It wasn’t the fight.
It feels like could have been. The brawl fits into the timeline of the Seattle Mariners’ sudden turn from afterthought to wildcard contender, a surge that includes the team’s current 14-game winning streak — the longest ever for a team going into the All-Star hiatus goes, and one just below the franchise record set in 2001.
The brawl between the Mariners and the Los Angeles Angels took place on June 26, and it might be a bit of an exaggeration to call it epic, but it was certainly one of the more controversial baseball bouts in recent years, eventually resulting in 12 suspensions. including 10 games for Angels manager Phil Nevin. However, the Mariners actually lost that day, falling to 34-40, seven games from the last wild card position.
They also lost the next day when the Baltimore Orioles beat them 9-2 in Seattle. Things were bleak. The team struggled, injuries had decimated the roster, and Seattle came close to losing Jesse Winker, JP Crawford and even Julio Rodriguez to fights by a game each. A promising season — a season that saw the Mariners seek their first postseason trip since that record-breaking 2001 season — was about to fall apart.
Instead, they’ve gone 17-1 since then, coming out of the All-Star break with the second wild card position (and 67.7% playoff odds) sandwiched between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Toronto Blue Jays.
But no, don’t trust the fight.
When asked if that was actually a reason for the Mariners’ winning streak, rookie phenom Rodriguez flashed one of his million-dollar smiles and said, “It could be. I dont know.”
“It definitely cheered the guys on, but I wouldn’t say it’s down to that,” All-Star first baseman Ty France said during celebrations at Dodger Stadium last week. “You never want to see things like that happen; it’s not baseball. But sometimes they do.
In fact, the turnaround began before the brawl when the Mariners had won five straight games. With that, the Mariners are on a 22-3 run since June 21, their best 25-game streak in the majors since Cleveland had that remarkable 22-game winning streak in 2017.
France said the turning point was a series win at home by the Angels that dropped Seattle’s record to 29-39 (at that point their playoff odds were 6%). “We kind of took a step back and realized it was later in the season and we had to get going,” said France. “We had such high expectations for this season.”
In fact, after a 90-win season, the Mariners signed Cy Young winner Robbie Ray and traded in the offseason for 2021 All-Stars Winker, Adam Frazier and slugger Eugenio Suarez. Expectations were the highest they’d had in Seattle since maybe 2010, when ESPN The Magazine’s Baseball Preview issue put the Mariners on the cover and declared, “OUTS ARE IN – AND SO ARE THE MARINERS.”
The Mariners promptly lost 101 games that season.
Welcome to Mariners Baseball, where misery usually trumps all else.
That appeared to be the case at the end of June. Early on, France had carried the offense, reaching .347 by the end of May — a time when Winker struggled, second outfielder Jarred Kelenic earned a demotion to Triple-A and Mitch Haniger landed on the injured list.
Then, on June 23, France came into conflict in a game at first base with A’s baserunner, Sheldon Neuse, and the team’s top hitter suffered what appeared to be a horrific injury.
“I thought I blew everything in my arm – shoulder, elbow,” said France. “The pain was in such a specific place and the first thing I thought about was what happened to Max Muncy last year and how much time he had to miss for it.”
France would end up missing just 12 games with an elbow strain — and with the All-Star on the injured list, the Mariners were starting to heat up. France returned for a four-game streak at home against the Blue Jays — a wild, crazy, unlikely four games that will be remembered if this season ends in a playoff berth.
“There’s been a lot of good baseball played this whole series, but some weird things have happened,” France said.
The series highlights are worth a look:
In the first game, Dylan Moore hit a home run that Jays fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. basically walked out on threw over the left field fence.
The Mariners won the second game 5-2 against Suarez Three-run homer in the 11th inning. Former Blue Jays representative Ryan Borucki, who was acquired in a trade in early June, pitched two scoreless innings for the win, escaping the Ghost Runner jam both times.
Blue Jays All-Star Alek Manoah and Ray pitched in game three before Carlos Santana won with one Two run homer in the seventh for a 2-1 win in Seattle.
Then came the wild fourth game. The Blue Jays were 4-1 up, but the Mariners scored twice in game five — only because in a potential doubles game at the end of the inning, the relay throw at first base literally went through the fabric of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s glove. They scored another run thanks to a hit batter, wild pitch, infield single off the pitcher’s glove, and sac fly. They won it 6-5 on Santana’s homer in two runs in the eighth – after Crawford came on base when Blue Jays rookie catcher Gabriel Moreno dropped a pop fly.
