Making Team History: M’s sweep Red Sox in Boston

 For the first time in team history, the Seattle Mariners left Fenway Park after a sweep of the hometown Boston Red Sox. The Mariner offense continued to roll with another 20-run output in the series — a good sign after the team slumped through Philadelphia and managed to score just nine runs in total. But this series sweep of the Red Sox can and should be about more than just a relatively meaningless factoid; it was a showing of what good teams do. They find ways to win games.

There’s no question that starting pitching has been a strength of the M’s this year, but the best start of the weekend belonged to Felix Hernandez who turned in a very underwhelming performance on Friday. The King was definitely off his game as he needed 116 pitches to get through just five and two-thirds innings of work and he allowed three runs for the first time since May 12 — it was also his second consecutive start in which he failed to complete six innings of work.

The resurgent Chris Young also had his share of troubles on Saturday as he also allowed three runs in three and two-thirds innings while walking five batters. Keeping control of the strike zone has been troublesome for Young at times this season and he’s been forced to throw a lot of pitches, but a glance at his season-to-date suggests that this performance was an outlier, as was Felix’s.

Finally on Sunday, the conclusion of the series, the M’s handed the ball to Hisashi Iwakuma but again, were forced to rely heavily on their bullpen to get through the day. Kuma didn’t finish the third inning after allowing five runs on six hits, including a three-run, 39-pitch first. It simply wasn’t a good day for the normally dependable No. 2 starter, but throughout the course of the season every starter is going to turn in an underwhelming performance or get beat around for an inning or two at a time. It just so happened that all three of the M’s starters had theirs on consecutive days. As it turned out, that wouldn’t be a problem.

Firstly, the outstanding bullpen cast more than stepped up to the task over the weekend. The off-day on Thursday proved crucial as it allowed manager Lloyd McClendon to have a fresh set of relievers for the series opener. Brandon Maurer took over for Felix and along with Dominic Leone and Fernando Rodney, did not allow a run in three and one-third innings. It was a similar story on Saturday as the combination of Tom Wilhelmsen, Charlie Furbush, Danny Farquhar, and Yoervis Medina shut out the Red Sox for five and one-third innings. The Red Sox finally found a hole in the Mariners armour on Sunday as they managed to score a run on Furbush, but that was all they’d get in six and two-third innings against the best bullpen in baseball.

That was 15 and 1/3 innings of bullpen pitching and just one run allowed.  That’s good for a 0.59 ERA, or by a stretch of a comparison, a performance of similar proportions to a pair of starts by Clayton Kershaw. And the even crazier part is that this bullpen has been providing that kind of performance all year.

[pullquote]The Mariners are now 168-227 against the Red Sox all-time and take the season series five games to one. That one loss came earlier in the season when Boston visited Seattle for a three-game set.[/pullquote]

Despite being shut out for eight straight innings to begin the series, Seattle’s bats showed up in a big way on Friday night against Boston’s closer Koji Uehara, knocking in five runs. The rally started with Endy Chavez working a ten-pitch walk and finished with Dustin Ackley scoring all the way from first base on a Robinson Cano single. Now, one could point out that this was actually a poor showing by the M’s offense considering they were shut down for eight innings, but to put up a five-spot against one of the most dominant closers today isn’t something to make light of.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this weekend’s series was that Cano only  went 2-for-10 with a double, RBI, and run scored before leaving Sunday’s game after his second at bat with dizziness and possible flu symptoms. I mention that because as integral a part of this offense as Cano is, the rest of the club hasn’t had much difficultly finding ways to drive in runs when he isn’t and this series was no different. Good teams find ways to win even when a key contributor isn’t going 4-for-4 with two extra-base hits.

Ackley continued his hot second half going 5-for-13 with two walks in the series. He hit his ninth home run of the season and added six runs batted in to his now career-high 54. Kyle Seager and Austin Jackson collected four hits each while Kendrys Morales and Logan Morrison each had three. Chris Taylor and Jesus Sucre also had a pair of hits apiece. The only Mariner to not register a hit over the weekend was Mike Zunino who recorded a single walk while striking out six times.

It can’t go without being noted that the 2014 edition of the Red Sox is nowhere near as talented as the 2013 World Championship team was, but it’s not as if this is a completely pedestrian ball club — not to mention the fact Fenway Park is hardly visitor-friendly. Perhaps one could suggest that the Mariners should be able to sweep a team that’s 18 games below .500 and has long since turned their attention towards 2015. But, as we all know, it’s not quite that simple for Seattle. After all, they did lose two of three to the Philadelphia Phillies earlier in the week.

August 22-24, 2014 will be remembered as the first time the Seattle Mariners swept the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park — a stat that will see mention during broadcasts in the future and provide practically no quantitative value. But I’d like to think that this weekend was another stepping stone for the Mariners. After all, rallies on the road have a funny way of uniting a club. And it’s not as if it was Felix and Cano carrying the team through the weekend, it really was a team effort.

Seattle now has a one-game lead over the Detroit Tigers for the second Wild Card slot and will host the Texas Rangers for three games at home. Like Boston, the Rangers are a team that the Mariners should be capable of winning three games against, and we’ll know soon enough if this weekend was just another tantalizing performance or a sign of what could come over the final month of the season.

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Tyler Carmont

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