These are the baseball games Daniel Vogelbach wants to play in. Not the blowouts — and the Seattle Mariners have been on the wrong side of plenty of those this season — but the close calls.
“The goal is to win here in the next year or so, so these are games you want to be in, and you can learn,” Vogelbach said. “You can learn from any game, but I think this gives you an extra competitive edge. These are a lot more fun (to play in).
“Even when you lose games 5-4, those are the games you want to be in. All you can ask for is a chance to win. I know there’s been multiple games where we’ve gotten blown out, but I feel like we’ve been in a lot of close games this year, and there’s something to be said for that. I think eventually the tables are going to turn and we’re going to be on the winning side of a lot of them.”
The Mariners were on the winning side of this one. Vogelbach, Seattle’s burly first baseman, hustled down the line fast enough to beat out a potential inning-ending double play in the eighth inning Wednesday evening at T-Mobile Park, allowing Mallex Smith to scratch across the decisive run on the way to a 3-2 win over the Padres that put a stopper in a five-game losing streak.
“It’s been a rough five-game stretch for us,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We didn’t do a ton offensively today, but we did enough.”
With the Mariners and Padres knotted at 2-2, Smith opened the bottom of the eighth with a bloop double to left, which eluded Wil Myers, who tried to make a sliding play. J.P. Crawford then put down a sacrifice bunt to move Smith over, but San Diego catcher Austin Hedges nearly caught Smith diving into third. He was initially called out, but the play was overturned upon video review.
“Speed is definitely relevant, but reaction and instinct is the key in that, because it’s such a bang-bang play,” said Smith, who earlier in the game tied Kansas City’s Adalberto Mondesi for the MLB lead with his 31st stolen base. “The ball didn’t go too far away from him. I’m pretty sure he caught it before it touched the grass.
“He has a cannon, so you know you can’t outrun the ball, and in that instant right there you’ve got to anticipate J.P. getting the ball down, and not hesitate when it happens.”
“Mallex’s speed always shows up, certainly when he’s on base,” Servais said. “He’s not afraid to take some chances and do some things. ... He’s the only guy on our team that’s safe on that play.”
Domingo Santana struck out with runners at the corners for the first out, bringing up Vogelbach, who was hitless in the game. Vogelbach connected on the choppy grounder to short, and Crawford was easily out at second, but Vogelbach just outstretched the throw to first to push the run across.
“Vogey was safe,” Servais said. “That was the key. And he hit it just slow enough where they couldn’t turn it. ... Vogey got it done today. It’s really important. That’s how you start developing that attitude of, ‘We can get it done at the end of the game.’ Keeping it simple. Don’t try to do too much. Just do your job.”
Seattle erased an early one-run deficit in the second inning when Tom Murphy hit a liner that Myers misplayed trying to make another diving grab. The ball slipped under his glove, and Murphy kept running before sliding safely into third with a triple — the second triple of his five-season major-league career. Kyle Seager then plated Murphy by grounding out to short.
Seager later gave the Mariners their first lead, lifting his 11th homer of the season to right with two outs in the fourth to make it 2-1. He has five home runs in his past 14 games.
The two runs were enough to put Yusei Kikuchi in line for his fifth win, but that didn’t quite happen, despite Kikuchi tossing one of the better games of his rookie season. Servais noted pregame, and emphasized again after the win, that the measurement of Kikuchi’s progress at this point in the season will be based on his execution.
“I thought Yusei was outstanding today in the fact that he went into the game trying to make an adjustment with his mechanics, and he did, and he got some results,” Servais said. “The ball had life on it today, that was the difference. There was finish to his pitches. He had a lot of swing-and-miss on the slider, a lot of swing-and-miss on the fastball. I thought his curveball was pretty good.
“Definitely a step in the right direction today for him. I’m happy for him. He’s been working really hard trying to get this thing back on the right track again. It’s a constant game of adjustments, and he got some results with the adjustment he made today.”
Kikuchi said following his last outing in Houston, during which he allowed six earned runs in four innings, the coaching staff worked with him on adjusting his delivery by shortening his arm stroke. He worked on making that change during his rest days, and allowed just one run — on a leadoff homer by Fernando Tatis Jr. in the first — in five completing innings, giving up four hits, walking three and striking out eight on 94 pitches.
“At first anything new is going to feel weird, but I had (a few) days to practice it, and I felt good going into the game today,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Justin Novak.
“Yusei really understands his delivery pretty well,” Servais said. “He was excited about it three or four days ago when it was brought to him. He worked on it in the bullpen. He’s feeling good about it. He came into the game feeling he was going to have a good outing today.
“They grinded him. He threw a lot of pitches. There weren’t a lot of easy innings out there, but he got through it. I thought his last inning might have been his best inning.”
Kikuchi worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth before allowing a leadoff single to Tatis in the fifth. He then closed by striking out Myers, Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer in order. He struck out both Meyers and Hosmer each of the three times he faced them.
“We haven’t been able to win when I pitch recently,” Kikuchi said. “Within the last four days I was able to make adjustments, and I was really proud of myself for that.”