ST. PETERSBURG — It was an uncharacteristic defensive showing from one of the Majors’ best defensive teams, but the Mariners were glad to exploit those shortcomings in a seven-run fourth inning that led to an 8-4 victory over the Rays on Tuesday.
Seattle opened its nine-game, three-city road trip with a bang at Tropicana Field, a sequence that happened in little more than the blink of an eye. And it led to a win in the Mariners’ first meeting with the defending American League East champs this season after going 6-1 against them last year. Seattle is now on a season-high four-game winning streak, following its impressive 7-2 homestand.
A breakdown of that fateful fourth:
With one out and runners on first and second, the Mariners escaped an inning-ending double play when Wander Franco made a low toss to Brandon Lowe, who caught the ball with his bare right hand but could not maintain secure possession, a replay review ruled. So Abraham Toro reached, Eugenio Suárez — who originally went well past second base but yanked his hand back on the bag — stayed on second and Jesse Winker, who singled, advanced to third.
In the next at-bat, Tom Murphy hit into another potential forceout on a dribbler to Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi. Yet Choi’s awkward angle on his throw to the plate led the ball to bounce right over catcher Mike Zunino’s shoulder, and in the mix-up, Winker scored from third and Suárez from second.
After Murphy, Julio Rodríguez lined a 108.6 mph double into the right-center gap that easily scored Toro from third and moved Murphy to third.
Then, Dylan Moore was just barely hit on his front (left) foot by a pitch on a running cutter to load the bases.
Adam Frazier immediately followed with a down-the-line double to right that cleared the bases, just over Choi’s outstretched reach.
Ty France, fresh off being the Co-AL Player of the Week, scored Frazier with an RBI single directly between the third baseman and shortstop. He also had an RBI in the sixth to bring his season total to an MLB-high 21.
Winker and Suárez then struck out to halt the rally. But the damage was done.
“When they give you an extra out or two, you’ve got to take advantage of it,” said Mariners manager Scott Servais, who was back for the first time since testing positive for COVID last Wednesday. “In the past, we haven’t been able to do that.”
Because of the two errors on the force attempts, all seven runs against Rays pitcher Josh Fleming that inning were unearned. It was the first time a team was credited that many unearned runs in a single inning since a Mets-Phillies game Aug. 16, 2018, and the first time the Mariners were benefactors by that many in a single frame since their 15-2 win over the Blue Jays on May 16, 2002, according to the Mariners.
“That’s a credit to our guys,” Servais said. “Our guys are really focused on what we’re doing. We have a long season ahead of us but we’re excited about the start we’re off to. It’s a good vibe around our team right now.”
It was an uncharacteristically poor defensive showing from a Rays team that ranks tied for third in the Majors with plus-five outs above average, per Statcast. Yet it was just as critical for the Mariners to exploit those miscues. There are many trademark traits of good teams, but one that stands out more than others is the ability to consistently capitalize on opponents’ mistakes.
“I think that the most dangerous teams you play are the ones that put the ball in play and have good approaches,” Murphy said. “And I know, from a catcher standpoint, those are the teams that I hate playing. So, hopefully we’re one of those teams.”
Seattle extended its AL-best run differential to plus-22. Tuesday’s early cushion allowed Florida native Logan Gilbert to overcome a few command issues early — he walked three after issuing just one total in his first three starts — and cruise in front of a huge crowd of friends and family.
With just two hits allowed over 5 2/3 scoreless innings, Gilbert lowered his ERA to an MLB-best 0.40, with one earned run over 22 1/3 innings.
“You’re not always going to always have your best stuff, and I feel good where I’m at,” Gilbert said. “But at the same time, I know that I haven’t put it all together yet. So that’s why the emphasis on competing and just like finding a way is so important.”