SEATTLE — No matter how lifeless they might look through the early stages of any given game these days, the Mariners have become must-watch TV for late-innings drama.
After mustering just two hits through six innings on Saturday, Seattle opened the floodgates with a four-run seventh and three-run eighth en route to a 9-3 victory, its fourth straight, and one that clinched this weekend’s three-game series against Toronto.
It also pushed the Mariners into a tie with these Blue Jays in the American League postseason standings, and they can supplant their Canadian counterparts by completing a sweep on Sunday, which will wrap the season series.
“For whatever reason, our at-bats from the sixth, seventh inning on, unbelievable,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “It’s like we’re a different club almost, just how we’re more patient. We’ve got a better feel for what they’re trying to do against us. We wait them out. … It’s great to see. I know we won by six tonight, but that game was tight up until that point.”
The last time Seattle was on a winning streak this long was back on July 26, when it came back from down seven runs and stunned Houston in what objectively remains its biggest win of the season. It was also the day before management dealt away clubhouse leader Kendall Graveman and left many players frustrated with its Trade Deadline direction.
But the Mariners seem to have their mojo back, thanks in part to one of the very players it returned in that deal. Abraham Toro’s one-out walk in the seventh inning chased Toronto ace Hyun Jin Ryu, who to that point looked every bit the part, having retired 16 of 17 before the fateful seventh.
Toro’s walk also set up Luis Torrens, who immediately followed with an emphatic, 377-foot sky-high, three-run homer off reliever Trevor Richards. Jarred Kelenic followed Torrens with a 384-foot, opposite-field shot into the visitor’s ‘pen to go back to back, and from there, Seattle was off and running.
“It all comes with confidence,” said Toro, who has reached base in each of his 17 games as a Mariner. “You can work on mechanics and all that, but confidence is key, and you’ve got to take care of your mentality, and that’s been the key for me right now.”
The Mariners’ eighth-inning rally was for good measure, headlined by a bases-loaded RBI single by Toro that blooped over shortstop Bo Bichette, who was set up in front of second base with the infield positioned in, and Torrens, who came back for more with a double off the left-field wall that scored two to cap a season-high five RBIs for the slugger.
“I feel very good right now,” Torrens said. “It’s about making adjustments. I made an adjustment on how other teams throw at me. They started throwing me in, and it’s another opportunity for me to work on something, and I’ve been ready for those pitches, too.”
Ty France also had a two-run homer in the first inning and his first triple of the season in the seventh, both off Ryu.
Despite the lopsided score, Saturday’s game felt — and was — far closer than the final result, which snapped a streak of 10 straight games for the Mariners decided by two runs or fewer, an MLB high this season. That streak also underscored why the Mariners, despite a minus-42 run differential that is by far the furthest in the red among teams in the postseason hunt, remain in the hunt. They’ve been able to win with a particular formula: keeping the opposition from leaving the ballpark, capitalizing on mistakes and riding the coattails of its pitching staff.
Such was the case for Yusei Kikuchi, who was far from his All-Star form and needed 88 pitches to get through his first four innings. But the lefty stranded a whopping six runners in that stretch, including the bases loaded in the second on back-to-back K’s after back-to-back walks.
The Blue Jays entered play with an MLB-best .285 batting average with runners in scoring position yet went 1-for-10 in such situations on Saturday. But Kikuchi has been one of the game’s best with RISP, holding hitters to a .185 average entering the day that would rank fifth-best if he had enough innings to qualify.
“Definitely a great lineup over there,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Kevin Ando. “I found myself in trouble pretty often tonight, but I think I was able to really focus and lock it in and deal with what I had tonight and somehow get out of those jams.”
Kikuchi made it through just 4 1/3 innings, his shortest start of the season that wasn’t injury-related. But despite his struggles and diminished velocity, he paved the way for the bullpen, which gave up just two hits and zero runs over the final 4 2/3 frames, even with Paul Sewald on the paternity list. Mariners pitchers have surrendered just seven runs over this four-game win streak.
Seattle and Toronto both sit 4 1/2 games back in the race for the second AL Wild Card spot behind Boston, which also won Saturday. The Yankees, also victorious, are the only club in between, ahead of the Mariners by two games.
Stagnant at times and electric at others, the Mariners have unapologetically taken the luck they’ve been thrown in moments this weekend and capitalized in others. Both are why they are on the cusp of their first sweep since the epic four-gamer in late June against Tampa Bay.