TORONTO — How do you recover from an awful outing from your starting pitcher, a worse showing from one of your best relievers and a seven-run deficit with everything seemingly working against you and a sold-out crowd cheering against you like it’s Thunderdome?
You just keep playing the same stubborn way that led to you to your success during the regular season — relentless at-bats, trust in the hitters behind you and not trying to win the game by yourself.
In the chapters, not volumes, of the Mariners’ limited postseason history, the magic of Saturday night’s 10-9 comeback victory over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre will be chronicled and remembered as the night the Mariners refused to accept defeat no matter how eventual it seemed to the Blue Jays, everyone jammed into the building ripe with baseball history and those watching the television broadcasts in both countries.
With one out in the top of the ninth, Cal Raleigh, because he’s always in the middle of any late-inning heroics, doubled into the gap in right-center off Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano, to represent the winning run.
He scored moments later when Adam Frazier laced a double into the right-field corner for the Mariners’ first and only lead they would have or need in the game.
And because it’s the postseason and because they are the Mariners, rookie right-hander George Kirby, who had never made a relief appearance in his very brief big league career that started in May, was called on to pitch the ninth inning.
Kirby issued a one-out walk to Matt Chapman but came back to strike out Danny Jansen and retire Raimel Tapia for the final out and his first big league save.
With the victory, the Mariners will travel to Houston to face their American League West rival in the American League Division Series. It also means that on Saturday, Oct. 15, there will be postseason baseball played in Seattle with Game 3 at T-Mobile Park — the first time since Oct. 18, 2001.
Seattle overcame a forgettable performance by starter Robbie Ray, who allowed four runs and couldn’t get out of the fourth inning, and an equally abysmal outing from reliever Paul Sewald, who allowed four runs in a fifth inning he started but never finished, to find a way to win their first playoff series since the 2001 season.
Down 8-1 after Sewald’s implosion in the fifth, they picked up four big runs in the sixth inning, loading the bases with no outs.
Just as it looked like they would fail to produce a run, a lingering fan frustration from the season, France raced home on a wild pitch and Carlos Santana, who was robbed of a potential two-run homer earlier in the game, deposited a no doubter over the wall in left field for a three-run homer, cutting the lead to 8-5.
Down 9-5 going into the eighth inning, the Mariners again loaded the bases again with no outs. Frazier singled home a run to make it 9-6.
After Romano struck out Santana and Dylan Moore, J.P. Crawford’s looped a soft fly ball to shallow center that landed in between center fielder George Springer and shortstop Bo Bichette, who collided on the play. Crawford’s double cleared the bases and tied the game at 9-9.
The once boisterous sold-out crowd of 47,156 was silent.
Everything that Luis Castillo was on Friday for the Mariners, Ray simply wasn’t on Saturday with the chance to clinch a series win. His command wasn’t crisp. His misses weren’t close to the strike zone and his strikes caught too much of the plate. He was unable to put away hitters when he did get ahead. It all left him very hittable against a group of good hitters.
Pitching in Toronto for the first time since his Cy Young season and only because Canada lifted its vaccine requirements on Oct. 1, Ray delivered one of his worst outings of the season, giving up four runs and never making it out of the fourth inning much to the delight of the sold-out Rogers Centre.
But Ray wasn’t alone in his struggles. With Mariners manager Scott Servais in scramble mode to piece together possibly six innings from his bullpen, trying to win the game, but also not crushing his relievers for a possible game on Sunday, he turned to Sewald in the fifth inning to face the top of the lineup. He struggled to throw strikes let alone quality strikes. He gave up four runs on three hits and had to be replaced by Diego Castillo.
After a scoreless first inning that included strikeouts of Springer and Bichette, the version of Ray that left the Mariners scratching their heads in confusion and fans slapping their foreheads disgust far too often this season appeared in the second inning.
Alejandro Kirk led off the second inning with a double into the left-field corner and raised his hands in celebration four pitches later when Teoscar Hernandez hammered a hanging slider up in the zone into the left field seats for the Blue Jays first runs of the series. The 401-foot blast turned Rogers Centre into an earsplitting celebration that snapped Toronto’s offense to life.