Kirby takes out his frustrations on Yankees

Coming off 4-HR start, Mariners righty finds extra gear, blanking New York in walk-off win

June 1st, 2023

SEATTLE -- The postgame interview with  last Friday covered five questions and lasted 74 terse seconds. He uttered fewer than 100 words, all in frustration, and vowed to rebound from an uncharacteristic clunker in which he allowed a career-high-tying four homers. 

And five days later, “Jorge” did just that -- but in perhaps an even more monumental way than many imagined.

Facing the team he grew up idolizing, Kirby carved through the Yankees for eight shutout innings while pitching on a tightrope of zero run support. Then,  ripped a 107.1 mph walk-off single in the 10th inning to score automatic runner José Caballero from second base, lifting the Mariners to a 1-0 win on Wednesday night at T-Mobile Park.

Kirby surrendered just three hits and zero walks while striking out seven and allowing just one runner to reach scoring position. He threw 95 pitches, 67 for strikes, and saw a massive uptick of 1.7 mph on both his two- and four-seam fastballs, which led to nine of the 10 whiffs he generated.

“He was about ready to rip somebody's head off,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Every inning, it's on. He was ready to go, really from the first pitch, and you saw it. That's as good a fastball as I've seen him ever have tonight. Of course, he's always got the ability to locate it. But just the extra gear on it.”

Kirby led off the game with a swinging strikeout against Gleyber Torres on a 99.1 mph heater, the fastest pitch of his career and one that set the tone for the entire night. He also generated an inning-ending strikeout in the second, third and eighth innings.

Moreover, Kirby held Aaron Judge 0-for-3, with a 111.2 mph groundout, a 365-foot flyout to the left-field warning track and a strikeout in between. For that K, Kirby blew three straight fastballs past Judge after falling behind 2-0, a trademark effort from the pitcher who leads 155 qualified starters with a 58.2 percent in-zone rate.

Kirby’s approach against the reigning American League Most Valuable Player? 

"Try not to have him hit a home run,” he said. “Just keep him off-balance. You've got to go in on him. In that seventh, he almost got me. He came by the mound smiling a little bit. I was like, 'Woof.' But yeah, you've just got to attack him. You've got to be super precise, live on the edges and spin down; something like that. But I'm glad I got him today a little bit."

Making the outing more rewarding was that it was against the team he grew up watching in Rye, N.Y., roughly 20 miles from Yankee Stadium. Equally fitting was that Kirby’s masterpiece took place on the day that All-Star voting opened, as he has put together arguably the best case for selection by any Seattle player as the club prepares to host the Midsummer Classic. 

“It felt like a playoff game atmosphere, the jitters I had,” said Kirby, who had countless texts awaiting him from friends and family back home. “It was great. I felt really good today."

Equally impressive to his complete dominance was how unsurprising the totality of his rebound was. 

On days he’s not starting, Kirby is approachable and affable. But the self-described “savage” hates losing as much as any player in Seattle’s clubhouse -- but especially so if defeat falls on his shoulders, as it did Friday against Pittsburgh, when he allowed seven runs.

“It’s hard to get me twice, so I'm glad I came out today and did my thing,” Kirby said.

Thankfully for the Mariners, his efforts weren’t for naught, like they were in a complete-game loss on April 27 in Philadelphia. Seattle has twice lost in five outings that Kirby has allowed one run or fewer. 

Wednesday’s hero was Raleigh, who’s making a habit of epic walk-offs. He ripped Ron Marinaccio’s low changeup into right field after seeing three straight fastballs to begin the at-bat.

On the cusp of a sweep, the Mariners instead wrapped their 10-game homestand with seven wins and the month of May with a 17-11 record. 

“To bounce back today was huge,” Raleigh said. “And we’ve got a big series coming up against Texas.”