3 pillars of Mariners' strengths topple Padres

Gilbert's bounce-back, timely hits and lockdown relief spell out victory in SD

June 7th, 2023

SAN DIEGO -- Even on the heels of his toughest start this season and with the tightrope of only a one-run lead, 's leash was long on Tuesday.

At 82 pitches, with the bottom of the Padres’ order due up and not much going offensively beyond some two-out run production in the third and a solo homer from in the sixth, Mariners manager Scott Servais rolled with Gilbert.

Gilbert punctuated his strong turnaround and the Mariners’ 4-1 win at Petco Park by striking out Brandon Dixon and Rougned Odor to clear the seventh, shouting in celebration with a manic look on his face. It’s not his first time doing so, but Gilbert -- or “Walter” -- typically reserves that emotion for big-time moments, and Tuesday’s certainly qualified.

“I figured that was probably going to be it there at the end, so I was just trying to get through three more outs,” Gilbert said. “They've got good names all throughout the order, so you can't let your guard down.”

It was a big turnaround for Gilbert after he was tagged for seven last Tuesday against the Yankees and needed 90 pitches to get through four innings. He also leaned on his slider for five strikeouts, a season high in a single outing for him on that pitch.

Here are three other moments that stood out:

Welcome back, Muñoz
After Gilbert departed, rocketed a 436-foot homer into the second deck and Hernández ripped an RBI single to score , who followed J-Rod with a double to the left-field corner.

It created enough cushion for Andrés Muñoz to pitch comfortably -- and dominate -- in his return from a two-month stint on the injured list in the eighth and to close out the ninth for his 12th save despite allowing two baserunners and bringing the potential tying run to the plate.

For as vital as Gilbert’s efforts were, Muñoz in a shorter burst was just as impressive. He induced a flyout to Matt Carpenter in an 0-2 count, then struck out Ha-Seong Kim looking with a gnarly slider on the inner third and blew a 100.1 mph fastball by Fernando Tatis Jr. for a swinging strikeout to cap his outing.

“That's Muñoz. That's about what I remembered,” Gilbert said. “He's nasty, throwing 100 [mph] right away with that slider. You can't really do anything about it, so it's nice when he comes in after me.”

Grinding out Musgrove
Offensively, particularly while Gilbert was on the mound, Seattle's efficiency was in the "just enough" category. But the moments when the Mariners were able to manufacture runs were positive, particularly since they came in sequences in which the club has struggled most: homers in two-strike counts and stringing together multiple hits with two outs.

In the third,  walked on seven pitches, Rodríguez singled on a ball off Joe Musgrove’s glove and France ripped an RBI single to cap off the rally. Not only did it put the Mariners in business, it forced Musgrove to throw 20 pitches after Crawford fell behind 0-2, and with a ballooned pitch count of 102 after the fifth inning, San Diego’s starter was pulled.

“There are not many nights where I talk about maybe the one at-bat where the guy didn’t get a hit that really changed the game for me,” Servais said. “J.P. Crawford in the [third] inning ... it changed the game. On those types of things, we’ve got to be cognizant and understand where we’re at in the game.”

Teo’s two-strike approach
In the sixth, also with two outs and also in an 0-2 hole, Hernández dug himself out by working the count full and pummeling a changeup down in the zone a projected 420 feet beyond straightaway center. It was a much different look for the slugger, who entered the day with the fifth-highest strikeout rate in the Majors at 33.3%.

“I think I'm leading the league in strikeouts, but I don't like to think about it,” Hernández said. “I know my swing. I've got a lot of strikeouts in my game, so I'm just trying to minimize that and trying to get going.”

It’s only one win, and until the Mariners (30-30) string these together more consistently, it’s difficult to say they’re on the verge of taking off. But Tuesday’s victory -- manufactured with strong starting pitching, a shutdown bullpen and a stingy approach at the plate -- was emblematic of this club at its best.