Leaning back in a chair in his office on Sunday morning, Scott Servais was asked if Saturday’s stink still lingered 12 hours later.
When you allow 18 runs, 19 hits and six home runs — all in your third consecutive loss — does that negativity chase you from one game to the next?
“You ain’t putting that one away,” the Mariners’ manager said with a pained laugh, referring to Saturday’s 18-4 shellacking by the Minnesota Twins. “Yeah, when you play a long game like that, quick turnaround today, there’s a lot of things going through your mind – what you need to do differently, how can you talk to this player or that player, lineup construction, who’s available in our bullpen. It’s kind of nonstop right now.
“You’re just trying to get our guys back in a good position to win a ballgame today and go from there. I wish I could walk away from it. Nights like last night are not easy.”
Days like Sunday are a whole lot easier. Trailing the aforementioned Twins 3-1 in the bottom of the fifth inning, shortstop J.P. Crawford led off with a double to the wall in left field. After Mallex Smith struck out and Dee Gordon lined out, Mitch Haniger jumped on a first-pitch 94 mph fastball from Kyle Gibson, sending a rocket over the fence in left-center to tie the score. Gibson knew it, too; the moment Haniger made contact, the veteran pitcher yelled as if the ball was about to carom off his cranium.
Or maybe Gibson just knew what was about to happen next. On a 2-1 count, hefty lefty Daniel Vogelbach cracked a running fastball over the wall in right-center for a homer of his own. The Mariners (22-26) went on to secure a 7-4 win in the series finale.
“I was looking for something out over the plate and put a good swing on it and luckily it got a barrel and went out,” said Vogelbach, who finished 2 for 3 with two runs scored, an RBI, a homer and a walk. “I just try to do the same thing every time I’m up there – get a good pitch to hit, and whatever happens after that is out of my control.”
But let’s be clear: The entire fifth inning was not welcome relief for Servais’ weary soul. The Twins scored all three of their runs in the top of the frame, capitalizing on the 2019 Mariners’ trademark combination of inconsistent pitching and pitiful defense.
Starter Yusei Kikuchi – who had escaped the first four innings unscathed – walked Luis Arraez and Byron Buxton to lead off the fifth. He frantically fielded a Jorge Polanco bunt and whipped a throw wide of first baseman Edwin Encarnacion and down the first-base line. Arraez scored, and so did Buxton on a fielder’s choice a play later.
To make matters worse, Crawford booted an Eddie Rosario grounder with two outs, plating Polanco from third. The Twins scored three runs on two walks, two errors and one hit — which was, of course, a bunt.
Servais ain’t putting that half-inning away, either.
But perhaps he’ll take solace in a handful of bright spots for the Mariners. Take Kikuchi, for example. Despite that unfortunate fifth inning, the Mariners’ 27-year-old rookie lefty allowed just five hits and one earned run in six innings, walking two and striking out six. He has surrendered just six earned runs over 17 2/3 innings in his last five starts, striking out 26 while walking only six.
“(It was) an outstanding outing by Yusei Kikuchi again. He’s on a really good roll,” Servais said. “I thought he made some nice adjustments in how we went after them. The Twins have been killing the baseball, and he made some adjustments today.”
Or did he? Kikuchi (3-1) said that his success on Sunday hinged not on what he changed, but what he didn’t.
“For the past three days I saw them as a hot-hitting team right now; they’re really strong against the fastball,” Kikuchi said through a translator. “My strong point is actually my fastball, too, so it doesn’t mean I’m not going to throw it. I was just trying to kind of overwhelm them with my fastball.”
Reliever Brandon Brennan did the same, striking out three in two scoreless innings. Roenis Elias allowed two hits and a run in the ninth, before coaxing outfielder Jonathan Schoop into a deep fly out on the warning track to end the game.
The Mariners took their first lead of the series in the fourth inning Sunday, when Edwin Encarnacion and Domingo Santana laced back-to-back doubles. And, speaking of Encarnacion, the 36-year-old veteran’s home-run parrot trot made an appearance in the seventh inning, when its owner extended his mighty arms and sent a three-run dinger into the left field seats to extend the Mariners’ lead to 7-3.
Encarnacion finished 3 for 4 with three RBI and two runs scored, and he made a pair of diving catches at first base as well.
“What a game by EE, Edwin Encarnacion,” Servais said. “Putting the EE in the lineup card every day is fun, but he’s a pro. He hadn’t played a ton of first base before this season in his recent career. It was a really good effort out there, quality at-bats. The home run was our friend today, and he got a big one at the end to give us a little cushion.”