Find a way: Mariners surge to seventh straight 'W'

Santana slugs go-ahead two-run homer as Castillo earns the save

July 10th, 2022

SEATTLE -- The Mariners won again on Saturday night -- a tense, come-from-behind, 2-1 win over Toronto in front of 41,210, the largest crowd at T-Mobile Park since the 2022 home opener.

Before diving into the details of the game, it’s worth recapping where things now stand:

• They’re on a seven-game win streak for the first time since a stretch from June 25-July 3, 2018
• They’ve won six consecutive series within a season for the first time since April 15-May 4, 2016
• They’ve won 15 of their past 18, dating back to June 20, tied with the Dodgers for the most in MLB in this stretch
• They’re also on their best 18-game stretch in a single season since 2003, when they also went 15-3

And also a look at the trajectory that the Mariners are on:

• They’re one game back of the third and final AL Wild Card spot, currently occupied by Toronto; two games back of the second spot, held by Tampa Bay; and 2 1/2 games behind Boston, which holds the top spot
• At 44-42, they are one game off their pace last year through 86 games, when they were 45-41, went on to win 90 and remained in postseason contention until the season’s final day

They’re also now 10-1 with Carlos Santana, who crushed the decisive, two-run, go-ahead homer in the seventh inning off Blue Jays All-Star candidate Alek Manoah, who was on cruise control to that point. Santana yanked a high-and-middle fastball, the same pitch he struck out on earlier, and crushed it 412 feet and just below the "Hit It Here Café" beyond right field in the seventh.

It was his first homer since joining the club in a June 27 trade with Kansas City, and it evoked a huge roar that drowned out the crowd of mostly Canadian fans who flocked from north of the border.

“This group is special,” Santana remarked. “There’s great talent. It’s younger. I’m keeping tabs, especially on younger guys, Julio [Rodríguez], [J.P.] Crawford, [Ty] France. I’m trying to keep it up, play hard every day and think about winning. We have great talent, and I’m thinking about my energy, my spirit. They’re doing great. I tell them all the time, ‘It’s a long season. Think about it one day at a time.’”

Santana’s blast was one of just three Mariners hits on the night, odds that definitely don’t play in their favor, having gone 1-5 in such games. And their struggles in crucial moments before this recent run have been well-chronicled.

But where doubt might’ve crept in earlier this season, perseverance prevailed on Saturday.

After Santana’s heroics, Diego Castillo worked his way into and out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the ninth -- pitching three days in a row for the first time this season, to boot. It was a tense sequence, especially after the two hits he surrendered, to All-Star starters Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Alejandro Kirk, were on pitches way out of the zone. Mariners manager Scott Servais then intentionally walked Lourdes Gurriel Jr., only to face Matt Chapman, who grounded out to secure the win.

“Right now, we're competing to go to the playoffs and we're in a great position right now,” Castillo said. “So, for me, I told [Servais], 'I'm ready, whatever, when you need me.' So I was ready for today.”

Castillo’s fifth save was set up by another brilliant outing from Robbie Ray, who threw six innings, allowed one run on just three hits and two walks, and had an adrenaline-induced nearly 2 mph faster average fastball velocity when pitching against the team with which he won the AL Cy Young Award last year.

Ray’s biggest moment came in the fifth, when he led off with two walks then surrendered a single to load the bases -- all with no outs. He then zeroed in and retired Chapman, Santiago Espinal and Raimel Tapia in order, after which he walked off the mound expressing raw emotion.

“Just get nasty,” said Ray of his mindset. “I felt like, in that situation, bases loaded, nobody out, I'm just throwing my best pitch every single time. And I just told myself to get nasty.”

Ray, who was so susceptible to the runaway inning earlier this season, overcame that potential landslide -- much like the rest of his teammates on Saturday. Matt Brash wowed in his first big league glimpse out of the bullpen, and Andrés Muñoz followed with two more strikeouts in a scoreless eighth, having now punched out 28 of his past 46 batters after some significant hiccups in May.

The Mariners had played Saturday’s type of game countless times during their tough stretch in May and June -- getting a solid start, good relief but limited offense. Now they’re more regularly finding ways to break through, and it’s been one of the biggest factors in their recent turnaround.