Mariners doomed by 8-run 8th in 3rd straight loss

July 1st, 2023

SEATTLE -- The home clubhouse at T-Mobile Park sat eerily empty on Friday for the entire hour that it was open to media. The Mariners’ City Connect uniforms hung pristinely from each locker, all chairs circled evenly toward the room’s center and no music blared. It was a ghost town, sans virtually every coach meandering through the hallways.

By the time manager Scott Servais concluded his daily press availability, around the time that most of the team hits the field for pregame drills, still no players were in sight. It wasn’t until well into the 4 p.m. PT hour that the first emerged. 

For a team that prepares as intently as any, their collective attitude was far more business-like, far more deliberate and far more intentional. A lengthy -- and rare -- players-only meeting can have that effect, particularly in the wake of reaching a potential tipping point in this up-and-down season of expectations. 

The Mariners saw that confab carry over into an immediate result, racing ahead to a four-run lead against the American League-leading Rays and star pitcher Shane McClanahan. But the sustainability evaporated late, as Seattle blew that lead, gave up 15 unanswered runs and fell, 15-4, amid a spattering of boos that are as rare at this venue as rainfall at this gorgeous time of year in the Pacific Northwest. 

“I know how our fans feel; they're frustrated,” Servais said postgame. “They're disappointed. We've got to be better than that. But we have a very passionate fan base and it's the Major Leagues. It's a do-good league.”

In 24 hours, Seattle’s season will be halfway over, with 81 games remaining for things to potentially sink further (or turn, if they can somehow put together any semblance of a run). But Friday’s lopsided loss -- particularly in how it spiraled after such a strong start and in the wake of consecutive defeats to last-place Washington -- represented the Mariners’ latest low in 2023.

“The guys are the guys, the team is the team, we've got to figure out how to turn it,” Servais said. “I've said that multiple times -- and quite frankly, I'm tired of saying it. Believe me.”

Friday’s spiral spun swiftly, as Tampa Bay broke a 4-4 tie with eight runs in the eighth inning, then they tacked on three more in the ninth against Mike Ford, marking just the second time that the Mariners used a position player to pitch this year. 

To that point, even after spoiling a four-run lead, the game was close -- and Seattle had its best reliever, Andrés Muñoz, on the mound after throwing just six pitches in the seventh. But Muñoz was ambushed for four straight baserunners, all in two-strike counts. 

And the floodgates opened from there.

Gabe Speier allowed two of Muñoz’s inherited runners to score and another three of his own before leaving Tayler Saucedo with two on, one of which scored. One of the loudest cheers of the night was when Saucedo recorded the third out. 

“There are only 26 [players] and 10 coaches that have got to figure it out and get it moving in the right direction again,” Servais said. “But again, early on, the effort was good. We weren't able to maintain it for nine innings.”

To be sure, Friday’s trajectory also swung when Bryce Miller was forced to exit with one out in the fourth inning with a blood blister on his right middle finger, a byproduct of his pitch grip that had been creeping up the past few weeks. 

Miller mowed down each of the first 11 Rays hitters, with six strikeouts and impressive composure against one of MLB’s best lineups. Couple his efforts with Seattle’s bats ambushing McClanahan for a season-low three innings, and the outlook was promising.  

“The fact that they weren't even close on anything until that happened, and I end up having to come out and force the bullpen to throw [5 2/3] innings and everything turns,” Miller said. “Whereas I feel like if I stay in and go six or seven innings, it's a completely different ballgame."

The Mariners called a similar players-only meeting last year, on June 19, when they were approaching rock bottom, but they went on to lose that day and fall to a season-high 10-games under .500. However, the story from there was well-chronicled, as they rattled off MLB’s fourth-best record (61-34) the rest of the way and ended their postseason drought. 

If the trajectory in 2023 has a similar outcome, they’ve yet to show it.