PHOENIX – The Arizona Diamondbacks, tantalizingly close to a World Series championship, can pinpoint the turnaround of their season to July 31, when they acquired Paul Sewald from Seattle and rectified a faltering bullpen.
“It turned at the trade deadline with getting Paul and bumping everybody back a level, and being able to piece it together the best way that I could to match up for the most advantageous outcome,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said at the outset of the World Series. “Once we got Paul, it sewed up that ninth inning, allowed everybody to fall backward, gave Kevin Ginkel an opportunity to be a better version of himself, and we took off.”
Whether the downfall of the Mariners’ season can be pinpointed to that same date and transaction is subject to conjecture. And it’s not an issue Sewald cared to delve into as he headed off to a workout at Chase Field on Sunday, before Monday’s Game 3 of the World Series, a 3-1 Arizona loss to the Texas Rangers.
His thoughts on the Mariners’ September fade, in which they went 11-17 that month to turn a 90% playoff chance into a narrow miss? Standing in front of his locker, Sewald politely but firmly waved off the question.
“Not my team,” he said and then reiterated, “It’s not my team. Some of those guys are some of my best friends. I’ll see six of them next week when we go golfing in North Carolina. But yeah, I play for the Diamondbacks. Whatever happens in Seattle is irrelevant to my career now.”
That’s not to say Sewald isn’t grateful to the Mariners for resurrecting his going-nowhere career when they picked him up on Jan. 8, 2021, after being nontendered by the Mets and introduced the then-30-year-old to a new approach to pitching. That approach, honed in Tacoma and unleashed in the majors on the same day the Mariners called up Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert in May 2021, is the reason Sewald was standing on the mound Friday, entrusted to protect a two-run lead in Game 1 of the World Series.
“No matter how my time there ended, they know that I’m forever thankful for everything I got there,” Sewald said. “I’m the pitcher today because of my three years with Seattle.”
Sewald’s upcoming golfing partners, in an outing to celebrate the 30th birthday of his brother Johnny, will be George Kirby, Matt Festa, Chris Flexen, Matt Brash, Brian O’Keefe and Cal Raleigh. By that time, Sewald will either have a World Series ring on its way or the frustrating memory of how a title slipped away.
Sewald has experience in frustrating ends to otherwise exhilarating seasons, having lived through the Mariners’ three-game sweep by Houston in the 2022 American League Division Series. That followed the playoff breakthrough by a Mariners team Sewald believed was on the rise and poised to soar higher in 2023.
We all know the sequence of events that followed. The Mariners had a tepid offseason with several incremental offensive acquisitions that didn’t pan out. They were forced to trade Sewald to try to augment their offense, which was followed by a torrid August that put them in prime playoff position and a lackluster September that took them out of it.
On the day the Mariners were eliminated, Raleigh took the organization to task for not spending more and for trading Sewald. And in an interview last week on the “Chris Rose Rotation” podcast, Sewald expressed solidarity with Raleigh.
“Had I been there, I probably would have echoed the exact same thing,” Sewald told Rose. “I had my frustrations while I was there about the team that we had put together, as well. And frankly, that’s why I got traded.
“I don’t blame Cal at all. I understand exactly what he’s saying. You notice a few people came to his side and kind of said the same thing. As a group, it felt frustrating that we went from the ALDS last year, being right there, that we didn’t improve our team as much as we thought we probably needed to.”
I asked Sewald to clarify his “that’s why I got traded” remark. Some people interpreted that to mean the July 31 deal – for second baseman Josh Rojas, outfielder Dominic Canzone and minor-league infielder Ryan Bliss – was a backlash by the Mariners to the fact Sewald expressed his frustrations. That’s not what he meant at all, Sewald assured.
“I mean, I never spoke out,” he said. “I wasn’t traded because I spoke out. I was traded because they needed bats, because we were lacking bats. So yeah, that’s why I got traded for three position players; they were trying to figure out how to get some people to get some hits there. Our pitching is, was incredible. And yeah, we were a great pitching team, but we couldn’t score runs, and they had to trade what they had to try and get some bats.”
Though he never spoke out publicly, Sewald was undeniably frustrated by the Mariners’ nonaggressive winter.
“I had things to say before the season, and it turned out exactly how I thought it was going to,” he said. “That’s frustrating, but (Mariners president of baseball operations) Jerry (Dipoto) and those guys have their work cut out for them to try and figure out how to make the Mariners better. … I felt like we could have gotten better than we did. I understand the moves they made. It’s just, they didn’t work out, and it was frustrating.”
As for Raleigh’s comments, “I’ve said this before that if I was there, I probably would echo that. What he said was correct in my opinion, and true, and it’s the reason I got traded, so yeah, I obviously feel strongly about that.”
But, again, that’s not foremost on Sewald’s mind as he is immersed in MLB’s showcase event. He walked into a prosperous situation in Phoenix, although not immediately so. Upon his arrival, the Diamondbacks promptly lost nine in a row, with Sewald blowing his first save opportunity in spectacular fashion – two home runs allowed, and no outs recorded.
But both Sewald and the Diamondbacks recovered seamlessly. Arizona ditched the “bullpen by committee” approach that had been a disaster in the first half of the season and turned over the ninth inning solely to Sewald, to great effect. Sewald, meanwhile, found his groove and was superb the rest of the way and into the postseason – until blowing the save in Game 1 of the World Series. He allowed a two-run homer to Corey Seager (whose brother, Kyle, was Sewald’s teammate in Seattle) before the Rangers won it in the 11th.
“It’s unfortunate to have a bad game in the World Series Game 1, but we’re one and one,” Sewald said, referring to the Diamondbacks’ 9-1 romp in Game 2 before Monday’s 3-1 loss in Game 3.
Now Sewald and the Diamondbacks – dubbed the Answerbacks for their numerous come-from-behind wins – have a chance to stamp themselves in baseball history. The last team to qualify for the playoffs in 2023, and probably the most lightly regarded in the entire field, the Diamondbacks stunned the Brewers, Dodgers and Phillies en route to the World Series. Sewald got the save in each of the clinching wins, including a flyout to Seattle’s Corbin Carroll to wrap up the NL pennant in Philadelphia.
As jolted as he was at the time by the trade out of Seattle, Sewald is not looking back – unless asked to. And then only reluctantly.
“I was disappointed, because I had a good thing going there,” he said. “But they have a great thing going here, and it’s worked out really well for me.”