The chants of Let’s Go Blue Jays! burst out with confidence and emotion, proving that Mariners fans were still outnumbered in the crowd of 41,210 at their own park.
The bad luck they had resisted for the past few weeks began to pile up on the Mariners and Diego Castillo in the ninth inning. As the tie run – Vlad Guerrero Jr. – and the go-ahead run – Alejandro Kirk – each reached individuals nowhere near the strike zone, the familiar uneasy feeling of losing a win set in.
But Castillo, working on his third game in three days, seemed unaffected by the tense playoff nature of the ninth inning on a perfect Saturday night at T-Mobile Park. He has appeared in more World Series games in his career than the Mariners have played in the postseason. Castillo coolly silenced the well-served Blue Jays fans and got the Mariners fans on their feet, working his way out of the jam and securing the Mariners a 2-1 win.
With a revised bullpen and playing a direct competitor for a wildcard spot, Castillo would be available to manager Scott Servais.
“Right now we’re fighting for the playoffs and we’re in a good position,” Castillo said. “For me, I told him, ‘I’ll be ready whenever you need me.’ I was ready.”
Seattle won the first three games of the four-game series and has now won seven straight games and 15 of their last 18. The Mariners (44-42) are two games over .500 for the first time since May 1. They have won six straight series and will sweep with right-hander Logan Gilbert on the mound on Sunday afternoon.
“It was just a different kind of big league,” Servais said. “This game is all about pitching. It was always like that and always will be like that. You saw it on both sides tonight. It will not get better.”
Indeed, the duel was between Mariners starter Robbie Ray, who had the added motivation of playing against the team he had won the American League’s Cy Young Award with last season, and defensive tackle/starting Alek Manoah Pitcher from Toronto, outstanding.
The Mariners generated just three baserunners — two walks and a Ty France double — in the first six innings.
“He was as good as advertised,” said Servais.
But Seattle finally broke through to Manoah in the seventh inning. JP Crawford led the inning with a single to center. It brought in veteran record first baseman Carlos Santana.
After struggling to catch Manoah’s fastball in his second at-bat in the mid-90s, Santana went up there looking for one. He jumped a 0-1 fastball up in the zone and hammered it off the electronic scoreboard just below the Hit It Here Cafe for his first homer as a member of the Mariners.
“HIS ball was moving a lot,” Santana said. “On the first shot he threw a lot of changes and on the second shot he threw some hard pitches. He made a mistake towards me.”
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays got to experience Ray’s version, which also throws a sinker to complement a four-seam fastball that was about 2 mph faster that night, and his devastating slider.
Ray’s last line: Six innings, one run allowed on three hits with two walks and six strikeouts.
He encountered the minimum number of hitters in the first four innings, with only Teoscar Hernandez reaching base with a single to the left. But Ray wiped him out as a base runner with a nice pickoff move to first base.
In the fifth inning, Toronto loaded the bases on Ray on a single and two walks. He walked around the man and came up with a simple plan.
“Just get angry,” he said. “In this situation, bases loaded, no one out, I just throw my best shot every time. And I just told myself to get angry.”
As the Blue Jays fans roared, Ray went on to punch Matt Chapman, get Santiago Espinal to hit a smooth pop fly to second base, and get Raimel Tapia into an inning-ending fielder choice to penetrate
Aside from grunting on every pitch, usually stoically, Ray screamed and fist pumped after carving out the kind of inning torpedoed earlier in the season.
“It was huge,” he said. “It was just a moment where everything just stopped and it was just a really cool experience.”
His only blemish came an inning later. After falling 2-0 behind George Springer early in the inning, Ray fired a 93 mph fastball on the outside corner. A nuisance for Mariners pitcher from his days with the Astros, Springer stayed on the pitch and drove him over the wall in right field for a solo homer and a 1-0 lead. It was Springer’s 16th Homer of the season and his 23rdapprox Career homer against the Mariners.
In his last six starts, Ray has a .91 ERA, allowing for four earned runs in 39 2/3 innings with 11 walks and 46 strikeouts.
After Ray finished after 95 pitches, the Mariners turned to rookie Matt Brash, who was recalled before the game and returned to the team as a backup. After pitching as the No. 5 starter in the rotation on opening day and losing the job due to lack of leadership, Brash was made a reliever at Tacoma.
Brash’s first relief appearance at the MLB level was impressive. He knocked out two of the three batters he faced in the goalless frame, including winning a 13-pitch fight with Lourdes Gurriel and showing a fastball that touched 100 mph.
Andres Munoz, who has a similar power-pitching profile to Brash, was just as dominant in the seventh, hitting two racquets in a 1-2-3 frame.
“That was playoff baseball right there,” Ray said. “A close game to the end. It was loud. And it was a lot of fun.”