J.P. -- who else? -- keeps Mariners alive with walk-off

Seattle roars back, stuns Texas to begin critical final series of season

September 29th, 2023

SEATTLE -- They might as well just put the "C" on the front of his jersey at this point.

Heralded all season for his leadership within the Mariners’ young clubhouse while rapidly shouldering a more veteran role, has matched that lofty designation with his on-field production in this breakout campaign -- no moment bigger than his game-winning, two-run double that lifted the Mariners to a 3-2 walk-off win over the Rangers on Thursday night at T-Mobile Park.

In a 1-1 count, Crawford ripped a 97.9 mph fastball from Jonathan Hernández 329 feet down the left-field line, a trademark hack from the lefty-hitting shortstop whose overhauled swing has led to countless moments of slug this season.

“Everyone is depending on me at that point,” Crawford said. “Two outs, bases loaded, bottom of the ninth. Shoot, you've got to just get it done.”

  • Games remaining (3): vs. TEX (3)
  • Standings update: The Mariners (86-73) pulled to within three games of the Rangers (89-70). They also pulled to within one game of second-place Houston (87-72), which holds the third and final AL Wild Card spot and was idle on Thursday. Toronto (88-71), which won, is one game up on Houston for the second AL Wild Card spot. The Mariners are the first team on the outside looking in.
  • Tiebreakers: Win vs. Houston (9-4); lose vs. Texas (2-8); likely win vs. Toronto (3-3, tiebreaker based on intradivision record).

It was Seattle’s fourth walk-off of the year, but its first since July 21 vs. Toronto.

Crawford coming through with the bases loaded has been among Seattle’s most consistent highlights in 2023, as he’s now 10-for-15 with 22 RBIs in those high-stakes moments, good for a gaudy slash line of .667/.625/1.067 (1.692 OPS).

Would the Mariners want anybody else up in that situation?

“At the moment, no,” manager Scott Servais said. 

Yet, even with the seemingly certain breakthrough with their most productive leverage hitter at the plate, success was far from guaranteed. 

Crawford was positioned thanks to singles from Cal Raleigh and Dylan Moore and a four-pitch walk from Ty France -- all facing reliever Aroldis Chapman, whose status as a seven-time All-Star has been far outshadowed by his shaky second half, with three losses and three blown saves. Once Hernández was summoned in relief of Chapman and Mike Ford and Josh Rojas skied pinch-hit flyouts, the all-too-familiar dread of another wasted opportunity with the bases loaded and no outs was in play.

Crawford was front and center during the most recent such example, on Sept. 16 against the Dodgers, when he was the first among Julio Rodríguez and Teoscar Hernández to strike out in order to spoil a potential rally of an eventual loss. After that game, he tersely said, “We [messed] up. I take full responsibility on that.”

With Seattle’s season at a far more perilous point on Thursday, Crawford was determined to not let that fate repeat itself -- especially on a night that saw the Mariners go 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position after going 1-for-13 in Wednesday’s loss to Houston.

“Honestly, all that was going through my head was, ‘Just get it done,’” Crawford said. “Like I said earlier, just be him. There's really nothing else to it. Just keep it simple. Just do your job. End of story.”

Seattle’s season wasn’t mathematically on the line, but another defeat would have sunk the club’s playoff hopes to life support.

A loss would’ve officially eliminated the Mariners from winning the AL West, which the Rangers can do as soon as Friday with a win and an Astros loss in Arizona. The Mariners still need help to reach the tournament -- from Arizona against Houston and/or Tampa Bay against Toronto -- but winning Thursday’s game was a start. They’re now 2-5 on this defining 10-game sprint to the finish and 2-8 this year against Texas.

“Tonight was about fight,” manager Scott Servais said. “You play all season long, Spring Training, all the work that goes into it and kind of comes down you need to win a game. You need to get a big hit, and our guys found a way.”

Crawford was the game’s obvious MVP, but Seattle’s pitching staff was just as vital to its success.

Logan Gilbert left in a deficit but finished with his 18th quality start, his lone blemishes being two solo homers -- to Leody Taveras and Adolis García -- both on mistake, in-zone pitches. Beyond those, he surrendered just one hit, to his 20th batter among the 21 he faced, a single to Corey Seager with two outs in the sixth.

Gabe Speier was the night’s unsung hero, tallying five huge outs -- including consecutive strikeouts to Texas’ Nos. 1-3 hitters, Marcus Semien, Seager and Nathaniel Lowe, to keep the game within reach.

And Rodríguez sparked the offense with a solo homer in the fourth, his 32nd of the year. 

“It definitely showed that we can compete until the last out and we can come back against anybody,” Rodríguez said. “That's a really good team.”

As cliché as it is, the Mariners are operating one game at a time, and that formula worked for them on Thursday.