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Seattle Mariners

Mariners get a much-needed win over Rays to end frustrating road trip

By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

ST. PETERSBURG – The victory doesn’t fix what is, and has been, wrong with the Mariners for much of the season – flaws that have been magnified in games away from the Pacific Northwest.

The win doesn’t undo the self-inflicted damage they’ve done to themselves on this trip, specifically their lead in the American League West.

But Wednesday’s 5-2 triumph over the Rays and their own struggles on this miserable road trip did serve as a reminder to panicked fans, and also themselves, as to why they have led the American League West since May 12 and why they can carry it to their first division title since 2001.

When they play within the vicinity of their capabilities, they are a good baseball team that has a chance be even better. Seattle improved to 46-37 and maintained a 4.5 game lead over the Astros, who won their seventh straight game.

“Heck of an effort by our team,” manager Scott Servais said. “Certainly, this road trip has not gone great for us. But we needed to find a way to show up today and really compete. We did that.”

Seattle closed out the nine-game, three-city road trip with a 3-6 record, losing all three three-game series. They will get a much-needed day off before returning to action on Friday night, opening one of the more difficult homestands of the season with series vs. the Twins, Orioles and Blue Jays.

“I know it’s been a rough trip,” Servais said. “I sat here last night and tried to explain that the sky was not falling. This is baseball, it happens. You go up, you go down, you just have to grind through it. And when it gets hard, you’ve got to deal with it. Our guys have that ability. They have the ability to bounce back and we saw it today.”

For the first five innings, it seemed as if the Mariners were trending toward yet another loss where the starting pitcher delivered a quality start and they failed to do the minimum required on offense to get the win.

George Kirby had pitched five solid innings, allowing one run on a fluky play where he fielded Yandy Diaz’s infield chopper, but had no one to throw to at first base since Ty France had also made an attempt to field the ball.

“I know with a lot of the righties, Ty was playing off in that situation,” Kirby said. “I didn’t know that and it was on me for not looking, but I could have got there easily if I didn’t hesitate.”

Kirby lost the footrace with Diaz to the base. Former Mariner Jose Caballero read the play and eagerly scored from second on the play.

“I probably should just have tried to tag him instead of going to the bag,” Kirby said. “And, yeah, screw Cabbie for going home on that play.”

Would that one play be the Mariners’ undoing? Well, the Mariners’ inconsistent offense wasn’t providing much inspiration for an expected comeback.

“It was not going to decide the game,” Servais said. “George was throwing the ball great and we were going to need to score to win this game.”

They’d managed just one hit, a J.P. Crawford double, over the first five innings while striking out eight times against Rays starter Ryan Pepiot.

When Pepiot overpowered Ryan Bliss for his ninth strikeout to start the sixth, a familiar script to defeat was being followed.

But Crawford worked a one-out walk that ended Pepiot’s outing. Tampa manager Kevin Cash called on one-time Mariners reliever Shawn Armstrong.

When Josh Rojas made sure his ground ball to second baseman Amed Rosario didn’t result in an inning-ending double play by hustling to first, it kept the inning going for Julio Rodriguez.

Mired in a miserable slump that he’s mistakenly tried to swing his way out of, the Mariners young slugger didn’t exactly exhibit early patience, taking hacks at several pitches out of the zone. But he fouled off just enough put-away pitches and refused to chase pitches well out of the zone to work a nine-pitch walk.

“I thought he slowed it down really well,” Servais said. “It’s been a tough trip for Julio. He hasn’t had any timing and he’s still late on a number of pitches. But in those moments, he’s got to compete, forget about your swing, forget about your timing. What do I need to do to help the team out? It was a huge walk.”

Rodriguez’s rare walk brought Cal Raleigh to the plate. He’s proven to be comfortable and capable in late-game situations where a big hit is needed.

Raleigh added to that resume. He refused to offer at a 1-1 sinker off the outside corner of the plate, taking it for a ball instead of rolling over for a ground out.

Up 2-1, Armstrong threw an inside cutter that wasn’t close. With the count worked to 3-1, Raleigh was looking fastball only. He got it – a 93-mph fastball on the inside half of the plate and lower part of the strike zone – the happy zone for left-handed swings.

Raleigh hammered it onto the concourse above the right field seats for his team-high 14th homer of the season. Nine of those homers have given Seattle a lead.

“He’s a tough pitcher because he has three different fastballs and they go different ways,” Raleigh said. “It’s tough to square those guys up. They may not strike out a lot of guys, they get a ton of weak contact off the barrel off the end or jam shots. So I was just trying to sit there in the middle to plate. Seeing it hit the walkway was pretty cool.”

Given a lead, Kirby came back out for the bottom of the sixth, dispatching of the top of the Rays order – Diaz, Josh Lowe and Randy Arozarena – with cold efficiency to close out his outing. He pitched six innings, allowing the one run on four hits with no walks and seven strikeouts to improve to 7-5 on the season.

“In that situation, I’m just really trying to execute and get us back in the dugout as quick as possible and try to limit the long at-bats, especially with the top of the order,” Kirby said. “Just go right at them. If they are going to swing first pitch, sure, go right ahead. But I think it’s important to get us back in the dugout for the next inning quickly.”

Perhaps buoyed by the sixth-inning dinger from the Big Dumper, the Mariners added two runs in the seventh. Crawford dumped a two-run single into left-center to make it 5-1.

The Mariners made it interesting when Andres Munoz walked the bases loaded without recording an out, but Trent Thornton came in and finished it, allowing one run to score to record his first save.