December 5, 2022

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Welcome back! In home opener, Mariners make statement

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Frazier, Gonzales power rout of AL West rival Houston in raucous environment
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SEATTLE — It had been 194 long days, made even longer by the disappointment of coming so close to the postseason, the promise of adding of four former All-Stars over the winter and the swelling anticipation following a 90-win campaign that had the Mariners entering a season with higher expectations than any in recent memory.

Yet despite such a lengthy layoff, last year’s epic final weekend in Seattle felt like yesterday when the Mariners played in front of 45,023 of their home fans for the first time in 2022 during Friday’s dominant 11-1 win over the Astros.

T-Mobile Park had another sellout, Seattle’s fourth straight. It featured a home dugout feeding off electric fan energy. And it was a rout of a division rival, the one that the Mariners want to beat more than anybody — and the one they are looking to supplant in the American League West.

Yes, it felt like a more extreme hiatus than any recent offseason in Seattle. But it was worth the wait.

“We can have one of the best environments in the league, I think,” said Mariners starter Marco Gonzales, who threw seven innings of one-run ball. “And we saw a little bit of that tonight. You hear echoes of it throughout the lockout, through Spring Training. People are excited, and they have every right to be excited.”

If it wasn’t clear how hungry and hopeful Mariners fans were entering the season, it was evident after Eugenio Suárez’s booming two-run homer in the eighth inning that pushed Seattle’s lead to 10 runs and sealed its ninth home-opening win in the past 10 years. There was a massive roar of ovation for Seattle’s new third baseman, underscoring that, despite a blowout, seemingly no one had left the building.

“That was fun,” new Mariners second baseman Adam Frazier said. “I mean, that’s what you dream about, playing in front of 45,000 people. That’s what you get up for and you get locked in for, so hopefully they keep coming out.”

Like Suárez, Frazier is one of the newcomers, and he also got quite a warm welcome after roping four hits, driving in four runs and scoring twice while coming a homer shy of the cycle. Seattle’s new leadoff hitter put all of his elite contact skills on display and showed why president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto had long tried to trade for him before finally acquiring him this past November.

Frazier had the headlining performance, but along with Suárez, Jesse Winker also contributed, adding an RBI and a run scored. After coming over from Cincinnati in a splashy Spring Training trade in March, both Suárez and Winker had seen from afar what was brewing in Seattle, and they finally got their first taste on Friday.

“Fans can really carry you through a season, especially as it gets going and games start stacking,” said Winker, who had never been to Seattle before the team charter landed here Thursday. “The fans, the energy that they bring, it can really carry you and it can really help you build momentum. And what happened tonight, that was a special atmosphere. That was probably my favorite atmosphere of a game I’ve played in.”

The Mariners’ performances up and down the lineup, as well as Gonzales’ gem, gave fans the platform to make Friday a special atmosphere.

Gonzales, coming off one of his toughest starts with the Mariners on Sunday in Minnesota, was far more effective by throwing first-pitch strikes to 17 of his 25 batters faced and by painting corners with better command of his sinker-changeup combo. He didn’t hide that there was also motivation on Friday for the opponent. Gonzales entered the night with a 5.56 ERA in nine career starts against Houston, and Seattle had lost eight of those games.

“I was pitching with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder,” Gonzales said. “These guys have smacked me around for a long time, so it felt good to stick it to them a little bit.”

If the Mariners are going to reach the postseason for the first time in 21 years, their path will go through Houston and a club they’ve gone 43-82 against since 2015, when the Astros secured their first of six playoff berths in seven years.

As Seattle manager Scott Servais noted, it was only the first of 19 meetings between the two clubs in 2022. But it was a promising start.

“As good as tonight feels, it’s only one game,” Servais said. “We’ve got a lot left to play, and we’re going to play these guys a lot. We know they’re very good. They’re very talented. They’ve got a ton of experience. But it was a good way to start off.”

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