For nearly a decade, simply winning a game – let alone a series – against the White Sox in Chicago has felt like a herculean task for the Mariners. Winning not just one, but two one-run games there? Don’t even think about it. Guaranteed Rate Field has always been bad news. We knew this going into the series.
After today, though, it’s safe to say that the curse has been lifted.
Félix didn’t come out of the gate very smoothly, allowing a first pitch homer and double to Yoán Moncada and Yolmer Sánchez, respectively. Both pitches were meatballs at just 87 MPH, and while he got José Abreu to pop out quickly, a walk and a run-scoring bloop hit from Tim Anderson had Félix in trouble right off the bat.
Luckily, Félix got rookie Daniel Palka to harmlessly fly out on a single pitch, and sat down Trayce Thompson on a couple of well-placed changeups. He was mixing his changeup and curveball effectively today, and even if you’d like to see him throwing the sinker less often (today he threw it right around a third of the time), he regained command of it after the first. He would later ring up both Moncada…
…and Sánchez on the sinker, and allowed just one other hit off of it over the rest of his start.
Félix did allow another run in the third on a Palka groundout, but his outing overall was solid. Despite getting just five swinging strikes over 95 pitches, the King spotted his secondary pitches well across six innings, and collected half a dozen strikeouts to go with a smattering of weak contact. Aside from the San Francisco debacle, Félix has done a nice job limiting runs through the first month of the season, and starts like these will go a long way towards bringing stability to the starting rotation.
James Shields, on the other hand, walked the tightrope throughout most of his start, and easily could have given up more runs than the four he allowed. Visibly frustrated by the strike zone on several occasions, Shields walked four batters and labored through six innings. Jean Segura and Nelson Cruz snatched two runs from him in the third, and Cruz delivered again in the fifth to tie the game at 3-3. Cruz would add a double later in the game, and despite running a career-low walk rate in the early going, is up to a 129 wRC+ after today’s game. May he continue to defy aging.
Both innings presented the opportunity for more, though – particularly in the fifth inning. The Mariners had had Shields teetering on the brink of total collapse with the bases loaded and two outs, but a Mitch Haniger flyout allowed him to scamper off shedding just one run. Definitely a bummer.
Enter Mike Zunino in the sixth.
Zunino has looked a little rusty in his first few games back, and although he had hit a double earlier in the game, he hadn’t ground out an at-bat like he did here. Mike battled Shields for nine pitches, and the one he hit out wasn’t a mistake:
All James Shields could do was watch.
That solo shot was all the Mariners would need, as the bullpen slammed the door in the last three innings. James Pazos, Juan Nicasio, and Edwin Díaz combined for three perfect innings with six strikeouts. Nicasio struck out the side in the eighth, Díaz nailed down his tenth save of the year – tops in the Major Leagues – and Pazos handled three right-handed hitters in Adam Engel, Moncada, and Sánchez with ease. The bullpen the past two games has looked very strong, and Wade LeBlanc deserves more credit than he got for preserving the relief corps on Monday. Two straight solid performances by your starters help, too.
Having vanquished the Guaranteed Rate demon, the M’s head to another cursed ballpark in Cleveland for a four-game weekend set. With Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco lurking, they might need a little magic to pull out a split or series win. James Paxton squares off against Mike Clevinger tomorrow at an unusual 3:10pm start time. May that be the last 3:10 game played for a long while.