The Miracle Mariners Made It To The ALDS

I gotta tell ya, this weekend felt like a surreal dream! The Mariners shut out the Blue Jays on Friday afternoon, then my girlfriend and I found the perfect house that had been saving itself especially for us. On Saturday, the Mariners blew it early – giving up an 8-1 deficit to the Blue Jays – and as we discussed submitting an offer on the house with our Realtor, that’s when the comeback commenced. We pulled off the comeback as I was on the road listening on the radio, and later that night we got word that our offer was accepted. In one fell swoop, the Mariners swept the Blue Jays to make it to the American League Divisional Series, AND we got a house! What am I more happy about? I’m pleading the Fifth, but let’s say both events are life-changing and make me happier than I’ve ever been.

There is, of course, more to do. The Mariners have a supremely difficult 5-game series with the Astros to look forward to. And we have our home inspection tomorrow afternoon (ensuring I’m likely to miss the end of this M’s game as well). The rest of this month is sure to be a rollercoaster!

Friday was the game we HAD to have. We all knew it. We all knew it because we saw the writing on the wall with Robbie Ray. Spoiler alert: that writing would prove to be correct. Bottom line is: no one wanted to go into Game 2 needing a quality start from one of our most inconsistent starters over the bulk of this season. Note I didn’t say “one of our worst”. That might be Marco, but at least Marco is pretty consistent. You know what you’re going to get – more often than not – from Marco. With Ray, it could be 7 shutout innings, or he could fail to get out of the second; it’s a total crapshoot.

With that in mind, it was beyond a relief to see Luis Castillo come in and dominate from the jump. What’s interesting is that he didn’t necessarily kill them with unhittable stuff. He just killed them with stuff that led to relatively weak contact. He only finished with 5 strikeouts, but three of them came in the 7th inning (when it looked like he was emptying the tank). He finished the game having gone 7.1 innings, 6 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks, 5 K’s. It was a masterful performance!

But, he left with a runner on first (hitting George Springer on the wrist in his final AB). That brought Andres Munoz into the game to mop up; he got a fly-out and a ground-out against two of the best Blue Jays hitters (Bo Bichette and Vlad Guerrero Jr.) to keep them scoreless. Then, Munoz returned in the bottom of the 9th to make quick work of things, giving up a harmless double in the process.

The offense got things going early against one of the better starters in the league in Alek Manoah. He hit Julio to lead off the game, a France groundout moved Julio over to second, Suarez doubled to right to score our first run, and then Cal Raleigh immediately followed with a 2-run homer to make it 3-0 before the Blue Jays even got up to bat. That was it until the fifth inning, when Julio was hit a second time, advanced on a France single the other way, and scored on a Suarez fielder’s choice. 4-0, final score.

That was a relief! It was nice knowing that no matter what happened on Saturday, there’d still be a game on Sunday, where Logan Gilbert would square off against whoever the third-best starter is on the Jays. But, no need! This actually sets things up really well for the Astros series (we need all the help we can get), allowing us to potentially throw Gilbert twice if need be.

The offense REALLY struggled to get going on Saturday. We had a decent opportunity in the first again, but couldn’t push anyone home. France reached on an error and Cal walked, but Haniger struck out to end the threat.

Ironically enough – when it came to Robbie Ray – he looked kind of dialed in through the first three at-bats of the game. Two strikeouts and a weak grounder by Vlad gave us all a false sense of security that things would be fine. That proved not to be in the second inning, when he gave up a meatball 2-run home run to Teoscar Hernandez. He gave up an RBI single in the third, and by that point it looked like he was done. Scott Servais, nevertheless, trotted him back out for the fourth inning, and he gave up a leadoff home run to Hernandez (his second of the day) before getting pulled.

I was convinced that extra run might mean something, but after Brash got an inning of work under his belt, he gave way to Sewald in the fifth, who gave up 4 earned runs in 0.2 innings of work. Just a nightmare scenario. We managed to finally get a hit and break through with a run in the top of the fifth (thanks to a Kelenic sac fly RBI), but it was 8-1 by the time the bottom half concluded.

We finally chased Kevin Gausman in the sixth (I missed all of this). He gave up back-to-back-to-back singles to load the bases, before striking out Haniger and getting a weak pop-out from Adam Frazier (who, in his career, has notoriously beaten Gausman like a red-headed stepchild). Hindsight being what it is, you wonder why they didn’t leave Gausman in there to face Santana (he was only at 95 pitches). To be fair, Santana hit a rocket of a double in the fifth that missed being a 2-run home run by inches, so maybe that was fresh in the manager’s mind.

