SEATTLE — A hat trick seemed like an inevitability for Evan White as he flailed helplessly at a 2-0 breaking ball about 6 inches off the outside of the plate that he was certain was going to be a fastball from Lance McCullers Jr.
In hockey, a hat trick – scoring three goals in one game — is an achievement to be cherished and celebrated. In baseball, it’s one of the worst failures for a hitter — a sarcastic description given for striking out three times in a game. Few things are more embarrassing. And three times to the same pitcher? Even worse.
In his rookie season, White has dealt with his share of it, enduring seven hat tricks and a golden sombrero (four strikeouts in a game) this season, including one against McCullers and the Astros in the second game of the season.
In a Monday night game that featured several regrettable swings from White in his first two at-bats against the Astros right-hander, this might have been the worst. He’d ruined the disciplined work to get ahead in the count. A fouled off 2-1 fastball that was actually a strike to put him at 2-2.
Given what he’d done to White in the game and the season, McCullers went back to his best pitch – the knuckle curveball – in hopes of yet another ugly swing and miss.
Instead, he hung the pitch over the middle of the plate and White hammered it off the Coors Light sign in Edgar’s Cantina for a three-run homer, turning a starting pitch duel into a lopsided 6-1 victory for Seattle.
In a must-win game for the Mariners to keep their fading postseason hopes alive, their offense was rendered impotent by McCullers for the first five innings. But Ty France broke the 0-0 tie in the seventh inning with an RBI single and White followed with his seventh homer of the season. Seattle tacked on some additional insurance on Kyle Seager’s two-run single against the Astros bullpen in the eighth inning to make the outcome even more comfortable.
Mariners manager Scott Servais did not have to flirt with the idea of sending his starter Marco Gonzales to the mound in the ninth inning for one more scoreless frame.
Gonzales, the unquestioned leader of Seattle’s pitching staff, delivered a gutty and brilliant performance. He tossed eight shutout innings, allowing seven hits with a rare walk and six strikeouts to improve to 7-2 on the season and lower his ERA to 3.06.
Facing a team that’s given him problems in the past, Gonzales worked around base runners in four of the eight innings. And when he registered his final out of the eighth, striking out Michael Brantley, who had tallied three hits off him, Gonzales screamed and pumped his fist as he headed toward the Mariners dugout.
With the win, the Mariners moved to three games behind Houston in the American League West standings. But really Seattle is four games back to take over second place in the division and earn a spot in the expanded playoffs. The Astros own the season-series tiebreaker.
Houston’s magic number to clinch second place in the division is three games. So losing really isn’t an option for the Mariners in their next six games.
Using his fast-spinning, late-breaking knuckle curveball, which he was always known for, and a wipeout change-up that he refined while recovering from Tommy John surgery and uses more than ever, McCullers had Mariners’ hitters completely off balance for much of his outing.
Over the first five innings, he held Seattle to just one base runner — a first-inning walk to Kyle Lewis. But in an outing where it seemed like he had no-hit stuff, McCullers held the Mariners hitless for the first five innings.
But with one out in the sixth inning, Tim Lopes made sure his team wouldn’t get no-hit on this evening. Lopes smoked a line drive to the gap in deep left-center for his team-high 12th double.
In the seventh, Kyle Lewis worked a leadoff walk and Kyle Seager’s hard hit ball to second base was mishandled by Jose Altuve instead of resulting in a double play. With a runner in scoring position, Ty France ambushed a first-pitch fastball, pulling a double down the left-field line to score Lewis. McCullers came back to strike out Jose Marmolejos and Luis Torrens. With two outs and two strikes, he seemed poised to get out of the inning allowing just the one run.
And then baseball happened.
©2020 The Seattle Times