Mariners dig in to rally late, shut out Yanks

August 9th, 2021

NEW YORK -- It took four days, 38 innings and a combined 14 hours and 28 minutes of game time, but the Mariners finally broke through in a tight -- and at times, frustrating -- series against the Yankees.

Sunday afternoon’s 2-0 victory avoided a four-game sweep against the team the Mariners are chasing in the postseason race, yet despite completing just the seventh shutout against the Bombers this season, Seattle needed every last pitch to do so.

Drew Steckenrider froze Aaron Judge for a called strike three to end the game with Brett Gardner on second base, a sequence where just about all of the 35,437 on hand anticipated damage looming. And Steckenrider was only positioned in that sequence thanks to those in front of him, including five frames from , marking the All-Star’s first scoreless outing since June 12.

But it was ’s gritty five outs that represented arguably the most impactful moments of the game despite manifesting in the sixth and seventh innings.

The righty continued his breakout 2021 by entering with two on and one out in the sixth and proceeding to strike out Gardner, a pesky late-inning out, and DJ LeMahieu, arguably the Majors’ best contact hitter. Sewald then came back in the seventh to punch out Judge and Joey Gallo, then induced an inning-ending groundout to Giancarlo Stanton.

Considering the power potential in the Yanks’ mountain range of a lineup made what Sewald accomplished all the more impressive. With four of his five outs via the K, Sewald raised his strikeout rate to 42.9%, which trails only Josh Hader and Craig Kimbrel among MLB relievers.

“I don't know if I've ever seen a relief pitcher flip the momentum in the game like Paul Sewald was able to do today,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “It's not just that we got him in the game, but it's what he did when he got in there -- the big strikeouts. He's been so critical to our season and what he's been able to do, but today, not just get them out, he actually flipped the momentum in the game, in my opinion. In our dugout, you start to feel like, ‘OK, let's get something going here and we can pull this one out.’”

The Mariners (59-54) now head home after going 4-6 on what many described as an exhausting 10-game road trip that dropped them from three games back of the second American League Wild Card to 5 1/2. But the same last-place Rangers who spoiled Seattle’s fun with a pair of walk-offs last weekend will come to town, followed by Toronto, the very team ahead of them in the postseason standings.

As Servais pointed out, there were frustrating moments on this trip, but also plenty of resolve. Five of their losses were by one run and their run differential -- a hot topic before the All-Star break for how far it was in the red -- was actually plus-seven for this trip.

“That was a very long road trip,” said. “You know going into it that it was going to be long, for sure, just in the amount of days you're going to be gone away from family and then the travel was real, crossing quite a few time zones there. It was definitely a long one, but it was a tough one, too. We certainly didn't win as many games as we’d hope to, but I think everybody's excited to go home.”

Seattle’s strikeout rate climbed to 23.4% over these 10 games, and it hit just .238/.313/.361 for a .674 OPS, below the club's season average of .679, which is the fourth lowest in the Majors. The Mariners went 6-for-33 with 15 strikeouts in Sunday’s game, which was scoreless until Seager broke through with an RBI ground-rule double in the eighth inning thanks to the short porch in right, which finally steered some luck in Seattle’s favor after directly impacting two of the Yanks’ three wins this weekend.

Seager’s hit scored Abraham Toro, who was only on base due to an infield error by Rougned Odor to lead off the frame. Cal Raleigh then followed with a two-out, two-strike single that scored Mitch Haniger and nearly plated Seager, who was thrown out by a hair.

It turned out to be moot, though, given the shutout, but the point is: The margin between winning and losing Sunday hinged so heavily on the pitching staff staying upright on a tightrope.

“The strikeout has started creeping back into our game,” Servais said. “It's something that hurt us early in the season. We're starting to see it come back late. A lot of it has to do with the quality of the arms we saw in their bullpen, but it's something that we need to tighten up. That's how you keep rallies going. You put pressure on the defense, and if you look at that inning, Odor makes an error and kind of gets some things going. So you’ve got to get the ball in play a little bit more consistently.”

The Mariners’ offense has vastly improved from its early-season woes, when it was batting .199/.280/.362 after being no-hit for the second time in less than two weeks on May 18. Seattle is hitting .234/.308/.390 since. But in order to dodge the tight tilts that plagued the Mariners this road trip, even they admit that they’ll need to get things going to keep pace in the playoff chase.

Kelenic ejected
In between the scoring plays in the eighth, was ejected for arguing with home-plate umpire Lance Barrett from the dugout after striking out looking for the second time, then Servais was tossed after going out to argue for the rookie outfielder. In that development, J.P. Crawford substituted in at shortstop despite not starting each of the past two games due to feeling significantly under the weather.

Kelenic went 1-for-4 with the two K’s and finished the road trip with a .263/.333/.553 (.886 OPS) slash line and a homer in each of the three series. But his frustration over called strikes at times has put him in tough spots with big league umpires, and Sunday represented a breaking point.

“You learn a lot of different lessons in this game, and we were a little bit short-handed today,” Servais said. “We didn't really want to put J.P. in that game … so you need to be heads-up understanding where your teammates are at and where we're at there. I think Jarred was fine. It's just when he got back to the dugout, he didn't let it go, and that's what got him tossed.”