Anyway, a wild pitch by the reliever is the only reason why Santana didn’t go on to hit a grand slam. Regardless, it was a 3-run home run (4 runs scored total that inning) to bring the game to an 8-5 score in this now battle of the bullpens. Matt Festa went 1.1 innings of relief, with Penn Murfee relieving him in the bottom of the seventh, giving up an inherited runner in the process. So, it was 9-5 when all hell broke loose.

Top of the eighth: Suarez led off with a double, Raleigh singled to center to make it 9-6. Haniger and Frazier both singled to load the bases, where Santana and Dylan Moore (who had relieved Kelenic) both struck out. With two outs, J.P. Crawford swung at a first-pitch slider that flared into center. Both Bichette and Springer sprinted for the ball, but neither really had a chance for it (maybe if Bichette gave way, Springer could’ve dove for it, but the replay I saw made that appear to be an impossibility). Since there were two outs, everyone was running on the ball, and all three ended up scoring, as Crawford landed on second base. Springer had to exit the game after that, almost certainly with some sort of head injury upon running into his teammate. But, we had a brand new ballgame. 9-9.

Munoz took over in the eighth, struggling a bit, but ultimately kept it scoreless in a heroic effort. That’s two insanely important games in a row – against the teeth of the Blue Jays’ lineup – and he got zeroes on the board.

Raleigh doubled in the top of the ninth, sandwiched around a couple of outs. All hope was not lost, though, as Frazier doubled him home for the 10-9 lead. All that was left was the save.

To this point, we had used Ray (3 innings), Brash, Sewald (2 outs), Castillo (1 out), Festa (4 outs), Murfee (2 outs), and Munoz. There were only three other pitchers on the roster, and one of them was George Kirby. While I know he’s been relegated to a bullpen role – at least for this series, if not for the entire playoffs – I don’t think this is the spot we necessarily envisioned for his first-ever playoff appearance.

Yet, he got three outs, only giving up a harmless walk, and the celebration was on. Blue Jays fans were justifiably stunned, as were Mariners fans, if I’m being honest. The Rally Shoe is apparently a thing now (because some fan – or possible mental patient – put a shoe on his head that was caught by a TV camera during the viewing party at T-Mobile Park); I will not be participating in the Rally Shoe phenomenon, because I don’t want to put a dirty-ass shoe on my head.

Anyway, what a wonderful dream of a weekend! The ALDS starts for us tomorrow at just after 12:30pm. Game 1 Tuesday, Game 2 Thursday (both in Houston), then Game 3 and Game 4 are in Seattle Saturday and Sunday (with a potential Game 5 on Monday, with no off-day for travel).

As fun as this is, this is probably the end of the road for the Mariners. We might steal a game or two, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the Astros sweep us. The talent disparity is pretty severe. Plus, they’ve had all this time off and can slot their starters accordingly. We’ll get one game out of Luis Castillo, but probably not two. Not with Game 2 being on Thursday (better chance if it landed on Wednesday); that would put him on 3-days rest for a potential Game 5, if we make it that far.

I expect us to go Gilbert, Castillo, Ray in the first three games. That would put Ray in T-Mobile Park, which is far more ideal than him pitching in Houston. That slots Gilbert to start on Sunday on 4 days’ rest. Or, we could save him for Monday on normal rest and throw Gonzales either Saturday or Sunday. As always, I think it’ll depend on how the first couple of games go. We might have to reshuffle everything depending on how big a hole we dig ourselves.

While I’ll say that I’m officially betting the Taylor Family Farm on the Astros winning this series, it wouldn’t be totally unthinkable for the Mariners to shock the world. It’s only a 5-game series. If our pitching is on point – and I mean REALLY on point – we could steal enough games to move on. I don’t think we’ll be winning any 10-9 type shootouts, though!

We’ll see! I never like playing the Just Happy To Be There card, because I don’t believe this team is just happy to be there. But, as a fan, making the playoffs was the goal. Reaching the ALDS feels like gravy. We’re playing with house money. We got beyond the meaningless drivel that is the Wild Card series, and now we’re into the traditional (quote/unquote) baseball playoffs. The one I grew up with, not necessarily the one my father or grandfather grew up with.

It’s nice to be there. It’s nice to be in the mix with the other divisional winners (the Astros, Yankees, and Guardians – who swept the Rays in part by winning a game in 15 innings 1-0). We have just as much pitching as anyone, therefore we have just as much of a chance to prevail as anyone.

Now that the pressure is off. Now that everyone believes the Astros will prevail (and probably win it all), let’s go out there and have fun and maybe spoil everyone’s bets!

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