July 23, 2013 at 11:23 PM
Improbable double-play helps Mariners win 8th in a row
ADDITIONAL NOTE: Win or lose tomorrow, the good folks at Sports Radio KJR want to have another edition of The Geoff Baker Show after the game so we can discuss the important weekend series ahead as the Mariners try to close in on the .500 mark. The fun starts at 6:30 p.m. PT and runs for 90 minutes, with me taking you calls. Hope you can join us.
Not often will you see a double-play like the one the Mariners turned tonight get pulled off in such a key situation. The Cleveland Indians had runners at the corners with noody out in the ninth and looked primed to make Tom Wilhelmsen the goat once again.
But then, Yan Gomes hit a slow chopper that Kyle Seager fielded to begin a 5-4-2-6 double-play. Yep, you got that right.
The twin-killing left a lone runner at first base and Wilhelmsen struck out Michael Bourn to end a 4-3 thriller in the Mariners’ favor. I spelled it all out for you in earlier blog posts today: by getting through this Erasmo Ramirez start, the Mariners have positioned themselves to go on one of those season-changing runs.
They will try for a sweep with Joe Saunders pitching tomorrow, then have Hisashi Iwakuma and Felix Hernandez starting off the first two of four games against the Minnesota Twins — a team that is 20-30 on the road. Could the Mariners go 5-0 and run this streak to 13 games? Sure, but they don’t have to. They could very easily go 4-1 or even 3-2.
That would put them on a stretch of having gone 12-1 or 11-2 over the same 13-game stretch since this streak began. It would leave them anywhere from one-to-three-games under .500 heading off to Boston two days before the July 31 trade deadline. That is the kind of run that can change a season. Right now, the Mariners are playing with confidence and it showed on that doule-play in the ninth.
Sure, they got lucky tonight. Three Cleveland errors and a timely wild-pitch uncorked by Zach McAllister really helped the Mariners’ offense. But every streak needs some luck. That double-play needed some luck given Seattle by pinch-runner Drew Stubbs, who never should have strayed that far off third base. But do you know what? When teams get hot, they catch breaks as well.
“Things like that happened with Cleveland and for Cleveland in Cleveland,’’ Mariners interim manager Robby Thompson said of that May series in which Seattle lost four straight en route to an eight-game losing streak only now offset y this winning jaunt. “They seem to be kind of going our way now. If you remember, Cleveland had a nice little winning streak going at the time and…things just kind of snowball and go your way. And they seem to be going our way a little bit.”
Thompson said his team could have taken even more advantage than it did early on during all the Cleveland miscues. The Mariners indeed scored just once in the first inning despite being handed a good three additional outs y the poor Indians’ defense.
And they saw Kendrys Morales thrown out at home during what still became a three-run third inning. Morales should never have een waved around on a Seager single because there was nobody out in the inning and sending him was not a sure thing at that stage.
Earlier on, the Mariners would have lost games like this one after squandering chances the way they did. Before this streak, they probably would not have survived Wilhelmsen giving up consecutive singles like he did to start the ninth.
But no matter. They lived to tell about it and can look to prevent similar happenings later on.
Thompson has been around a long, long time, first as a star player with the San Francisco Giants in the 1980s and now as a coach. And he admitted he’s rarely seen double-plays like that ninth inning one with so much on the line so late.
“Not many, especially with a guy like Stubbs who can really run,” he said. “Our young guys right there, the way they executed that was quite impressive.”
Seager froze Stubbs with an initial look after running in to snag the ball, then threw across his body to second base to nab one runner on a force out. Nick Franklin took the tough throw, made sure to step on his bag for one sure out and then planned to throw on to first — despite knowing he probably wouldn’t get the double-play turned.
“With nobody out, on first and third, you need one out,” he said. “That’s just the tying run, that’s not the winning run at third, so you need just one out.”
Franklin said the key on that play was making sure Stubbs didn’t head home. Once Seager froze Stubbs with a look, Franklin assumed the runner would just hold up, even if he tried a throw over to first for an unlikely double play.
But then, he saw Stubbs inching a little too far towards the plate.
“I was kind of surprised,” Franklin said. “I didn’t actually think he was going to go home. I was still going to turn the double-play as it was and I was looking out of the corner of my eye and I saw him getting a little it too big (of a lead).”
Franklin looked at Stubbs once — which seemed to cause him to hesitate just enough to get hung-up in no-man’s land. He then threw a bullet to catcher Mike Zunino, who took over the rest.
“You have to just get him going one way,’’ Zunino said. “And then you have to get him going back to third and get him to commit one way. And then give up the ball and hopefully he’s got to put on the brakes.’’
Zunino did finally give it up, and shortstop Brad Miller took the ball and applied the tag on Stubbs after not too big a chase. That latter part was huge because it prevented the initial hitter, Gomes, from taking second as he might have during a prolonged rundown.
With no runner in scoring position to worry about, Wilhelmsen could hone in more on hitter Bourn and make the pitches he needed to for the final strikeout.
“It’s a lot of fun when things are going well,’’ Wilhelmsen said. “That’s the way things have been going lately for everybody. Everyone’s just having a great time in the clubhouse and on the field.’’
Fun indeed. A double-play by the kids turns into a play for the ages. At least for now. It’s been a while since fans here have been this excited to come to the ballpark, even if this turns out to be just a mid-season hot streak.
“When we were in Cleveland, they were playing really good baseball obviously and they got a few breaks for them,” Seager said. “But that’s what good teams do and they’re obviously a good team. This series, we’ve been playing pretty well and we’ve been able to capitalize when given the opportunities.”
This team came into the season tabbed as a .500 club that could possibly make things interesting the final two months where the second wild-card is concerned. It is on the verge of perhaps securing the first part of that billing — as long and improbable as the journey has been.
“We’re excited,” Seager said. “We have a lot of confidence in each other and that we’ve had for a while now. It’s always nice to see the results and everything because we’re playing with a lot of confidence. We’ve been swinging the bats pretty well and pitching pretty well. It’s been a lot of fun and we’re just enjoying this.”
We’ll see you at the park bright and early tomorrow.