Veteran Haniger plays hero on rookie's big day

Mariners' longest-tenured player has walk-off hit, fires up teammates

August 27th, 2022

SEATTLE -- The day was all about Julio Rodríguez and the bright future ahead after the rookie agreed to a megadeal guaranteeing $210 million. But the night ended on the shoulders of Seattle’s longest-tenured player.

Mitch Haniger delivered a game-winning, walk-off single in the bottom of the 11th inning that catapulted the Mariners to a thrilling, 3-2 victory over the Guardians on Friday night, in a game featuring all the ingredients to a postseason recipe.

These teams in many ways mirror each other for their stellar defense, solid pitching, just enough offense and late-inning magic. If the season ended Friday, Seattle would visit Cleveland in the Wild Card Series to begin the postseason as the Nos. 6 and 3 seeds, respectively. All of those attributes were on display in front of a ticketed 39,870 at T-Mobile Park.

“We’re trying to make the playoffs, trying to win a World Series,” Haniger said. “And it’s been a blast to play in front of these fans.”

For the second straight game, it was Haniger who drove in the decisive run, this time via a 106 mph screaming line drive into right field that scored automatic runner Dylan Moore from second base. Moore had a great read on the play and easily beat the throw from right fielder Oscar Gonzalez after it wasn’t cut off by infielder Owen Miller.

Haniger also had a huge double in the bottom of the ninth; he swam around a tag by second baseman Andrés Giménez after the throw from left field that should have recorded an out. The walk-off heroics stole the show, but it was after the double when Haniger exhibited far more raw emotion -- fists clenched, on one knee and screaming at the home dugout.

These moments underscored how much Haniger means to the Mariners after missing three-plus months with a high ankle sprain, but also, how much this playoff chase means to Haniger. The 31-year-old veteran has been here since 2017 -- before the roster teardown, through the player-development period that followed, and on the other side of the rebuild. He’ll be a free agent at season’s end, whether it be after the regular season’s final day or deeper into October.

And in a year in which he’s visibly more open, less guarded and simply enjoying the ride, he’s bridging the intensity of his bar-none work ethic with the energy of his teammates and the fans.

"I feel like I've gotten knocked for being a little bit robotic, and rightfully so,” Haniger said. “But I want to win. I want to win just as much as anybody in this entire building. So absolutely. Big, close games, I'm going to get fired up."

Haniger is hitting .319/.380/.514 (.894 OPS) since returning from the injured list on Aug. 6, showing just how valuable his presence has been to a lineup that at times has lacked punch. He also had a three-run homer in Seattle’s 3-1 win in Thursday’s series opener.

But what’s gone unseen to the public has been the exhaustive work he put into returning from the ankle injury that he said was so painful it felt like he broke his leg. Haniger, widely viewed as perhaps the hardest-working players in Seattle's clubhouse, was so determined to keep his timing at the plate that he began taking swings from one knee on a recovery scooter.

“I'm extremely happy for him, moreso just as a friend and just as a person on a human level,” said Marco Gonzales, the Mariners’ longest-tenured pitcher. “I mean, you see this guy bust his tail every single day and really have some bad luck with his injuries. And so to see him come back with kind of a vengeance to prove that he is that type of player, that he’s the All-Star caliber player that we've seen in the past, I'm just happy for him as a friend.”

The high expectations that Haniger has for himself mirror the expectations he has for the team. Even during the Mariners’ rebuild in 2019-20 and when they were the surprise team in '21, he always stated that the goal isn’t to just reach the postseason, but to win the whole thing.

“Like I've said many times, the goal is to win the World Series,” Haniger said, “and to get this group to the playoffs and win the World Series. And I’m just happy to be back on the field contributing.”