Emotions in check, Teoscar haunts former team with walk-off

July 22nd, 2023

SEATTLE -- Earlier Friday, before the Mariners had completed a come-from-behind rally to defeat the Blue Jays, 3-2, with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning at a raucous T-Mobile Park, Seattle outfielder had a brief conversation with his manager, Scott Servais.

Servais was referring to the fact that for the second time this season, Hernández was facing the team he played for from 2017-22 while maturing into the fearsome Major League hitter the Mariners decided to trade for last offseason. In May, when Seattle visited Toronto, Hernández came back north of the border to an emotional scene, sitting through a video highlight reel the Jays had prepared and then going 2-for-12 in the series.

So it made sense that the skipper wanted some reassurance that whatever emotions might have affected Hernández up in Canada had run their course a few months later across the continent.

“He asked me to slow down a little bit now,” Hernández said with a smile. “And I said, ‘Don't worry, I'm good. I'm good this time.’”

It turned out he was very good this time.

Hernández went 3-for-5 on Friday and his last hit was the best one. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth and runners on second and third, Hernández blasted a Jordan Romano slider off the wall in right field for a long and loud single that scored José Caballero and set off the type of celebration on the field that the Mariners have been yearning for in an up-and-down season.

With the win, the Mariners inched back above the .500 mark they’ve been straddling for most of the season, improving their record to 49-48. They are 4 1/2 games behind Toronto in the AL Wild Card race and 8 1/2 games behind Texas in the AL West division standings.

“You can hopefully build some momentum going forward, because we need it,” Servais said of the win. “We haven't put a big streak together yet this year. Hopefully a game like tonight will help push us down the road with that.”

They’ll certainly take it for now. Seattle was down 2-0 and not doing much offensively through the first six innings. They had struck out eight times against their former teammate, Blue Jays starter Yusei Kikuchi, and twice more against reliever Trevor Richards.

But they chipped away in the seventh, taking advantage of a Ty France walk and AJ Pollock double when pinch-hitter Mike Ford blooped an RBI single to left field. And in the eighth, Seattle got to Jays reliever Yimi Garcia with a one-out single by Tom Murphy and a France double down the left-field line that tied the game at 2.

Mariners reliever Prelander Berroa, recalled from Double-A Arkansas two days earlier, made his Major League debut in the game, entering in the seventh and pitching two-thirds of an inning, walking three batters while striking out one and throwing a wild pitch that scored a run.

Seattle starter Bryce Miller was excellent, going 5 1/3 innings and giving up one run on three hits. He struck out six and walked two, with the only blemish being a solo home run by Toronto catcher Danny Jansen in the fifth inning.

And third baseman Eugenio Suárez helped make it all stand up with the defensive play of the game in the top of the eighth with the bases loaded and one out. Pinch-hitter Alejandro Kirk hit a slow bouncer that Suárez had to charge, and Suárez put the throw exactly where it had to be: right on the glove of second baseman Kolten Wong, who fired to France at first base for an inning-ending and game-saving double play.

“Geno has had a fantastic season defensively,” Servais said. “ I think, by analytical numbers, he’s probably the best third baseman in the American League, and it's because he's put a ton of work in.”

But at the end, most of the postgame talk rightly revolved around Hernández, who looks a lot better at the plate, with five hits in his last two games, and certainly looked a lot more comfortable against his former teammates.

“It was a lot of things going on, emotions, things that I went through,” he said of the earlier series in Toronto. “I was [over there for] six years, and it was hard for me to not think about everything that was going to happen.

“Now we're here and trying to do the best that we can. So it was easier this time around. It feels normal.”