Mariners 'find a way' in pursuit of WC spot

September 9th, 2021

HOUSTON -- Scott Servais is back to channeling his inner “Ted Lasso.”

The Mariners’ manager spent most mornings during Spring Training opening his daily media sessions with a quirky quote from the AppleTV+ series that has quickly become a mainstream hit. With the return of the popular show recently, and following Seattle’s 8-5 win over Houston on Wednesday afternoon, his postgame Zoom from the bowels of Minute Maid Park, in his mind, was the ideal moment to cite the wholesome TV character portrayed by Jason Sudeikis.

“We have a lot of goldfish -- guys with very short memories,” Servais said. “So for all you Ted Lasso fans out there, that's what came into my mind today.”

Servais was likening his cast of underdogs in this postseason hunt to the fictional European soccer club from the TV series -- and fish, at their simplest form -- to illustrate how big of a bounceback his team made from a deflating defeat the night prior.

Less than 24 hours after their surest-of-sure-bet relievers suffered their biggest gut check of 2021, the Mariners rallied with four runs in the ninth inning in this matinee to break a tie and avoid what would’ve been their first sweep since late May. They advanced to 76-64 and remain just outside of the second American League Wild Card.

José Marmolejos broke through with a tie-breaking single on a 2-2 count against All-Star closer Ryan Pressly that scored two, then J.P. Crawford immediately followed with an insurance homer that broke the game open -- both with two outs. That gave Paul Sewald cushion to send Seattle to the finish line, even despite a solo homer by Alex Bregman, the one big leaguer who seems to have the closer’s number.

The seal broke in the final frame after the Mariners had stranded 12 runners to that point, one shy of a season high. That alone would’ve made a loss far more frustrating, but their move-the-line mantra stayed its course. 

Jarred Kelenic scored one of the go-ahead runs on Marmolejos’ clutch breakthrough, but Seattle’s rookie had just as significant of a hit in the seventh, when he lined a first-pitch curveball from Phil Maton off the left-center-field wall that landed awkwardly and manifested as a “gotcha!” moment of sorts after Kelenic experienced his own share of frustration playing in this quirky venue.

And Abraham Toro got things going in the first inning with a two-run double that gave Seattle an immediate spark to tangibly show that it had flushed away the night prior. 

“When you're in this business, you start to realize that one game isn't the end of the world,” Kelenic said. “It is what it is. There's nothing we can do about it. It’s time to move on. And if there's one thing that every baseball player, especially at this level, is good at, it’s turning the page.”

That’s how the Mariners have been all season. They haven’t been swept since May 23 against the Padres, which remains one of the most defining moments of the season, when they were battered with a COVID outbreak and looked to be headed toward an early-summer spiral. 

Yet, in the three and a half months since that sun-soaked Sunday in San Diego, Seattle is 55-38, which is the sixth-best record in baseball, behind the Giants, Brewers, Rays, Dodgers and Astros -- MLB’s juggernauts of 2021. The Mariners now have a better record than those Padres, who entered the year on a shortlist of World Series favorites. 

“The will to win that this team has is so unique,” Servais said. “And I've been on a lot of teams, coached a lot, played on a lot. I don't know if I’ve ever been on a team that is just so driven to win as this team is. I don't know how we do it some days, but we find a way.” 

Even the newcomers are catching on to Seattle’s unapologetic resiliency, such as Trade Deadline acquisition Tyler Anderson, who played on two postseason teams in Colorado in 2017 and ’18.

“I just think that this team never really gets down,” Anderson said. “We get hit a couple of times like that, and when you show up today, everybody's in a good mood. Everybody's ready to go. After [Monday’s loss], same thing. Everyone shows up every day. There's no hangover effect.” 

Anderson had his first true lumps since the trade, but the bullpen once again picked its starter up, going scoreless the rest of the way, sans the Bregman homer off Sewald. And the offense broke through with some of their most clutch hits of the season, somewhat uncharacteristic for a lineup that typically scores just enough to keep it close but not much more.

Basically, there were countless contributors on Wednesday. 

“We knew that it was only going to take one, and then ... the water was just going to flow,” Kelenic said. “[The Astros] are a really good ballclub and to piece it together as a team and come out on top, especially in the late innings like that, is definitely what we're going to need throughout the rest of this month to get us to a playoff spot.” 

Maybe it’s because the stakes are so low in Spring Training that the Ted Lasso comments came from Servais more consistently. Optimism is palpable, everything is good, nothing can go wrong -- basically, the complete opposite of a mid-September playoff chase. 

But for as stressful as this series, this ballpark and this opponent were for the Mariners this week in Houston, maybe a dose of Lasso’s persistent positivity is just what Seattle needs following a fulfilling win and a long flight home.