Patience pays off in Mariners' relentless comeback

Rodríguez draws go-ahead walk; France punctuates 6-run frame with 3-run homer

April 24th, 2022

SEATTLE -- The Mariners live by the mantra of “dominating the zone,” and there might not have been a more encapsulating moment of that messaging than in the eighth inning of Saturday’s 13-7 win over the Royals. 

It helped that Kansas City reliever Jake Brentz couldn’t find the strike zone, yet Seattle’s stingy hitters -- despite blowing a four-run lead earlier -- walked the bases loaded then set up Julio Rodríguez for his most significant stage yet. Despite all the frustrations of his early weeks in the Majors and all the called strikeouts, the rookie drowned out the 28,583 on hand chanting his name, zeroed in and drew a six-pitch walk that pushed the Mariners ahead.

The final pitch in that sequence was on a slider just barely below the zone, closer than some of those that have been way outside that he’d been rung up on for an MLB-high 14 backward K’s. The 21-year-old seemingly ignored those past transgressions, trusted his strike-zone judgment, stuck with his approach in a full count and came through in a big way.

“That is probably the at-bat of the game,” left fielder Jesse Winker said. “You watch him in that moment, and he just slowed everything down -- and it looked like everybody else did the same thing.”

Winker followed with a breakthrough double that plated two and moved Rodríguez to third, then Ty France punctuated the night with a three-run blast to blow the game wide open, his fifth hit of the night.

France and Winker’s knocks were the flashiest, but it was the discipline of Rodríguez, catcher Tom Murphy, DH Abraham Toro and, to a lesser extent -- because none of the four pitches he saw were even close the zone -- Eugenio Suárez, who set up the offensive onslaught by drawing critical walks.

The Mariners now lead the Majors with a 12.2 percent walk rate and they rank third with a .339 on-base percentage.

“Oh, it was textbook,” said acting manager Kristopher Negrón, who is filling in while Scott Servais recovers from COVID. “Those were great at-bats throughout to put us in that situation. Geno, Toro and everybody just kind of stringing them all together. Hits are contagious, but patience and dominating the zone is contagious too.”

For France, it was a night of confirmation that he’s firmly established himself as one of the game’s most consistent hitters. He’s reached base 30 times this year, more than any hitter in the American League, after going 5-for-6 and raising his slash line to .356/.441/.610 (1.051 OPS).

The first baseman hit a single that set up J.P. Crawford's two-run homer in the first inning, a single that set up an RBI double by Suárez in the sixth, then a game-tying single that scored Rodríguez in the seventh.

“The good teams control the strike zone,” France said. “And the deeper you go into the season and the more consistent you are with that, the more respect you get from umpires, and stuff like that, and calls start going your way. That’s just what the good teams do.”

For Winker, it was a night of confirmation that the swing decisions he’s made have been strong. He entered that at-bat hitting .130, but his quality of contact numbers were in the Majors’ 85th percentile, suggesting he’d been a victim of poor luck -- though he doesn’t necessarily think too much into it.

“I feel comfortable here,” Winker said. “I feel at home here. And so everything else, it's baseball. Everyone here will tell you that there are parts of the game that are really out of your control and there are things that happen. So, I’ll just go into tomorrow and go be competitive again.”

And for the Mariners, it was a night of confirmation that a disciplined approach is a path conducive to consistent wins.