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Sports >  Seattle Mariners

Commentary: Crowd makes ‘huge difference’ as Mariners shed scoreless albatross in season-opening win

March 30, 2023 Updated Thu., March 30, 2023 at 10:40 p.m.

Seattle starter Luis Castillo pitches during the third inning against Cleveland during opening day at T-Mobile Park on Thursday in Seattle.  (Steph Chambers)
Seattle starter Luis Castillo pitches during the third inning against Cleveland during opening day at T-Mobile Park on Thursday in Seattle. (Steph Chambers)
Larry Stone Seattle Times

The game had a distinct air of familiarity — ominously so — as the Mariners and Guardians racked up scoreless inning after scoreless inning on Thursday night.

Of course, Seattle’s 2022 season had ended ever so frustratingly on just such a scenario, when the M’s and Astros went into the 18th inning riding a 0-0 score in the American League Division Series. The Astros pushed across a run, the Mariners didn’t, and their drought-busting season was over, buried in a haze of squandered opportunities.

And here they were on Thursday, christening 2023, a season built on the most lavish dreams the Mariners have harbored in years; but here they were again, back at T-Mobile and wondering what it would take to ever score again.

“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cross my mind,” said Seattle manager Scott Servais. “Holy cow, we’re going through this again. We left the season last year on such an empty feeling. You’re just one hit away or whatnot.”

Déjà vu all over again. And then, in the eighth inning, with visions of another extra-inning showdown dancing in the heads of the sellout throng of 45,268, Ty France ended the tension and the scoring drought in the most emphatic way possible. With the crowd roaring at a Seahawks-on-defense decibel level, they forced the equivalent of a false start from Cleveland pitcher James Karinchak, who appeared distinctly rattled by the sustained cacophony after a pitch-clock violation gave J.P. Crawford an automatic ball.

With the crowd loudly counting down the clock on each pitch, Karinchak walked Crawford, hit Kolten Wong, and then threw the fateful pitch that France sprayed down the right-field line, on roughly the same path as Cal Raleigh’s now-legendary home run (though without quite the carry) that clinched their playoff spot.

The crowd, that had been trying to will the Mariners to a run all night, enjoyed a cathartic release of emotion after being gifted with three of them at once. And afterward, Servais saluted the role of the masses in getting in Karinchak’s head — and noted that the pitch clock, in its first official rendition after a trial run in spring training, had a significant role, too. And he was not just talking about the tidy 2-hour and 14-minute time of game.

“It did affect the game. It really did,” Servais said. “We’ve seen Karinchak a lot in the past, and he has a routine, a very lengthy routine. He’s had to try to make adjustments with that, the things he does with the ball flipping and everything else. It was a little bit out of whack, and a credit to our crowd. They got loud. They got it. They made it hard for him to focus and concentrate. And that’s truly the impact home-field advantage can make in our game. So again, hats off. They made a huge difference in the ballgame today.”

Andres Munoz came on to pitch the ninth and cap a 3-0 win that will do little to quell the feeling that the Mariners could have something special going this year. Certainly, the pitching was exemplary — just four hits allowed, two of them coming with two outs in the ninth. But until France connected, the frustration of leaving runners on base was mounting.

Once all the pregame pomp and circumstance had ended — capped by a star-studded first-pitch ceremony of legend overload — the goose eggs started racking up again. The Mariners couldn’t seem to pick up any of the good vibes left behind by Kasey Keller, Jewell Loyd, Marshawn Lynch, Gary Payton and Ken Griffey Jr.; in fact, it seemed that the Mariners were flipping the rallying cry of Eugenio Suarez and sending off bad vibes only — at least with runners in scoring position.

It was a night just begging for a clutch hit to support the absolute brilliant pitching of Luis Castillo. And it came belatedly, as the Mariners stranded four runners at third base over the span of five innings from the second through the sixth.

Two times, it seemed they had a breakthrough home runs, but each of those drives — by Julio Rodriguez in the third and Jarred Kelenic in the seventh — died on the warning track, casualties of the marine layer.

And so Castillo, like George Kirby in the fateful October game with Houston, had nothing to show for this masterpiece: six innings, no runs, one hit allowed, no walks, six strikeouts. Though he didn’t have a decision, Castillo’s dominance further cemented the notion that the Mariners have a genuine ace atop their rotation. And for the whole season, not just the final two months.

Castillo even survived a scary 95-mph line drive off his head in the third, which fazed him so much he struck out the next three batters that inning, and retired the final 11 batters he faced.

“Obviously there’s a lot of buzz around town about the expectations and what we hope to do this season, and you can’t get off on a much better start than we did tonight,” said Servais.

Considering how that doppelgänger of a game ended in October — and ended their season in the process — it was a welcome turn of events. And, they hope, a sign of even better things to come.

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