So the Mariners do remember how to win.
Excuse them for taking so long. Excuse them for losing eight consecutive games. Excuse them for needing 13 stressful innings to avoid a ninth straight “L.” When the “W” side of your record gets stuck like that, it takes a while to loosen it.
The catastrophe is over, however. And while the daily grind of baseball dictates the Mariners can’t make too much of this one, stress-relieving game, they shared a collective exhale, and joyous screams filled a rambunctious clubhouse late Sunday afternoon.
This wasn’t just another win. This was a defibrillator. This was huge.
Just ask Jason Bay, who delivered the winning hit in a 4-3 victory over American League West front-runner Texas.
“It’s probably bigger than people will let on,” said Bay, who went 2 for 3 after entering the game in the ninth inning to pinch-hit for Michael Saunders.
Bay couldn’t pretend to be the macho baseball player with the short memory. He couldn’t let a long season obstruct the significance of a small accomplishment.
As the game wore on, as the intensity and competitiveness rose, as the Mariners showed the fight and desire to end their skid, it turned into a game Seattle had to have. The Mariners couldn’t endure a heartbreaking loss similar to the ones they had in Cleveland that put them in this funk. They needed to be rewarded for their resiliency, and they needed to receive it on this day.
Losing streaks are mighty stubborn. Potent, too. This one took all the Mariners had to defeat it. It required veterans visiting the fountain of youth with empty growlers in hand. It tested everything good about a Mariners team that, on paper, is much better than its 21-29 record.
The game began as another potential letdown. Hisashi Iwakuma gave up a leadoff home run to Rangers shortstop Jurickson Profar. Texas added another run in the second inning, and it felt like the Mariners were about to abuse Iwakuma in the same manner that they had Felix Hernandez on Saturday night.
But Iwakuma settled in and didn’t allow another run. He wound up pitching eight quality innings and striking out eight. Still, the score stayed 2-0 into the sixth inning, and the “When Will This Team Win Again?” thought entered the mind. If Hernandez and Iwakuma couldn’t stop the bleeding, the fear was the losing streak would reach double digits.
Kendrys Morales had other thoughts. He hit a two-run homer off Nick Tepesch to tie the score. And for the next seven innings, you witnessed a good and tense baseball game, full of clutch performances by pitchers and hitters, stellar defensive plays and late-season drama in May.
In the top of the 11th inning, A.J. Pierzynski singled to left field, scoring Elvis Andrus, to give Texas a 3-2 lead. And in the bottom of that inning, Raul Ibanez hit a homer to right field to tie the score. To end the dramatic 11th, Texas outfielder David Murphy made a leaping catch to rob Bay of a possible walkoff homer.
It all led to the decisive 13th inning. First, Mariners reliever Yoervis Medina worked his way out of a jam with runners on first and third with one out. And in the bottom of the 13th, Morales doubled, his third hit in six at-bats, before Bay drove him in with a broken-bat single to left field.
The Mariners’ celebration, playful and exuberant, proved how much they needed this victory.
The veterans Bay, Morales and Ibanez came through. Medina, a 24-year-old receiving his first opportunity, earned his first win in the majors and led a strong performance from an exhausted bullpen (five innings, one run). And Iwakuma kept the Mariners in the game after a slow start.
“I think everybody, collectively, in the dugout felt the sense of urgency,” Bay said.
It was the kind of all-in effort that the Mariners promised before the season began. They said that fans would get their money’s worth this season, that the team would fight until the umpires walked off the field. At times, they’ve played so poorly that you’d like to request a refund.
Not in this game. They lived up to their preseason promise.
“I feel good for them,” manager Eric Wedge said. “It’s been a tough week.”
Here’s hoping it doesn’t take more eight-game losing streaks to see this team’s virtue. If it does, random 13-inning games will seem more like punishment than a revival. But for now, the Mariners can breathe again and continue the long process of getting out of the hole they’ve created.
“They’re grinding,” Wedge said. “They’re fighting. They’re not giving in to it.”
Now there is evidence to support Wedge’s claim.