to be in the middle of any late-inning heroics in this run, doubled into the gap in right-center off Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano, to represent the winning run.
He scored moments later when Adam Frazier laced a double into the right-field corner for the Mariners’ first and only lead they would have or need in the game.
“I was just trying to get a hit,” Frazier said of his approach. “I didn’t hear anything. It’s just noise. Those are the kind of moments you picture yourself in the backyard when you’re a kid.”
And because it’s the postseason and because they are the Mariners, where chaos reigns supreme and traditional thought is set aside, rookie right-hander George Kirby, who had never made a relief appearance in his brief big league career that started in May or in the minor leagues, was called on to pitch the ninth inning.
“We had a number of different plans in place. None of them played out the way that we thought,” Servais said.
Kirby issued a one-out walk to Matt Chapman but came back to strike out Danny Jansen and retire Raimel Tapia for the final out and his first big league save.
“I just let George be George,” Raleigh said. “He does what he does. It starts with the fastball and getting ahead.”
Seattle overcame a forgettable performance by starter Robbie Ray, who allowed four runs and couldn’t get out of the fourth inning, and an equally abysmal outing from reliever Paul Sewald, who allowed four runs in a fifth inning he started but never finished, to find a way to win their first playoff series since the 2001 season.
Down 8-1 after Sewald’s implosion in the fifth, the Mariners win expectancy was 1% per Fangraphs.
“We’re sitting there in the fifth inning, thinking, ‘How do we prepare ourselves for tomorrow?’ ” said Jerry Dipoto, Mariners president of baseball operations “And they just kept charging. This is such a resilient group. It’s phenomenal group of guys.”
Seattle picked up four big runs in the sixth, loading the bases with no outs.
Just as it looked like they would fail to produce a run in the prime scoring situation, a lingering fan frustration all season, France raced home on a wild pitch and Carlos Santana, who was robbed of a potential two-run homer earlier in the game, deposited a homer over the wall in left field for a three-run homer, cutting the lead to 8-5.
“Just keep chipping away,” Crawford said. “We had a bunch of time left. So just get one here, one there and keep having good ABs to keep the line moving.”
Seattle trailed 9-5 going into the eighth, with a win expectancy now at 3%. Again, the Mariners again loaded the bases again with no outs. Frazier singled home a run to make it 9-6.
After Romano struck out Santana and Dylan Moore, the situation seemed bleak.
But J.P. Crawford looped a soft fly ball to shallow center that landed between center fielder George Springer and shortstop Bo Bichette, who collided on the play. Crawford’s double cleared the bases and tied the game at 9.
The once boisterous sold-out crowd of 47,156 was silent.
“I was praying to the baseball gods for it to just find a hole, any hole,” Crawford said.
Dipoto and Servais knew that the Blue Jays right-handed hitting lineup would be a difficult matchup for Ray. But the hope was a win, which would allow Logan Gilbert to start Game 1 of the ALDS and Luis Castillo to come back for Game 2.
“We knew tonight was gonna be tough,” Servais said. “They’ve got a great lineup over there, certainly when you run a left-handed pitcher against all those righties. We had different plans in place. None of them played out the way we thought.”
Everything that Luis Castillo was on Friday for the Mariners, Ray simply wasn’t on Saturday with the chance to clinch a series win. His command wasn’t crisp. His misses weren’t close to the strike zone and his strikes caught too much of the plate. He was unable to put away hitters when he did get ahead. It all left him very hittable against a group of good hitters.
Pitching in Toronto for the first time since his Cy Young season and only because Canada lifted its vaccine requirements on Oct. 1, Ray delivered one of his worst outings of the season, giving up four runs and never making it out of the fourth inning much to the delight of the sold-out Rogers Centre.
But Ray wasn’t alone in his struggles. With manager Servais in scramble mode to piece together possibly six innings from his bullpen, trying to win the game, but also not crushing his relievers for a possible game on Sunday, he turned to Sewald in the fifth to face the top of the lineup. Sewald struggled to throw strikes let alone quality strikes. He gave up four runs on three hits and had to be replaced by Diego Castillo.
After a scoreless first that included strikeouts of Springer and Bichette, the version of Ray that left the Mariners scratching their heads in confusion and fans slapping their foreheads disgust far too often this season appeared in the second.
Alejandro Kirk led off the second inning with a double into the left-field corner and raised his hands in celebration four pitches later when Teoscar Hernandez hammered a hanging slider up in the zone into the left-field seats for the Blue Jays’ first runs of the series. The 401-foot blast turned the Rogers Centre into a celebration that snapped Toronto’s offense to life.
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