Santana's late HR gives Mariners statement series win

August 11th, 2022

SEATTLE -- The only thing missing this week was crispness in the air and leaves on the ground. Everything else featured in this series between the Mariners and Yankees had all the feels of October.

One day after these playoff-contending teams played an instant classic, they were back at it on Wednesday at T-Mobile Park, going blow for blow before Seattle finally pulled ahead in a tense, 4-3 victory to clinch the three-game series. The Mariners also took two of three in New York last week, and as such, won the season series against the Bronx Bombers for the first time since 2002.

Riding the emotional high after downing the AL East juggernaut, Seattle’s 32nd win in 45 games, Mariners manager Scott Servais channeled iconic musician Bob Dylan:

“The times, they are a-changin,” Servais said.

Again, the Mariners saw a lead evaporate late. Again, they punched back -- this time via a go-ahead two-run homer from Carlos Santana in the seventh inning. And again, they won a one-run game, their MLB-high 27th of the year after leading the category with 33 last year.

A nearly sellout crowd skipped more important things on a Wednesday afternoon to congregate in SoDo -- and it was worth the price of admission.

“That’s like a couple playoff teams going at it and a playoff series,” said Mariners starter Robbie Ray. “And that's what it felt like, especially with that atmosphere and the fans. ... It seemed like it was punch for punch every single pitch, every single inning.”

The Mariners were MLB’s darlings last year in a 90-win season of surprise. They entered 2022 with heightened expectations, but were still perhaps second fiddle to the Astros in the AL West. They generated more buzz on a 14-game winning streak leading into the All-Star break. And maybe because there’s naturally more attention in any game featuring the Yankees, over the past 10 days from the Bronx to Seattle, they’ve added more credibility to contention, holding the second AL Wild Card spot.

Asked if he thought that the Yankees, who entered Wednesday night tied with the Astros with an AL-best 71 wins, might run into the Mariners in October, manager Aaron Boone said: "Yeah, absolutely.”

“I think they're really good,” Boone continued. “They can pitch. Obviously, they have some good starters, but their bullpen is I think about as good a bullpen as we face. They can mix and match. They've got right and left in their lineup. Obviously, they're going to get [Julio] Rodríguez back, so yeah. It's a team that certainly feels for real."

To Boone’s assertion, Wednesday’s game was almost methodical for the Mariners -- and a showcase to why they’d be a tough draw in October.

One day after shiny new ace Luis Castillo went blow-for-blow against Gerrit Cole, Ray went toe-to-toe with Nestor Cortes in a game that was scoreless until Sam Haggerty launched a solo homer off the left-field foul pole with one out in the sixth. The All-Star Cortes, who was with Seattle in 2020 as a fledgling reliever, was carrying a no-hitter at the time.

“You need everybody just to do their job. They don't have to be anything special,” Servais said. “I didn't ask Sam Haggerty to all of a sudden become Mickey Mantle. It just worked out that way because he wasn't trying to do too much.”

Ray nearly navigated through seven scoreless innings, but on his season-high 115th and final pitch, he surrendered a two-run homer to Kyle Higashioka that had the potential to be costly. AL MVP favorite Aaron Judge following with his 45th homer off reliever Penn Murfee made matters more pressing.

Yet Seattle crept back in the seventh with a leadoff single by Ty France and an RBI knock by Mitch Haniger after a passed ball moved France to second. Then came the decisive blow by Santana, who, despite his .174/.287/.383 (.670 OPS) slash line with Seattle, continues to deliver clutch moments. From there, Diego Castillo, fresh off the IL, and Paul Sewald, threw two hitless innings in another bullpen gem. Dating back to June 21, Mariners relievers have an MLB-best 2.32 ERA.

"We don't have Aaron Judge on our team,” Sewald said. “We don't have the $35 million pitcher [Gerrit Cole]. But we have 26 guys that are all really good and all have a key part on this team that, when they do their job, we end up winning more games than we're losing."

The Mariners (61-52) moved to a season-high-tying nine games above .500. And following Wednesday, they’re now through the meat of their schedule after going 10-10 out of the All-Star break, a stretch that included 13 games against the Astros and the Yankees. If this week was a preview of what’s to come, they have the attention of the league’s elite.