The Mariners Honor Team Tradition, Mounting Late-Game Rally to Board ALDS Train

© John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The history of the Seattle Mariners, as famously documented by Jon Bois and crew, is rife with bizarre, inexplicable, and downright hilarious episodes. But the most memorable of all, the one representative of the team’s scrappiness and tenacity, has to be The Double, Edgar Martinez’s famous hit in the bottom of the 11th that sent the Mariners to their first ever Championship Series in 1995, capitalized, given a Wikipedia article, and revered ever since.

The point is, the Mariners are no strangers to comebacks. They’ve been underdogs their entire existence; to them, surprise victories might as well be regular ones. A pinch-hit, walk-off home run from Cal Raleigh to clinch the team’s first playoff berth in two decades? Thrilling, yes, but just another day in the office. That pitted them against the Blue Jays, who before the series began were deemed favorites. But manager Scott Servais knew. “Expect the expected,” he said in an interview last Thursday, stressing the importance of preparation in an unfavorable situation.

At one point in Game 2, the Mariners were down 8–1. For the do-or-die Blue Jays, everything had gone according to plan; it looked like they would live to fight another day. Then the spirit of the Mariners awoke from its slumber. Ten combined runs later, the dust had settled. The final score: Seattle 10, Toronto 9. In the heat of the postseason, the Mariners authored another scorching come-from-behind win, with the Blue Jays their latest victim.

How innocuously it all began. With Kevin Gausman on the mound for the Blue Jays and Robbie Ray for the Mariners, we first got to enjoy some quality pitching. In the top of the first, Gausman struck out two batters and allowed only Raleigh to reach base on a walk (so did Ty France, but on a fielding error from Santiago Espinal). Moments later, Ray nabbed two swinging strikeouts and a groundout. So far, so peaceful. But in the bottom of the second, the game’s first cracks appeared, as Ray began leaking his pitches over the plate. Alejandro Kirk doubled, then Teoscar Hernández blasted a baseball to deep left field:

Ray managed to escape the inning without further harm, but that proved to be a mere respite. When he got back to work, Espinal led off with a double, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. drove him in with a single to center. And when Hernández hit another homer, this time to lead off the fourth, the Mariners had had enough. Matt Brash replaced Ray, who stopped just short of being outed as a double agent, and put out the fire.

But wait – it got even worse for the Mariners. It was Paul Sewald who was tasked with the fifth inning and beyond, which is odd considering they were down by four runs, but understandable when you realize their starter went just three innings. What happened next can only be described as ugly, bad, no-good baseball. This wasn’t a battle between Sewald and the Blue Jays. This was a battle between Sewald the Idea and Sewald the Man. The former is a lights-out reliever in perfect command of an advanced fastball and slider, concocted by Mariners pitching analysts in a lab buried in the depths of T-Mobile Park; the latter is a mere mortal who occasionally appears and has no idea where his pitches are going.

You can guess which version of Sewald the Mariners received on Saturday. The Blue Jays scored their fifth run on a passed ball with the bases loaded, then their sixth when Hernández bore the brunt of a hit by pitch. A sacrifice fly made it a seven run deficit for Seattle, and a double made it eight. When Diego Castillo entered the game to put Sewald out of his misery, Toronto’s chances of winning this pivotal game stood at 99.0%.

Ninety-nine percent.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s back up for a moment. While chaos ensued around him, Gausman was in the midst of an admirable performance. Sure, a single-double-sac fly sequence allowed one Mariner run to score, but he entered the sixth with seven strikeouts and a manageable pitch count. How did things go south from there? I’m glad you asked:

The honorary Frenchman hit a single, which under normal circumstances wouldn’t sound alarm bells. But it’s Gausman who’s on the mound, and he’s spent this season as the unluckiest pitcher around. To wit, his .363 BABIP allowed is the highest of any qualified starting pitcher post-integration, and that’s including the 60-game weirdness from 2020. Bloop hits and shallow line drives had driven Gausman to the ground all year long, and October was no exception. Following France’s lead, Eugenio Suárez hit his own single, as did Raleigh to load the bases with no outs. It indeed pours when it rains for Gausman, but he maintained his composure, striking out Mitch Haniger on six consecutive splitters and getting Adam Frazier to pop out.

