Mariners bats back Castillo in comeback win over Rays

July 3rd, 2023

SEATTLE -- There was lots of sunshine and lots of hits, and for the Mariners on Sunday afternoon, there was lots of mettle, too. 

Seattle stormed back from down five runs, broke a tie with a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch from Jose Caballero in the seventh inning then held on to a 7-6 victory that secured a series win over a Tampa Bay team that has the AL's best record even with the consecutive losses.

These past 24 hours have represented a notable turnaround for the Mariners after a players-only meeting on Friday that was immediately followed by one of their more stinging losses in a season that’s seen plenty of them. Sunday was also the latest episode of the Mariners offering glimpses of a reverse course from hovering around .500 for nearly the entire year. But it won’t carry weight until they string wins together for an elongated period.

Yet for this stretch leading into the All-Star break -- against Tampa Bay, San Francisco and Houston, all teams occupying playoff spots -- it’s a step in the right direction. They entered the break last year on a 14-game win streak that, in many ways, helped propel them to the postseason.

“I talked to our guys earlier today; we've had teams that have limped into the break and we've had teams like last year's team that just took off going into the break,” manager Scott Servais said.

What stood out on Sunday wasn’t that the offense broke out against a World Series contender; it was that it did so after falling into a massive -- and early -- hole.

Sunday marked the Mariners’ first comeback of at least five runs since their epic Game 2 win in last year’s AL Wild Card Series in Toronto, and their first in the regular season since July 26, 2021, against Houston, arguably their biggest win that year. They trailed by seven in each.

“I saw a lot of Steady Eddy guys, to be honest with you,” said catcher Tom Murphy, who reached base in all four plate appearances and crushed his second homer of the series. “This isn't the first time this season that this has happened. ... I think the best thing you can do in this situation is remain level. I think that's something we really did today, and it showed in the end that it pays off.”

The formula was patience and persistence, for both Seattle’s bats and Luis Castillo, who despite possessing plus stuff, had fallen into the five-run hole. 

“La Piedra,” who was named the club’s lone All-Star on Sunday, surrendered solo homers to Randy Arozarena and Isaac Paredes, both on pitcher’s pitches, then was the victim of an aggressive approach from Tampa Bay in the third, when they swung at 22 of his 28 offerings, batted around and posted a four-spot.

But the Mariners immediately responded with four runs of their own. Julio Rodríguez and Ty France ripped consecutive doubles, then France reached third base after a nasty collision with Paredes, who was attempting to field a grounder from Teoscar Hernández on a would-be putout but was instead forced to exit. Jarred Kelenic followed with an RBI double to the opposite field and Mike Ford ripped a two-run single to make it a one-run game.

In the interim, Castillo retired 11 of his final 12 batters after surrendering his final run.

Murphy’s homer in the sixth tied the game, then Seattle loaded the bases in the seventh for Caballero, who drew the HBP on the first pitch. Moreover, he rebounded from committing a costly error that sparked the Rays’ rally in the third.

“I don't often do it, but sometimes just go put your arm around the player and say, 'Hey, check yourself. You're going to have a chance to win the game,’” Servais said. “And lo and behold, he's standing at the plate with the bases loaded.”

The season is only one game beyond the halfway point. But at 40-42, with six teams ahead of them in the AL Wild Card standings and with the chance to build confidence this week against the Giants (46-37) and Astros (46-38), there’s a platform for the Mariners to lean into the messaging from Friday’s meeting and emerge in the second half on an upward swing.

“We have to lean on each other a lot, but I think this group knows what we're capable of,” France said. “We're a really good baseball team. We just haven't been consistent this year.”