BALTIMORE — The Mariners’ hottest hitter was out of the lineup and nursing a sore lower back, possibly from carrying the offense for the better part of the last few weeks.
So who would fill that hole?
It was the guy that should be a likely candidate, but probably isn’t to most people given his struggles this season.
With Nelson Cruz being a late scratch from the lineup a few hours before Tuesday’s game at Camden Yards, Kyle Seager moved up to Cruz’s cleanup spot in the lineup and provided all of the Mariners’ offense in a 3-2 victory over the Orioles.
With the bases loaded in the eighth inning and the Mariners trailing 2-1, Seager smacked a single to center on a 0-2 slider from Tanner Scott to score the tying and go-ahead runs.
Alex Colome worked a scoreless bottom of the eighth and Edwin Diaz locked down the ninth for his 29th save of the season to improve Seattle to 49-31. It was Seattle’s 22nd come-from-behind win this season — tied for second-most in the American League. And 15 of those wins came when they’ve taken the lead in the seventh inning or later.
Just about 24 hours earlier, Seager looked highly uncomfortable, striking out swinging against Scott on three pitches.
“It didn’t necessarily help,” Seager said of at least seeing Scott the night before. “It didn’t go too well.”
He was trending toward a similar result again, swinging and missing at a slider on the first pitch and watching another slider for a strike. Down 0-2 is a suboptimal hitter’s count, but Scott left a slider over the middle and Seager didn’t miss the mistake pitch, sending a crisp line drive into center. His approach was simple.
“I was just trying to not strike out at that point,” he said. “I was just trying to put the ball in play and hope for something good to happen.”
There has been more than one occasion this season where the opposite of a good thing has happened for Seager. A .221 batting average and a .683 on-base plus slugging percentage coming into the game already had fans grumbling as to why he has still been batting fifth in the daily order let alone moving up to cleanup with Cruz out.
“Seags came through,” manager Scott Servais said. “It was nice for him to have a big night for us. He’s been due for one of those.”
Is this the start of something more for Seager? Could he possibly go on one of his hot streaks that the Mariners could desperately use, particularly if Cruz has to miss another day or two? It’s something they’ve been patiently waiting for this season and large chunks of last season.
“You hope,” Servais said. “I think a couple coaches going into the game today thought that Seags was really going to be our guy. Sometimes guys need to step up, and we had the right guy up at the right time.”
The Mariners got a solid start from left-hander James Paxton, who pitched seven innings, allowing two runs on six hits with a walk and 10 strikeouts to improve to 7-2.
Paxton came out pumping fastballs at 96-97 mph, clearly wanting to establish a mindset early.
“I was just trying to be really aggressive, pound the zone and let it rip,” he said. “Don’t think as much. When I start thinking about my delivery too much, I focus on the wrong things. I’m a guy that syncs up when I’m throwing the pitch as hard as I can. I got back to that tonight. Kept it simple. And it worked out.”
The Orioles’ first run, which came in the second inning, was particularly grating for Servais, Paxton and the rest of the team. Danny Valencia, who spent all of last season with the team and is with his eighth team in nine years, lined a solo homer over the wall in left field off Paxton to make it 1-0.
“Maybe a few too many fastballs in a row,” Paxton said. “He put a good swing, but I threw it right into his swing path.”
The Mariners tied the score in the fourth inning. Seager launched a solo homer to right off Orioles starter Kevin Gausman. It was Seager’s 14th homer of the season.
The Orioles retook the lead in the sixth inning. Paxton gave up three consecutive singles to load the bases. The Mariners traded a run for two outs on a ground-ball double play off the bat of Manny Machado, the Orioles’ most dangerous hitter. Paxton fell behind 3-1 in the count, but didn’t give in.
“You have to challenge him there,” Paxton said. “I’m not going to walk him right there. I want him to put it in play and see what happens. I have him a good two-seam fastball. He got on top of it and gave us a ground ball.”
Paxton then struck out Valencia to end the inning.
Down a run, the Mariners’ top of the order went into action against side-arming right-hander Darren O’Day. Dee Gordon sliced a line drive past third baseman Tim Beckham into left field. From the moment he made contact, Gordon was thinking about a double. And with his elite speed, he was able to get there on a hit that is a single for just about every other player in the league.
The Mariners got a break when Jean Segura dropped down a bunt to move Gordon to third. O’Day came off the mound to field the ball, but injured himself and didn’t even attempt to throw it to first. After a brief meeting with a trainer and manager Buck Showalter, O’Day was removed from the game.
Scott came into the game and walked Mitch Haniger after a lengthy at-bat to set up Seager for the go-ahead hit.