J-Rod's first T-Mobile Park HR sparks big win

Homestand starts with a bang in 13th straight victory over Oakland

May 24th, 2022

SEATTLE -- Mariners manager Scott Servais was candid on Monday afternoon as the club regrouped following an exhausting 10-game road trip, saying that while the team hasn’t yet reached a point of urgency, there is a recognition that Seattle’s first step in getting back on track is to “win the games you’re supposed to win.”

Hours later, his club had accomplished just that -- albeit in a tighter, more tense fashion than Servais probably would’ve hoped -- as Seattle hung on for a 7-6 victory over the last-place A's at T-Mobile Park. 

Homers from Julio Rodríguez, Eugenio Suárez and Cal Raleigh gave the pitching staff enough wiggle room to navigate the three-hour, 24-minute affair, after Marco Gonzales labored in the fourth and sixth innings and rookie reliever Penn Murfee had his first hiccup coming on to clean up the traffic.

Oakland was on the cusp of a big breakthrough, but Sergio Romo had a big, bases-loaded escape to bail out Murfee, before Matt Festa, Diego Castillo and Paul Sewald worked one scoreless inning apiece. 

“It's certainly a game that I felt with the way we hit the homers early, you need to win this game,” Servais said. 

The Mariners, who single-handedly knocked out their division rivals from the postseason last September, have now won 16 of their past 20 against Oakland dating back to the start of last season -- including 13 straight.

The A’s have overhauled everything in the offseason since, trading All-Stars Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Chris Bassitt and stalwart starting pitcher Sean Manaea, much like the Mariners did with their roster a few years back in an effort to go younger and more cost efficient. While the level of talent isn’t what it once was, there was still an importance of taking care of business, so to speak, against the new-look Oakland squad.

“It almost got away from us, credit to Oakland,” Servais said. “They are a very hungry, young, scrappy team, and that's what we saw tonight. They're not going to quit. The young guys over there, they want to play, and they’ve got a few veterans that know how to play.”

Dating back to April 26, nearly a full month, the Mariners had dropped 19 of 26 entering this homestand. In that stretch, they had slugged just .359, the seventh-lowest rate in the league. And after surrendering 10 homers to the Red Sox over the weekend in Boston, they recognize the importance of injecting some power into their lineup.

“You live and die by the long ball, and we died by it over in Boston,” Servais said. “We got crushed by it. So it's nice to have a few on our side tonight. Our guys are capable of doing that.”

Rodríguez’s deep fly was his first at T-Mobile Park and the fourth of his young career. After a tough April, he’s batting .333/.364/.524 (.888 OPS) over 22 games in May and has been moved more permanently into the cleanup spot, beginning last Monday in Toronto. If things are going well, even in this tough stretch, it’s been because Rodríguez has delivered.

On Monday, it was a 376-foot shot that scored three, and it came against an off-plate slider that he pummeled with authority to the opposite field -- and with a 103.8 mph exit velocity.

“That’s where [my swing] needs to be, honestly,” Rodríguez said. “In the first at-bat, I chased one below and then I said, ‘OK, get ready for something in the middle and just put the barrel on it.’ I kind of know myself and know how I can drive the ball.”

But it’s the emergence of Raleigh that could be a huge boon, especially if the second-year backstop is able to find more consistency. Raleigh has big-time power for a catcher, but has also shown significant swing-and-miss in his game, which is why his sixth-inning single was a positive. It led to his first multi-hit game of the season, after posting just six such games in 2021.

Raleigh will continue to see more playing time with Tom Murphy sidelined for the foreseeable future, if not the rest of the season, due to a torn labrum. He again worked with Gonzales for the third time in the lefty’s past four starts.

“There are some ounces of maturity that are coming through,” Gonzales said of working with Raleigh behind the plate. “I’ve really enjoyed connecting with him. He loves the chess game, and I feel like I'm that type of pitcher where we need to be on basically as a chess match throughout the game.”

As for Gonzales, a 32-pitch fourth inning in which he surrendered three runs got him off track and contributed to him leaving after 5 1/3 innings. But the offense kept backing him -- and helped the Mariners win a game, in Servais’ estimation, that they were supposed to win.