We all knew the stakes here. A four-game set against a direct Wild Card opponent? The Guardians and White Sox – two other direct competitors – free-falling? The chance to pull ahead of the Angels even more? Don’t have to tell me twice that this is the biggest series of the year.
And yet, the overall mood before game time was fraught with trepidation, for lack of a worse word. With the series from hell that was the five-game set against Anaheim pretty fresh in our craw, many had their guard up. Can’t say I blame them, either. Remember, this wasn’t any old series. This was… the Blue Jays series. /scare chord
It’s a tale as old as time itself at this point – all of Western Canada descending on the corner of Edgar and Dave, shitting and squawking all game long. I groaned at the first “LET’S GO BLUE JAYS” chant right as Marco Gonzales fired his first pitch of the evening to Santiago Espinal, and winced as Santiago Espinal reached out at a 1-2 changeup off the plate for a base hit into center. Bo Bichette followed by fouling off pitch after pitch in another 1-2 count, and for a brief moment, my own fears about tonight crept back. Marco’s margin for error is razor-thin to begin with, let alone against a team that smacks the ball around as hard as the Jays do. On Marco’s eighth pitch of the at-bat, Bichette sent a fly ball to center field, the visiting fans went utterly wild, and…
I’ll just come out and say it, this was the first of several laughs for me tonight. Marco fielded a hard comebacker from Vlad Jr. to get a double play going, and from then on out, almost everything was coming up Mariners. Julio led off the bottom of the first with a walk, and Ty France did what Ty France was born to do, flipping the first pitch he saw since going on the injured list into right field for a base hit. JP hit into a fielder’s choice to erase France, but Carlos Santana came through to drive in his first run as a Mariner and knock opener Anthony Banda out of the game after just a third of an inning.
Although Eugenio Suárez bounced into another fielder’s choice for the second out after ex-Mariner Casey Lawrence came on, Cal Raleigh beat the shift on a ground ball with eyes that snuck under Espinal’s glove in shallow right to make it 2-0. Yeah, Suárez overslid third for the last out of the inning, but you know what? It was okay. Against these guys, any early lead is welcome.
You remember how I said earlier that things mostly came up Mariners? Yeah, the top of the second was the exception. Alejandro Kirk followed Bichette’s example and was a real thorn leading off the frame, tussling with Marco for ten pitches before flying out to left. Teoscar Hernández went down on a flyout to right four pitches later, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. harnessed some BABIP magic by way of a swinging bunt down the third base line. Old Oakland for Matt Chapman got hit by a 1-0 cutter that broke just a bit too much, and for the one time all game, the Mariners’ infield defense faltered.
Marco got Bradley Zimmer – notably the only southpaw swinger in Toronto’s lineup – on a first-pitch groundout to short-circuit any threat of more runs, but tension started rearing its ugly head. The Jays had only swung and missed once so far, it seemed like the luck dragons were on their side, and despite Lawrence’s tepid track record, he does carry a reputation as a pitch tunneling expert. Some more runs were needed, fast, and boy did the Mariners get that one back in hilarious fashion.
We’ve all seen the famous blooper of a ball bouncing off José Canseco’s head over the fence for a homer. You’ll probably also recall Kyle Seager hitting three homers in Detroit back in 2019, with the third one having a little bit of extra help. Hell, it happened to Mallex Smith in San Diego that same year (that one i am not linking). Keep all of those in mind when I tell you that this is one of the funniest plays I have ever seen.
You could watch this five times over and see something new each time. Toronto’s bullpen faces falling a thousand miles; Gurriel’s entirely relateable grimace and thousand-yard stare while tossing his glove; the fact that the ball was so clearly in the glove for about a full second… take your pick. With this play, chaos was back, babes, and the M’s powered into cruise control. Marco got through the third with little issue, a two-out single from Vlad the one blemish, and the bats came alive once more. JP poked a one-out single to left, Santana notched his first extra-base hit with Seattle via a double to the wall in right, and Ayyyyugenio redeemed himself from that error by doubling the lead.
And you thought Cal was done after driving in a run and climbing back to the Mendoza line? You’d seen nothing yet. After missing with a changeup down, Lawrence absolutely gift-wrapped a flat slider middle-middle, and our Beef Boy happily pounced, redirecting it out of the park in maybe three picoseconds.
Cal Raleigh: he’s Good! We were also treated to my new favorite dugout celebration: putting the “Cal” in Calboy.
The fourth inning featured no runs for either team, but two spectacular plays in the Mariners’ infield. Abraham Toro knocked down a wicked one-hopper for the second out…
…and JP followed that up with a spectacular diving play and throw to first to rob Chapman of a base hit. I couldn’t get a good look at Perry Hill, but I’m sure he was positively beaming.
it wasn’t that lopsided, though: the Blue Jays would legitimately get to Marco a bit in the fifth. Espinal doubled after two quick outs, Bichette drove him in and took second on the throw home. Vlad Jr. also singled to make it 7-3 until he just… stopped in between first and second? In his defense, Adam Frazier and Eugenio combined on a brilliant cutoff throw and he was dead to rights, but once again! Something funny happened! Suárez completed his single-game redemption arc, too, blasting a solo shot with two outs for his first homer since the back-to-back-to-back extravaganza in Oakland , and laying out for a diving grab for the second out of the ball of the sixth. The good vibes, they flowed endlessly.
Gonzales worked into the seventh, and for a hot second, it looked like he’d get through the frame unscathed after retiring Chapman and Gabriel Moreno on a combined five pitches, but another hit-by-pitch to Zimmer and Espinal notching his third hit of the evening ended his night. His line was nothing short of perplexing: 6.2 innings, no walks, no strikeouts, and just two swings-and-misses nearly five full innings apart. Marco, however, was unfazed. Simply put, some guys just have that dog in him.
Marco Gonzales generated just two whiffs tonight:
“That’s pretty boring. That’s who I am. … I’ve just done it this way my entire life. And I’m still here. I’m still doing it. I can’t complain. It’s great job. I ‘m going to keep doing it. So if you’re mad about it, sorry.”
— Daniel Kramer (@DKramer_) July 8, 2022
Penn Murfee was summoned to get out of the minor jam, and easily retired Bichette on the flyout. He cruised through the eighth, notching Seattle’s lone strikeout against Hernández, before Diego Castillo then came on to close out the game. Feeble, futile chants of “let’s go blue jays” could be heard, but they fell silent despite Toronto putting up a bit of a fight. One last chuckle was had thanks to a two-out base hit bouncing off Castillo’s booty – which he was completely unfazed by – and a flyout to left sealed the win. As huge as these next three games are, this triumphant charge back to .500 feels like the most significant moment of the year. The M’s have been bruised, scraped, suspended for what feels like all season. It was easy to call them dead in the water after Lollablueza 2.0 (3.0?). But since that rare? They’ve gone 12-3, rocketing up the Wild Card standings and being right in the thick of things. And as an added bonus…
Watch this space, folks. I think we’re gonna see something really cool.