When a team is doing well, it can often be a bit of a measuring stick for how well they are doing when they play a team that is, at least on the surface, better. The Yankees now sit with the second best record in the AL, a half game back of the ‘Stros (pending their game later tonight), and have arguably the best player in baseball right now in Aaron Judge, who has had a monster league lead . 7.1 fWAR coming into tonight’s game. The Seattle Mariners beat those Yankees tonight 4-3, winning the game and the series, and ends up with a 4-2 record against them in the season series.
To beat a team like the Yankees you have to have your team show up and bring their best. Yesterday’s game was the perfect example. An electric, locked-in throw was just one part of the recipe. It wasn’t until the bottom of the thirteenth inning when the offense finally showed up in a real way, the batter became complete enough for the Yankees to see the Mariners rise above them in walk-off fashion.
But that was last night’s game, and after the late innings heroics, the Mariners should dig deep today. The pitching, the offense, the defense. They all needed to show up. Mostly, that’s what Robbie Ray did. If you look at his pitching chart above, it’s not the prettiest. That’s reflected in some of his stat line, as he ended up issuing five walks in total, sometimes obviously throwing very carefully around some of the Yankees’ most powerful hitters (Judge in particular), and not getting them to chase like he would have. wanted
All in all, it wasn’t a terrible strategy. Through six scoreless innings he kept New York limited to just two singles in the second, and struck out seven. It was a boon because Seattle needed him to go deep, with a depleted bullpen. That’s why even though he was already at 96 pitches, he came out to work the seventh. He was effective, and New York sent up their 7-8-9 hitters. It started off pretty well, with him able to get Miguel Andújar to ground out on four pitches.
When Isiah Kiner-Falefa came along next, Ray’s luck began to turn. He wasn’t gassed because he was still hitting 94, 95 with his fastballs, but he just wasn’t fooling anybody. Kiner-Falefa turned an 0-2 count around into a walk. Then backup catcher Kyle Higashioka sent a 3-2 two-seamer at the edge of the zone over the fence in left-center, giving the Yankees a 2-1 lead. That ended Ray’s night at 115 pitches, 61 for strikes, five walks, seven strikeouts, and two earned runs on just three hits. Penn Murfee came in for relief, and after getting LeMahieu to fly out, Aaron Judge only needed the first pitch to do what Aaron Judge does best and hit it into the bleachers and expand the Yankees lead even further to 3-1.
The Yankees took the lead in the top of the seventh, chasing Ray, but they weren’t the first on the scoreboard. It was no easy task for the Mariners to score first though, as opposing pitcher Nestor Cortes was absolutely locked out. Cortes worked a no-hitter into the sixth inning, and MLB alerted baseball fans through its websites and social media. After last night’s opening pitching duel, it was both glorious and desperate to watch a repeat of stellar pitching and unrepentant offense for the second game in a row. Cortes struck out eight batters going into the sixth inning, and finished with ten on the night, generating a whopping 18 whiffs, or 38% of all pitches thrown.
Maybe it was because he had already struck out Haggerty once in the game that he wasn’t worried about him in the sixth. Perhaps he simply forgot about the fact that his team had intentionally walked Haggerty twice the night before because of the threat he proved to be. Or maybe a working no-no raised his confidence, and maybe his hubris. Whatever the reason, when he hung a 93.9 MPH fastball well in the zone, it was all Sam needed to send it 105 MPH off the bat over the left field wall, his fourth home run of the year.
It’s entirely possible, even likely, that Sam Haggerty will regress. Nowadays, he earns that folk hero status. Through ninety-six at-bats, he now has the highest OPS on the Seattle Mariners. Period. Active or injured, qualified or small sample sizes, he leads them all with a .911. That OPS is higher than anyone in the Yankees lineup tonight that wasn’t named Aaron Judge. His .323 average is better than any of those same Yankees, this time with Judge included. Ham Swaggerty, indeed.
I mentioned earlier though that it would take a team coming out full to beat a team like the Yankees, and the runs they scored in the top of the seventh proved that. Holding one of the league’s best offenses to just three runs and four hits wouldn’t be enough to win with just a few heroes. I’ve said it this season before, and I’ll keep saying it until it’s no longer true. The Seattle Mariners are a team made up of heroes.
It’s true, sometimes heroes lose. Going into the bottom of the seventh, the Mariners offense was losing against Cortes with the exception of that lone Haggerty home run. They would lose no more. Ty France led off the inning with a single to right field, bringing in Mitch Haniger. After Higashioka let a passed ball bounce off his tackle, Ty France advanced to second. Mitch Haniger, beloved Mitch Haniger, who looked like he never left, recognized his heroic moment. He hit a sharp liner to left field for a single, and brought France home to put the Mariners within one run.
Again I say, a few heroes won’t beat a team like the Yankees. They would need a few more runs to get the lead, and they would need a thin bullpen to keep it for two more innings. After the Haniger RBI, the Yankees decided to go with a fresh arm in Albert Abreu. It worked to get the first out of the inning, as he struck out Eugenio Suárez, who has been a bit cold lately. It looked like their plan might work because next was Carlos Santana. If Eugenio was cold, then recently Santana was arctic. But when the odds go down, heroes rise. Carlos Santana, Slamtana to his enemies, did just that when he hit a bomb to right field for the two-run go ahead homer.
Speaking of feats, enter the Seattle Mariners bullpen. Diego Castillo, his first day back from the IL, came in and worked a scoreless eighth, facing the minimum and striking out Gleyber Torres. In the ninth, it was Paul Sewald who was tabbed to preserve the lead, facing the bottom of the Yankee order. He also faced the minimum and went scoreless, striking out Benintendi, and inducing playable contact to secure his 15th save of the season.
Games like tonight and series like this have a different feel to them. With less than two months of play, they can feel previews, or even tests, for what the postseason may hold, or if a team is good enough to even get there. Today, Seattle faced pressure, deficits, and overcame them. The Seattle Mariners passed that test with flying colors, proving they can go toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in baseball.