Mariners drop tense battle with Dodgers, miss chance to gain in WC race

September 16th, 2023

SEATTLE -- There are still two more weekends of regular-season baseball before the calendar flips to October, but Friday’s clash between the Mariners and Dodgers had all the ingredients to a postseason recipe. 

Unfortunately for Seattle, it couldn’t quite catch the National League juggernauts in front of a ticketed 43,823 at T-Mobile Park. And a 6-3 loss was all the more tough to stomach given that both Texas and Houston lost earlier, creating a chance for the Mariners to gain ground in the tense American League West race.

  • Games remaining (15): vs. LAD (2), at OAK (3), at TEX (3), vs. HOU (3), vs. TEX (4)
  • Standings update: The Mariners (81-66) dropped to a half-game ahead of Toronto (81-67) for the third AL Wild Card spot; the teams split the season series, 3-3, but Seattle holds the next tiebreaker (intradivision) record, with a 26-13 mark against the AL West. (Toronto is 13-25 vs. the AL East.) The Mariners are 1 1/2 games behind the Astros (83-65) for the AL West lead, and one game behind Texas (82-65).
  • Tiebreakers: Win vs. Houston; losing vs. Texas (1-5); likely win vs. Toronto.

George Kirby gave up a two-run homer to Miguel Rojas in the fifth inning on a 95.5 mph fastball way up and in, then a single to Jason Heyward, a triple to Max Muncy and another single to J.D. Martinez that led to two runs in the sixth. That run production, plus two insurance runs late, was enough for Los Angeles to stave off multiple Mariners rallies, as they went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 baserunners. 

“This game’s testing me right now,” said Kirby, who has a 6.00 ERA in his past five starts, four of which have been Mariners' losses. “I’m making good pitches, just a lot of better swings. It’s just how it happens sometimes. But I’m still going to attack hitters like I always do, get ahead and try to finish them. It just hasn’t been going my way.”

The Mariners fell to 5-9 in September after their historic 21-win August. And for as much as Friday’s game had the making of a postseason contest, it also showcased how costly mistakes could be if they reach the playoffs. 

There was the bobble by Teoscar Hernández at the right-field wall as Muncy was halfway to second base, then the missed throw to the cutoff man that allowed the Dodgers’ third baseman to reach third base standing for his first triple in 2023. 

Had either been avoided, Muncy might’ve been held at second base, but instead, he scored on the 108.5 mph single up the middle from Martinez, but probably would’ve only advanced to third on that play, given the threat of Julio Rodríguez’s arm in center. Jason Heyward then struck out, which probably would’ve left Muncy on third.

“Obviously you react, but you don't know if it's going to go through,” Hernández said. “And the ball kept rolling to my left, to the corner. I tried to cut it off and I slipped a little bit in the corner right there, but I don't think we have a chance to throw him out at home because I was so far in the gap.”

Then there was the rare throwing error from Cal Raleigh attempting to cut down Freddie Freeman from stealing second in the eighth. Raleigh, who’d thrown out five of his past 10 basestealers, one-hopped the 82.6 mph heave into center, allowing Freeman to reach third and then score on another single from Martinez, which came on an off-plate breaking ball. 

It was a pitch ripe for an opposite-field knock and through the hole while second baseman Josh Rojas was playing in a shift within MLB’s new rules, just to the right of second base. Though Martinez is known to drive the ball to right, it’s typically only done with power, as most of his infield contact is to the pull side.

“Sometimes, you're not going to get pitches in the middle of the plate,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “You find a way to put the bat on the ball. ... He’s made a living doing it.”

There were also the missed opportunities at the plate. 

Just after Hernández ripped a 107.1 mph single that made it a 4-2 game and Eugenio Suárez hit into a double play with a runner on third to make it 4-3, Jarred Kelenic and Ty France each singled and advanced on a wild pitch. But pinch-hitter Dylan Moore was called out on a well-located cutter at the bottom of the zone for strike three to end the rally.

In the eighth, Kelenic singled and France was gifted new life after the Dodgers dropped two would-be flyouts in foul territory before being plunked for his MLB-high 32nd hit-by-pitch. But pinch-hitter Mike Ford struck out looking. Hernández was the tying run in the ninth with two on and two out, but he struck out to end the game. 

“Playing teams like the Dodgers,” Hernández said, “if you make a mistake, they’re going to make you pay.”