The Blue Jays then went with Tim Mayza to face Carlos Santana, which sparked a bit of controversy. In a little over 2,000 career plate appearances facing lefties, Santana, a switch-hitter, has been notably better against them (125 wRC+) than righties (113 wRC+). Toronto must have had its reasons, but they were undone by a single swing:

Surprisingly, not much happened in the seventh. Mayza and Yimi Garcia combined to retire the side in order. A Danny Jansen single tacked on another run for Toronto, but the entire process, for once, resembled a functional baseball game. And while the Mariners had made a valiant effort, it still seemed like the Blue Jays had a clear path to victory. A four-run lead as the home team entering the top half of the eighth represents a 96.9% win probability, because teams realistically do not make up that large of a deficit in such a limited number of opportunities.

We’re now in the final chapter of this bazonkers game.

Anthony Bass is not some random reliever with a strike-throwing problem. He’s good! He had a 1.54 ERA this season. But, well, there are days when one allows consecutive hits without sporting any visible defects, and the Mariners simply made contact, tacking on a run and cutting their deficit to three. Because Bass failed to earn a single out, Jordan Romano came into the game earlier than expected, inheriting two baserunners. The Blue Jays’ closer started off by allowing another baserunner and potentially spelling disaster, but he recovered, striking out the next two batters. But the crisis wasn’t averted; it was merely delayed:

What a devastating minute for Toronto. While Bo Bichette got back to his feet, the collision resulted in George Springer exiting the game. More than allowing all three Mariners to score, though, the incident seemed to suck all the life out of the Rogers Centre. The game was tied, effectively halving the Blue Jays’ odds of survival, but they might as well have been zero. Despite Andrés Muñoz’s inability to find the zone, the top of Toronto’s somber and defeated order couldn’t muster a single run. Meanwhile, the Mariners immediately seized the moment: Raleigh doubled off Romano in the top of the ninth, as did Frazier to score the go-ahead run. George Kirby took the mound in the bottom half of the inning, ending the game on a fly ball that landed, rather fittingly, in the glove of Julio Rodríguez. Thus concluded one of the greatest comebacks in postseason baseball history. Chart, please:

The Double is the defining moment of Mariners history, but it might not have happened if not for a less-heralded yet equally enthralling rally. In Game 4 of the 1995 ALDS, the Mariners mounted a five-run comeback against the Yankees to force that decisive fifth game. For years, it stood as the largest postseason comeback win in franchise history – that is, until last night’s game. But in the context of a team on the ropes for half a century, it feels more like a progression of sorts than an upset. And it calls into question the definition of a comeback: Does it count as one if this is precisely how the Mariners grab onto success, however fleeting it may be?

In the days to follow, the emphasis could fall on the word “fleeting.” The Mariners will have to replicate their magic against the Astros, an even scarier squad than the Blue Jays, over the course a five-game series. They will enter the ring as not just the underdog, but to some, a mere stepping stone for a clearly superior team. As much as logic says to bet on Houston, however, we can’t count out the Mariners just yet. Not after their tumultuous history. Not after their multiple come-from-behind wins. And most of all, not after this game, in which they seemed inevitable.

Justin is a contributor at FanGraphs. His previous work can be found at Prospects365 and Dodgers Digest. His less serious work can be found on Twitter @justinochoi.

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Ashburn Alley
1 year ago

Mariners have little chance against the Astros but it would be fun if they somehow knocked out the team that loves to cheat.

1 year ago
Reply to  Ashburn Alley

They already knocked out their first Astro from that banging scheme squad. I mean, technically Bichette knocked Springer out, but it was a Mariners fly ball that led him there.