Epic comeback clinches Mariners' ALDS berth

Despite early struggles, Seattle relies on regular-season experience to advance

October 9th, 2022

TORONTO -- The message from Scott Servais was simple, yet its application far easier said than done. “Expect the expected,” the Mariners manager has repeatedly said in the days leading up to the AL Wild Card Series and throughout this weekend at Rogers Centre.

“When you're in that moment,” Servais said of adversity on the road, “you have to realize you're in that moment. How do you flip it the other way? ... It's going to happen. That's the beauty of playoff baseball.”

Call it beauty, resilience or simply unbelievable, the Mariners embodied every bit of it in storming back from a seven-run deficit to stun the Blue Jays in a 10-9 victory that will go down as an instant October classic. The comeback was the second-largest in playoff history, the largest for a team on the road and the largest in a series-clinching game.

It also secured a berth in the AL Division Series, almost poetically, with division-rival Houston -- the juggernaut Seattle has been chasing for years -- and even more significantly, ensured that Seattle will host a playoff game for the first time since the 2001 ALCS. The Mariners will return to T-Mobile Park for ALDS Game 3 on Saturday, and if necessary, Game 4 on Sunday, in the best-of-five series.

“To have an opportunity to play in front of all the fans in the Pacific Northwest and how long they've been [waiting],” Servais said. “They're starving for this.”

At this rate, maybe that home game will be the first of many. For a roster that’s mostly never been here before, the Mariners look like (post)seasoned veterans.

“I don’t think about winning one series,” veteran outfielder Mitch Haniger said. “I think about winning the World Series a lot. Like, every day.”

Adam Frazier ripped a go-ahead RBI double with two outs in the top of the ninth inning to score Cal Raleigh, who’d preceded with his own two-bagger into the right-center gap, and sent the visiting dugout into utter jubilation.

Yet those moments only became fateful after J.P. Crawford tied the game with his own double, a blooper into shallow center with the bases loaded that cleared them and tied the game at 9 in the eighth inning. Crawford’s heroics were set up after Raleigh, Mitch Haniger and Frazier had each singled. And Raleigh’s base hit sparked the rally by driving in Eugenio Suárez, who led off with a double off Toronto reliever Anthony Bass.

Crawford’s hit landed so narrowly in between Toronto center fielder George Springer and shortstop Bo Bichette that it led to a nasty collision as both dove for the ball, after which Springer was carted off the field. Springer was “doing OK” postgame.

As for the comeback, it wasn’t just October theater; Saturday’s rally was the Mariners’ largest of at least seven runs since July 26, 2021, a thriller over the Astros that remains among the highlights of this era in Seattle.

The Mariners' win probability reached as low as 1% in the bottom of the fifth inning and it was low as 2% in the bottom of the seventh, per FanGraphs.

Hours felt like eons in how much the dynamic of Saturday’s game shifted. Until the eighth, the script, in every conceivable way, had flipped on the Mariners from their dominant Game 1 win.

Seattle’s oft-reliable arm on the mound was bounced early, the opposing pitcher had both nasty velocity and movement to halt the offense, and even when the Mariners were able to punch back amid a deafening road environment, their bullpen coughed up one run after another, making it look like a rally would be out of reach.

That followed a hugely anticipated but ultimately disappointing return to Toronto for Robbie Ray, who didn’t pitch deeper than the first batter of the fourth inning, exiting after surrendering four runs, including two massive homers to Teoscar Hernández.

“Honestly, I went back down to the dugout after I came in and cooled off,” Ray said. “And everybody was still upbeat, ready to go, taking really good at-bats. It just seemed like it was gonna break through at some point.”

But the Mariners, one of MLB’s youngest teams this year, were unfazed. Perhaps even more remarkable was how Servais’ forecast had manifested itself, as if the seventh-year skipper had a crystal ball.

“I think when you get in trouble is when you try to flip the momentum and you say, ‘OK, I'm going to be the guy that hits a home run here,' or, 'I'm going to be the guy that strikes out the side here,'" Servais said. "Do the little things. Have a good at-bat. Figure out how to get on base. Create a rally and pass the baton to the next guy. If you focus on the little things, sometimes big things happen.”

And that's precisely what did happen. The Mariners led MLB in one-run wins each of the past two seasons (34 this year and 33 in 2021), which they believe helps them in these tight games late.

“Just keep chipping away,” Crawford said. “We had a bunch of time left. Just get one here, one there, keep having good [at-bats], keep the line moving, keep getting runners on like we've been doing the whole game, and eventually, we'll find some holes. And we finally found some holes.”

The Mariners were already among the teams fans outside the Pacific Northwest could latch onto, with eclectic personalities, a tendency to play in tight games and playing a fun brand of baseball. And their latest victory was the most illustrative encapsulation yet of that identity.