SEATTLE -- Where to start … Eugenio Suárez’s first career walk-off home run, a moonshot that sent Seattle to a 5-2 win over the Blue Jays in the 11th inning? Lefty specialist Ryan Borucki stymieing his former team and its righty-loaded lineup with two hitless innings? Julio Rodríguez’s insane display of raw tools, including a 99.6 mph outfield assist?
Less than three weeks after the season was on a dramatic downturn, things are in a far more promising place, with the Mariners on a season-high six-game win streak and executing in crucial moments that have evaded them for much of the early months in 2022.
“Certainly, we are very resilient,” manager Scott Servais said. “And we used that word a lot last year with our team. This team is a different team. It is wired a little bit differently. We have some players that are maturing. They're growing up. I think last year, when Kyle Seager was a big part of our clubhouse and from a leadership standpoint, not having him here has allowed other guys to kind of step up. They're learning along the way.”
Starting with Suárez: In a 2-1 count against Sergio Romo, the slugging third baseman was hunting a breaking ball. He shared a clubhouse with Romo for two-plus months this year before the veteran reliever was released then signed with Toronto. He knew that Romo throws it for nearly half his usage and that the Blue Jays were looking for a double play.
All the pressure was on the Blue Jays at that point after Borucki shut down Cavan Biggio, Santiago Espinal and George Springer to give his team another chance after Abraham Toro was thrown out in the 10th trying to score the game-winning run on an incredibly aggressive send by third-base coach Manny Acta.
Suárez didn’t want to spoil Seattle's second chance.
“I know he’s got a really good slider and commands it however he wants it,” Suraez explained. “I was just looking for something in the middle, middle-in. He missed that one right there. My approach was to stay on that slider, not do too much and just let it come to you.”
Suárez delivered the most dramatic moment, but he wouldn’t have been in that spot without Borucki. Acquired from the Blue Jays on June 5 after he was designated for assignment, Borucki was brought in almost exclusively to face left-handed hitters. Yet with the Mariners’ bullpen short-handed after Erik Swanson received a call in the eighth inning that his wife was going into labor, Borucki shouldered a heavier load.
He was admittedly pitching with far more adrenaline against the only organization he knew until last month. The Blue Jays drafted him in 2012 and developed him in the 11 seasons after, so there was extra edge when he was called on.
“I've never felt like this in my life,” Borucki said. “Just the joy of just being able to do what I did today and help this team win and beat the team that’s the only team I've ever been with, it’s going to be a good night, for sure.”
Borucki overcame two challenges that he’s experienced this year: 1. facing righties, and 2. traffic on the bases. Righties had a 1.247 OPS against him entering the night, compared to .508 against lefties, and when runners were on, opposing hitters had a .367/.424/.733 (1.158 OPS) slash line against him. Yet that didn’t faze him.
He was the final reliever called on, but the bullpen’s collective effort was just as critical to Friday’s win, going a combined 6 2/3 scoreless innings with just two hits allowed and eight strikeouts. The 'pen also overcame an unexpected departure from Ken Giles, who left with soreness in the back of his pitching shoulder and will be reevaluated. That forced Paul Sewald to pitch in a pinch on no notice.
The Mariners have won 14 of their past 17 games, and in this stretch, their relievers have a 1.20 ERA and have held hitters to a .463 OPS, both the second-best mark in baseball.
“So much resilience,” Borucki said. “We’re never out of the fight, and we just play really good baseball. We play great defense, we hit the ball really well and we pitch. That’s a playoff caliber team, and if you do all three of those things, you’re going to be in every game, no matter what.”
When the season started, the Mariners probably would’ve had loftier ambitions than being only one game in the green with one week until the All-Star break, but given how they’ve gotten back on track, that’s probably the last thing on their minds.