'Stuff is spicy right now': Mariners unable to gain in standings

September 17th, 2023

SEATTLE -- The Mariners have become way too well-versed with taking a scoreless tie into the late innings in front of a sellout crowd at T-Mobile Park over the past year and change. And they’re also becoming painstakingly familiar with the disappointment of reaching the finish line in many of these contests on the losing end.

Add Saturday’s 6-2 loss to the Dodgers in the 11th inning as the latest chapter of gut punches.

No, it didn’t have the season-ending stakes of the 18-inning loss to the Astros in Game 3 of last year’s American League Division Series. But it might’ve carried more weight than the night that George Kirby threw nine shutout innings against Baltimore last month, at least given the stakes of this stage of the season.

The Mariners went home late Saturday night on the outside looking in for a playoff position.

  • Games remaining (14): vs. LAD (1), at OAK (3), at TEX (3), vs. HOU (3), vs. TEX (4)
  • Standings update: The Mariners (81-67) dropped to a half-game behind of Toronto (82-67) for the third AL Wild Card spot. The Mariners remain 1 1/2 games behind the Astros (83-66) for the AL West lead, and one game behind Texas (82-66).
  • Tiebreakers: Win vs. Houston; losing vs. Texas (1-5); likely win vs. Toronto.

“We're in a race and stuff is spicy right now,” shortstop J.P. Crawford said. “All these games matter and when we have an opportunity to win these games, we've got to make it happen.”

Crawford was front and center at arguably Seattle’s most decisive moment to pull ahead, with runners on first and second base with nobody out as the lineup flipped in the eighth inning. But the Mariners’ leadoff man, typically poised in high-stakes moments, struck out swinging on three straight pitches, including two way out of the strike zone -- uncharacteristic chases for one of the game’s most disciplined hitters. 

Julio Rodríguez also went down swinging, losing a nine-pitch battle with reliever Ryan Brasier that began with hacks on fastballs up, in and out of the zone. And Teoscar Hernández was the last to go down, also via an outside fastball but this one on a check swing.

"I didn't execute my job,” Crawford said. “Julio didn't either. Runners on first and second late in the game, we've got to get them over and we've got to get them in. We [messed] up. I take full responsibility on that. I've got to get them over. I've got to do my job.”

The Mariners fell to 5-10 in September and into a stretch that has completely contrasted their record-setting August. But what’s been most glaring in this final month is the late-innings moments that have manifested themselves and Seattle’s shortcomings in those sequences that followed.

Hernández also grounded into a forceout in the 10th, with the bases loaded and the walk-off run just 90 feet away. Granted, that moment only materialized after Mike Ford ripped a pinch-hit single through the right-side hole that tied the game at 1 and gave Seattle new life.

On Monday against the reeling Angels, the Mariners had the bases loaded with no outs in the bottom of the ninth then went down in order after and wound up losing in the 11th.

“Hell yeah, it's frustrating,” Crawford said. “We're right in it. We're just a knock away and I feel like the last week or so, we've been right there, just a hit away.”

Saturday’s final score was far more uneven than the competitive play would’ve indicated.

The Dodgers didn’t pull ahead until Kolten Wong -- whom the Mariners released just 45 days prior -- ripped a 362-foot sacrifice fly with the bases loaded in the 10th, then Chris Taylor -- another former Mariner -- lined a two-run bloop single in the 11th off Isaiah Campbell. Max Muncy chipped in a lunging line in between, off a slider from Gabe Speier way off the plate, and Kiké Hernández punctuated their efforts with a two-run single, also off Campbell.

Yet through the first 27 outs, a pitching staff that’s had hiccups this month was far more effective -- led by 5 1/3 scoreless innings from Bryce Miller, who outlasted one of his childhood icons, fellow Texan Clayton Kershaw. Miller was followed by zeros from Tayler Saucedo, Matt Brash and Andrés Muñoz.

But the Dodgers’ elite bullpen also went blow-for-blow, surrendering just five hits, one walk and the one run after Kershaw left after the fourth.

Seattle’s saving grace in the state of the playoff standings is that both Texas and Houston have also lost each of the past two nights, keeping the Mariners’ bid for the division title still very much alive -- and with each of its final 10 games beginning next Friday against those teams.

“I feel very strongly and very confident we will be playing October baseball,” manager Scott Servais said. “It's not going to be easy. And every game is going to be like it was tonight. It's going to be 0-0, 1-1, 3-3, whatever it is. It'll flip.”