SEATTLE – “Dominate the zone.”
“Doesn’t matter, get better.”
“Burn the boats.”
The Mariners love their little sayings: Some have been around for years, some have just uttered, some are corny, some are met with eye rolls and others are believed and regurgitated.
But a not-so-new saying has emerged in this postseason-deciding series with the Texas Rangers, courtesy of John Paul Crawford – the Mariners should-be “captain.”
The motto, however, can’t be repeated in print.
Following his walk-off heroics on Thursday night, Crawford wrapped up his postgame interview with Root Sports Northwest, screaming into the live microphone. The words echoed throughout T-Mobile Park, drawing an explosion of cheers. The video clip went viral on social media.
It isn’t a new saying, but it’s his for the moment.
So on Friday night, as his vicious line drive to right field off Rangers lefty Brock Burke landed into the full crowd for a grand slam, Crawford, his teammates and a sold-out crowd of 45,274 of his “closest friends” were repeating the saying as he rounded the bases. Nobody was begging any pardons for the language being used.
Crawford’s second grand slam of the season punctuated a five-run fourth inning and turned a tense game that had to be won into a comfortable 8-0 rout over the Rangers.
In a four-game series where they need to win at least three out of four to have a realistic chance of making a return to the postseason and a sweep doesn’t even guarantee a berth, the Mariners have taken the first two games.
Despite the victory, the Mariners (87-73) failed to gain any ground on the Astros (88-72), who held on for a 2-1 win over the Diamondbacks. Seattle remains a game back of the Astros for the third wild-card spot. The Blue Jays (89-71) stayed in the second wild-card spot, a game ahead of Houston, with an easy win over the Rays, who were resting players. Meanwhile, the Rangers (89-71) sit just one game ahead of Houston and two ahead of Seattle in the AL West.
If somehow all three teams finish with the same record, the Mariners would be the AL West champions due to tiebreaker rules.
On a night where rookie Bryan Woo was starting for the third time against a team that had dismantled him in two previous meetings and was working on a short leash, the Mariners knew they had to score runs to prevail.
It’s not something they’ve been great at for much of the season.
But after scoring five runs in five innings off Rangers starter Nathan Eovaldi last Saturday in Texas, there was a level of confidence coming into the game.
Ty France put Seattle on the board, pulling a 1-1 fastball into the second level of Edgar’s Cantina for a solo homer. Two batters later, Josh Rojas took advantage of a 1-0 fastball in the same zone – belt-high, inner half of the plate – sending a towering flyball into the right-field seats for another solo homer. The Mariners weren’t finished.
Crawford worked a walk and scored from first when Eugenio Suarez sent a liner over the head of Rangers center fielder Leody Taveras.
The 3-0 lead turned to 8-0 an inning later, mostly thanks to Crawford’s grand slam.
Seattle loaded the bases on a leadoff single from Teoscar Hernandez, a walk from Mike Ford and fastball off France’s elbow. Bases loaded, no outs? What could possibly go wrong?
Eovaldi struck out Jarred Kelenic, but Rojas, who had popped up with bases loaded for the second out in the ninth on Thursday, punched a single up the middle to score Hernandez and make it 4-0 with Crawford coming to the plate.
It ended Eovaldi’s outing.
But more runs would be charged to him quite quickly.
The Rangers brought in lefty Brock Burke to face Crawford. He worked the count to 3-1, refusing to chase any of the pitches up in the zone. Burke then put a 3-1 fastball down the middle that Crawford turned with a short, vicious swing that was refined at Driveline Baseball in Kent this past offseason. His 19th homer of the season turned T-Mobile Park into curse-word screaming chaos.
In 17 plate appearances with the bases loaded, Crawford has 11 hits in 16 at-bats for a .688 batting average with three doubles, two homers, a sac fly, two strikeouts and 26 RBI.
Crawford received a standing ovation after hoisting the trident just in front of the dugout.
The eight runs were more than enough with the Rangers waving the white flag and pulling regulars from the game in the sixth inning.
Meanwhile, the Mariners got 3 1/3 scoreless innings from Woo, who walked the tight rope between success and implosion, allowing multiple baserunners in the first three innings. The rookie right-hander made enough pitches to wiggle out of each jam, throwing 82 pitches.
While manager Scott Servais expected to use multiple relievers, he didn’t expect to hold the Rangers scoreless without using any of his leverage relievers. Tayler Saucedo, Trent Thornton, Isaiah Campbell, Eduard Bazardo and Dominic Leone closed out the win.