Mariners ride homers, Flexen's strong outing to win

May 28th, 2022

SEATTLE -- What the Mariners did on Friday night at T-Mobile Park seemed so improbable, implausible and unlikely that, for one night at least, it made the sting of their month-long stretch seem like a distant memory.

It wasn’t just the first-place opponent, an Astros team that the Mariners have been unable to consistently figure out for years, it was also Houston’s starting pitcher, the likely future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander, who had dominated Seattle more than any team since joining the Astros in 2017. 

En route to a much-needed 6-1 win, the Mariners bullied Verlander on Friday in a way that very few teams have over his 17-year career. Julio Rodríguez, Kyle Lewis, Ty France and Taylor Trammell each homered against the 39-year-old right-hander, who entered the night as an early favorite to win his third career Cy Young Award. On the other side, Chris Flexen dominated for seven brilliant innings in an outing that arguably represented the best of his 40 career starts in Seattle.

“There’s been no hotter pitcher in the league than Verlander,” manager Scott Servais said. “He has just been off the charts -- very consistent, on top of his game every time out. The plan going in tonight was to be aggressive. You will get a pitch to hit per at-bat, probably, and you’ve got to put it in play.”

A breakdown of the big night against Houston’s big ace: 
• The Mariners became just the fourth team to hit at least four homers off Verlander in his 463 career starts. The last time he gave up that many was on July 15, 2018, and he’d surrendered only four homers all season over seven outings. Seattle also became the first team with 10 hits against him since April 15, 2017, when he was still with the Tigers.

• Verlander entered the night on a 19-inning scoreless streak before Rodríguez’s two-run blast with one out in the first inning. The last team to score on him was the Mariners, who plated just two in Houston on May 4, via a two-run homer by Eugenio Suárez, in a game that at that point was well out of reach. Verlander entered the night leading 131 qualified pitchers with a 1.22 ERA and 301 ERA+ (league average is 100). 

• Friday marked just the second Mariners victory against Verlander in 12 starts since he joined the Astros via the waiver at the Trade Deadline in 2017, and the first since Aug. 9, 2018. His eight wins against Seattle are three more than any other pitcher in this stretch. Over that run, he’d held the Mariners to a slash line of .196/.232/.400 (.632 OPS) in 235 at-bats.

• Moreover, aside from Verlander’s dominance over the years, dating back to April 26, the Astros entered the night tied with the Yankees for the best record in the Majors (22-7), while Seattle had the worst record in that same span (8-21).

“We needed to do something, and we did,” Servais said. “We responded in a very positive way, and now we need to build on it."

Here’s a breakdown of each blast: 
• Rodríguez connected on a trademark, 95.2 mph elevated fastball -- the pitch that Verlander has mastered over the years -- and sent it 359 feet to the opposite field to plate two in the first inning. It was on the first pitch. 

“Fastball, I was sitting on it the whole time,” Rodríguez said. “I was able to get it and I executed my plan and drove it out. He’s a really good pitcher. He’s one of the guys that I was really looking forward to facing because of that. Being able to get that homer, I’ve definitely learned a lot about how his pitches move and how his stuff plays. That’s why I was able to be ready for that first pitch.”

• Lewis yanked a hanging slider in a 1-2 count way out for a 441-foot homer that landed in the T-Mobile 'pen, his longest homer of his career and his first since returning after being sidelined nearly one year.

“A guy like that, you don't get many opportunities, man,” Lewis said. "We've faced him enough times to know that runs are hard to come by, so we were just trying to be as aggressive as possible. That's one thing we preached in the pregame and tried to really go out and execute. It was actually a good job of seeing the pregame transitioning to the game execution."

• France also jumped on the first pitch, a slider on the outer half that led off the bottom of the third and was his seventh of the year. He finished the day 3-for-4 against Verlander and advanced to a career 5-for-10 against him.

• Trammell was hitless since returning on Sunday, but he broke out in a big way in the sixth, with his first homer since June 23 of last year -- and with quite a tomahawk bat flip.

Despite all their struggles, the Mariners have played the Astros well in Seattle, having now won three of their four matchups at home this season. Continuing that pace will be a huge boon to their overall success, and digging themselves out of the last-place hole they entered the day in.