For once, everything went to Seattle. That four-game streak against the Blue Jays improved the Mariners’ record from 41-42 to 45-42, and they followed that up with six more wins over the Washington Nationals and Texas Rangers en route to the All-Star break.
“We got to the point where we could trust each other, that we had each other’s backs,” Rodriguez said. “Once we realized that, we started to relax and play more freely.”
Rodriguez has assisted his teammates many times throughout the season, especially during that 25-game streak where he hit .301/.365/.634 with eight homers and 22 RBIs. As of June 19, he’s ranked fourth in the RBI’s majors.
The 25-game stretch began with a win over the A’s in which Rodriguez went 3-on-4 with a home run and two runs scored. In the 2-1 win over Oakland, it was Rodriguez who hit home runs and doubles in both heats. Rodriguez provided the exclamation mark in the 8-3 win over Rangers first Grand Slam of his career.
“Honestly, not to make excuses, the first month and a half of our schedule was really tough,” said France. “We had three trips to the east coast in a row. We travel more than any other team in the league. Once we get those out of the way and we’ve settled in and started playing our baseball, it makes a big difference — the rest, the recovery, all that stuff.”
The schedule after the break will be another endurance test: 10 of the first 13 games are against the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees.
The Mariners are greeted with a sold-out crowd for Friday’s game against Houston. Many of these fans will wear their Rodriguez All-Star jerseys. As the jerseys went on sale at the Mariners team’s store last Saturday morning, the line snaked out of the building; The jerseys were sold out in 53 minutes.
Suddenly there’s a baseball hype in Seattle.
“It’s been a long drought. The people of Seattle deserve it,” said Mariners legend Ken Griffey Jr., who was at the Home Run Derby in Los Angeles. He compared that team to the 1995 Mariners team, the team that made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history after 13 games. “Just go out there and believe,” he said. “You have to be very lucky. That’s the whole thing. People don’t see it that way, but you have to have a bit of luck over the course of the season to make it happen.”
Now they have to maintain the momentum they had before the break.
“It’s mixed feelings,” said France. “We’re playing really good baseball right now, but at the same time it’s going to be nice for the guys to have a reset. We’ve been playing a lot of hard baseball, our bullpen’s a little broken, so it’s going to be good for the boys to get a break.”
After that initial 13-game stretch, however, the schedule loosens up and the Mariners actually have one of the easiest second-half schedules in the majors — many games against the Oakland Athletics, Angels and Rangers. They also begin to get healthier. Kyle Lewis, who has been out since May 28 with a concussion, will be activated on Friday. Haniger, who hit 39 home runs last season, will finally start a rehab assignment. Those two have played just 13 games for the Mariners, and Kelenic’s struggles have forced manager Scott Servais to climb in outfield aside from Rodriguez.
As France said, they needed input from everyone. Their best players were Rodriguez and France – a highly acclaimed rookie and a player the Padres essentially gave away a year ago. “Who knows where my baseball career would be without this deal?” said France.
And he’s not the only signing who’s really clicked for Seattle.
Closer Paul Sewald was fired by the New York Mets and signed with the Mariners. General Manager Jerry Dipoto signed starter Chris Flexen after serving in Korea in 2020. Santana, who was transferred from the Kansas City Royals due to mounting injuries, has hit two late-game home runs. Reliever Andres Munoz, part of the French trade, throws 100 mph and has 57 strikeouts in 37 innings. Logan Gilbert, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2018, is 10-3 with a 2.76 ERA, while Ray has been red hot in his last seven starts with a 1.36 ERA.
There’s a joke among longtime Mariners fans about the team’s 1984 season slogan: “Anything Can Happen.” The Mariners themselves sometimes refer to the slogan. It’s usually invoked when they make a surprise start or during last year’s “Fun Differential” season when they won 90 games despite being surpassed by 51 runs.
For the first time in a long while, that tagline isn’t just a plea in this 14-game winning streak with a roster the deepest in decades and a rising Superstar to build around. It feels more like a statement.
anything can happen.
https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/34277039/was-brawl-rookie-sensation-how-seattle-mariners-became-hottest-team-baseball Was it the brawl? Or the rookie sensation? How the Seattle Mariners became the hottest team in baseball