The early Seattle sunshine could not mask how dark a day this was for Mariners baseball.
Their No. 3 hitter Robinson Cano – gone. Suspended and even if the Mariners were to somehow make the playoffs for the first time in 17 seasons, he wouldn’t be eligible to play.
Their No. 4 hitter Nelson Cruz – gone. Leaning on a trainer and manager Scott Servais while limping off the field after a slider struck his right foot.
Suddenly their once feared, lengthy lineup was without its two most veteran, accomplished batters.
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Then the Mariners gave up a three-run lead, by the eighth inning were trailing in a game they never should have trailed in, closer Edwin Diaz blew his second save of the season and Servais had spiked his hat into the infield dirt in disgust while berating an umpire before he was tossed from the game.
And still – the Mariners found a way.
They rallied for a pair of runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to take a lead, then Guillermo Heredia’s walk-off single scored Ryon Healy from second base in the bottom of the 11th inning for a 9-8 Mariners victory.
What a day.
The way Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger, Kyle Seager and Healy produced, it had to provide at least a glimmer of hope that maybe not all might be lost in the Mariners’ playoff hopes.
Segura had a career night.
He reached base four times, had three hits and the one time he got out, it was a fly ball to the warning track. He had the go-ahead RBI single to score Cano’s in-the-meantime replacement at second base, Gordon Beckham, in the bottom of the eighth inning and he stole four bases.
No player in Mariners history has stolen more than four bases in a game and only five others have done that, with Ichiro Suzuki (2010) being the most recent.
The Mariners improved to 24-18, winning their second consecutive game without Cano.
But this could get a bit more troubling for long-wearied Mariners fans if the organization can’t figure out how to turn their second-month adversity into something galvanizing.
And same goes for if their bullpen can’t be the deep, talented group they thought they had coming into the season.
Start with Diaz.
With one out and Jurickson Profar on second base after a single and a wild pitch, Joey Gallo, who homered earlier in the game, sent a ground ball right at Healy behind first base.
The ball struck off of Healy’s chest, but he recovered for an under-hand toss to sprinting Diaz, who just touched the base before Gallo.
Except Profar’s heads-up base-running – he charged home with Diaz’s momentum taking him off first base and Diaz wasn’t able to turn and throw with the towering Gallo still in his trot past first.
Except Servais aggressively argued that Gallo interfered with Diaz, with Servais eventually slamming his cap onto the ground. He was tossed and Manny Acta took over the managing duties the rest of the way.
But this game fell apart in the top of the eighth.
Juan Nicasio, the Mariners’ most touted offseason pitching acquisition, continued his May struggles, allowing a leadoff walk in the top of the eighth inning and then back-to-back singles with Rangers No. 9-hitter Ronald Guzman’s RBI single giving Texas a 7-6 lead.
Nicasio had recorded 18 outs since the calendar turned to May – and he’s allowed 17 hits and nine earned runs after ending April as the major-league leader in holds as the Mariners’ primary setup reliever.
But after all of that, Heredia, who would later line-drive that game-winning hit, led off the bottom of the eighth with a double and then came around to score on Beckham’s sacrifice bunt.
Rangers pitcher Jose Leclerc then threw the ball into right field trying to get Beckham as Heredia trotted across the plate to tie the game before Segura plated Beckham with his RBI single.
That was after the Rangers began tattooing Mariners starter Mike Leake in the sixth inning.
And suddenly the Mariners’ once 6-3 lead evaporated with four consecutive hits, starting with Joey Gallo’s 13th home run when he sliced it the opposite way over the left-field wall. He entered the day batting .199, but one home run off of the major-league lead.
Then back-to-back smoked doubles for Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Rougned Odor before Robinson Chirinos’ RBI single. That made it 6-6 and Mariners manager Scott Servais exited the dugout to pull Leake.
Dan Altavilla got the Mariners out of the inning – actually, Dee Gordon got them out of the inning. Gordon, the likely soon-to-be second baseman, chased down former Mariner Shin-Soo Choo’s long fly ball to the warning track in center field, slid and corralled the ball for the third out with two runners on.
But Leake’s final line took a beating: 5 1/3 innings, nine hits allowed, six runs, but no walks and two strikeouts.
And he had been staked to a 6-3 lead.
Mitch Haniger and Kyle Seager were just a couple of feet away, each, from home runs. Haniger settled for an RBI triple and Seager a bases-loaded, bases-clearing double (less than a week after his grand slam) and Ryon Healy added his eighth home run.
Haniger played his second game hitting third in the order. He’s batted second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth at different points already this season.
Not many teams can replace their No. 3-hitter with a Haniger.
But then 33-year-old Tacoma native Brandon Mann, the Mount Rainier High School graduate who was making his second career appearance, entered in what should have been a feel-good story of a career minor leaguer who spent a few seasons in Japan, too, finally playing in the big leagues and doing so against the team he grew up rooting for.
But then he hit Cruz on the right foot with a slider. Cruz walked to first base, clenching his teeth in obvious pain, before Servais and a trainer had to help him off the field.
The Mariners said Cruz suffered a right foot contusion. He had an X-ray that came back negative, but he will be re-examined on Wednesday.