There’s no way the Mariners’ first playoff game in over two decades wasn’t stressful, but while the Mariners took an early lead they never relinquished, this one was less stressful than he could have been. Here are the top five keys to the Mariners’ 4-0 win over the Blue Jays on Friday:
Take out the crowd early:
There was a ton of pre-game talk about what an advantage the Blue Jays would have with their home crowd at Rogers Center, with the dome closed, and it was loud when Alek Manoah stepped onto the mound at the top of the first. But the Mariners quickly quieted that crowd with an Eugenio Suárez innings, then wiped them out completely with Cal Raleigh’s two-run outburst. Castillo followed that up with a quick 1-2-3 inning, taking control of the momentum of the game for the Mariners, one they would never relinquish.
Julio is the spark:
It took until the sixth inning for Julio to register a hit, but his presence at the top of the lineup pissed off Manoah enough that he missed his spot twice, trying to pitch Julio, and ended up awarding a free baserunner. to the Mariners each. time that would come back later to score. When Julio starts the innings and gets to base with his speed, he sets up the batting trio behind him – Haniger, Suárez, France – so he can drive it, whether it’s making a big steal or just making a racing with a single clutch.
Limit base runners:
The credit here mostly belongs to Luis Castillo, who demonstrated why the Mariners sacrificed so much of their farm to acquire it and invested in making it a Mariner for years to come, but Andrés Muñoz also gets the credit. Castillo threw more than 70% of his throws for strikes, working efficiently; he got through them in the seventh, hitting the side, but the work he did to get low contact and ground balls was even more impressive. The powerful Blue Jays formation hit just two balls from Castillo with triple-digit speed out (Springer’s single at third and Jansen’s flyout at fifth); they had five balls hit under 70 MPH. Castillo, in particular, fought off HP referee Lance Barrett’s nebulous strike zone and continued to hammer the edges of the zone until he got the same strike calls that Manoah got off the bat. Castillo’s efficiency allowed the Mariners to deploy just Andrés Muñoz from the bullpen, and he was efficient as well, throwing 17 of his 22 pitches for strikes to close the game. The Mariners preach Dominate the Zone, and Castillo and Muñoz did that today.
Playing own defense:
This goes hand in hand with the above. The Mariners have been a little shaky with their defense down the stretch, but today, working on Toronto’s fast turf, every inside defenseman was spotless as hotel sheets. Eugenio Suárez made a great play on a slow rolling ball in the second to wipe out the Blue Jay’s first base runner of the game, starting a double play that would prevent the Blue Jays from scoring when Matt Chapman floated a little pop up in shallow left field. Even when they weren’t able to strike out on balls in the field, the defenders prevented the Blue Jays from taking extra bases: Haniger made a nice play in the third by cutting a Springer single and holding it off early, and in that same inning JP Crawford smartly snuffed out a field single from Bichette and didn’t attempt to make a low percentage pitch, preventing the runner from taking an extra 90 feet (and possibly- be 90 others with an off-target throw). Adam Frazier made a similar play on second of the fifth inning, stopping a Springer single and not allowing Merrifield, who had hit a lazy fly ball single, to advance to third. Preventing those runners from taking extra bases allowed Castillo to go just past the last batter of the inning, whom he retired each time—Vlad at third with an easy flyout and Bichette at fifth with a routine groundout.
Stay in your step:
If you didn’t know, you would never have guessed it was the Mariners making their very first post-season appearance in more than two decades. The Mariners hitters stuck to their plan, waiting for a shaky Manoah, increasing his pitch count and hooking runs against him early. Cal Raleigh’s batting in the first that resulted in a home run was probably the clearest example of this, as he battled Manoah to a full count before getting a meaty double-seam that he was able to punish over the wall. There’s definitely room for improvement — Cal and Julio have proven responsive to Manoah’s slider, with Julio chasing him three times in one hit — but both young hitters have also shown their patience at home plate at times. Also, Jarred Kelenic has no hits or walks in his spine, but his first at bat was a frustrating one where he showed good discipline at the plate and went unrewarded, getting hit by plate umpire Lance Barrett on ground well outside the zone.