Marco Gonzales on players-only meeting: Mariners need to get back to ‘playing to prove people wrong’
The Seattle Mariners’ deficit had reached two runs when Mitch Haniger and Mike Zunino headed to a video room behind the dugout. The Mariners had rallied from deficits before, ignited crowds before, simply done this before – so this is what Haniger told Zunino:
“We’re going to win this game,” Haniger said.
“I know we are.”
They did. Haniger hit a two-run walk-off home run in that June 13 thriller to sweep the Angels at Safeco Field.
That only preceded a wild comeback victory over the Boston Red Sox just two days later to take two of the first three games of that series — and get the Mariners’ to 21 games above .500.
It led to an emphatic few statements from manager Scott Servais.
“Our team has absolutely no quit,” Servais said.
“I said it when the homestand started that we were really looking forward to playing this stretch of games, which a lot of people and our fans said, ‘Ah, we’ll just wait and see. We’ll wait and see.’ Our team is really good and if you don’t enjoy and connect with our club right there, you just don’t like baseball.
“This is what we’ve talked about bringing to the Pacific Northwest,” he continued. “We have a chance to do something special here this summer. Our guys feel it and the people in the ball park certainly feel it.”
Wow in the context of where they are now, of what transpired since – including players-only meetings, a pregame fight between teammates, an almost nonexistent offense. The Mariners went from “no quit” to approaching the end of their 2018 season trailing the Houston Astros by 11 games and the Oakland Athletics by 9½ with 15 to play.
Contrast all that was good for Seattle earlier in the season with what general manager Jerry Dipoto said in his most recent weekly radio segment on 710-ESPN.
“We should be embarrassed by it,” Dipoto said of the Mariners’ slide out of the playoff race. “I am.
“In times of struggle you find out about character and how people will answer in times of adversity. Frankly, that was one of the highlights of the team in the first half of the season, and it’s been one of the low-lights the second half of the season. We have not responded to adversity in the same way.”
So where did it all go wrong? How did the Mariners go from so clutch, so electric, and a lineup in the top five in most every key offensive stats in baseball through June to … this? To a lineup among the bottom five in baseball in most every key offensive stat in baseball since July 1.
“We’ve had a group of players, frankly, it’s close to half our lineup, that from about midway through the season stopped getting on base with regularity,” Dipoto said. “We’ve had roughly half our lineup effectively disappear for half a season and it’s really hard to score runs when only half your lineup is working.”
Let’s look, though, at three key series that might best define the Mariners’ spiraling second half.
Mariners vs. Toronto Blue Jays (Aug. 2-5): Seattle was just coming off a series loss and had a seeming break in their schedule with four gettable games at home against the Blue Jays.
Only it turned into a bit of a soap opera. The stands were seemingly more flooded with Canada’s Jays’ fans than Mariners’ fans, one loss led to a players-only meeting afterward (those are rarely good), and Felix Hernandez had reached a tipping point in the Mariners’ starting rotation: Perform, or be kicked out.
The Mariners dropped the first three games of that series as part of five consecutive losses – and one of those came at the arm of one Mike Hauschild, who had signed just earlier that day. He tossed six shutout innings … which came about three weeks after he allowed three home runs in one-third of an inning against Triple-A Tacoma.
This series had Servais referencing Little League for the Mariners’ offense.
“You just got to go hit it. Simplify it,” Servais said. “I often tell players in this spot you got to go back to what you did in Little League and high school. You didn’t have video, you didn’t over-analyze anything – you just walked up there and said, ‘I’m going to see a good pitch and I’m going to hit it.”
The next day they had the players-only meeting after veteran right-hander Marco Estrada flirted with a no-hitter against the Mariners.
“We definitely needed something like that,” Nelson Cruz said of the meeting. “When you got a problem, confront it. Embrace it. That’s what we did.”
And it took some players getting used to the British Columbia takeover at Safeco.
“I take that personally,” Marco Gonzales said. “I take that personally when a team comes in here and brings their faithful fans and their muddy shoes and stomps on our carpet and took a dump on our dining room table. I take that personal. I tried to let that be known.”
Oh, and Hauschild? He’s since made just one other start in the big leagues this year – allowing four runs in 2 1/3 innings against the Red Sox.
Shelled in Texas
Mariners at Texas Rangers, Aug. 6-8: The Mariners had another reprieve in the schedule, three games against the struggling Rangers before consecutive series against the Astros, A’s, Dodgers and Diamondbacks loomed.
So they allowed 25 runs in three games, including the worst starts of the season, and their careers, for Hernandez and Gonzales.
Hernandez allowed a career-high 11 runs in an 11-4 loss that for the first time in his career knocked the former Seattle King out of the Mariners’ starting rotation. Hernandez later told Bleacher Report that he even considered walking away from the game after that loss.
Marco Gonzales followed that with another Mariners clunker, allowing a career-high 12 hits and seven runs in an 11-7 loss before he eventually headed to the disabled list with a neck injury.
Not to mention Kyle Seager, whose career-worst bat has earned the direction of much finger pointing, committed basically four defensive errors in the two losses. And deadline-acquisition Sam Tuivailala tore his Achilles tendon and got season-ending surgery.
“We need to get this turned around,” Servais said. “People are frustrated and ticked off and all that other stuff.
“Playing in the conditions down here, when it’s hot your fuse tends to get shorter and you have to understand that … we have to pull it together. There’s not good to fracture apart.”
They did bounce back with a four-game sweep of the Astros, though, in what looked like the season’s turning point.
Mariners at San Diego Padres, Aug. 28-29: Who would have guessed a two-game interleague series against the lowly Padres would make this list?
The bigger series was supposed to be the next one, four games in Oakland to maybe decide the final wild card.
Instead, the Mariners got Jacob Nix-ed and Joey Lucchesi-ed.
Seattle went from taking two of three games against the Diamondbacks to being swept in two games against those two rookie Padres pitchers in sunny San Diego. And the Padres have the fewest wins in the National League.
“Disappointing might be an understatement – we just didn’t play good baseball,” Servais said. “We just didn’t play well. We didn’t swing the bats well, and we didn’t pitch well.
“We didn’t play good baseball. I can’t put my finger on why, but just when we take a step forward we take a major step back.”
The Mariners went 0-4 against the Padres this season … the first time San Diego has swept a season series with the Mariners since 1997.
Still, Cruz said the team would bounce back.
“If you’re in the big leagues, this is what you do,” Cruz said. “Every game is important and we just have to take care of business.
“We know what’s ahead. We have to go there and take care of business.”
Instead, the Mariners split a four-game series against the A’s, then had a pregame fight amongst each other before an ugly, ugly 5-3 loss to the Orioles, followed with a series loss to the Yankees and another two-game sweep by the Padres.
Just for a reminder of better times, go back to after that June 15 rally against the Red Sox.
“This team has a lot of heart,” James Paxton said. “We go out there and we fight for each other.”
What he didn’t know was they’d fight against each other.
And Dipoto acknowledged the way this roster is constructed and all the questions surrounding it for next season, a 17th consecutive season without a playoff trip puts them at an awkward crossroad.
“We’ve watched the team just struggle repeatedly for the past two months and we’re all accountable for it,” Dipoto said this week. “It starts with me. We were in a position to do special things and we had a group that was playing together in a way that was so energizing for everybody around the team.
“And we watched it methodically and painfully be pulled apart over the course of these past two months and it’s gotten worse as we’ve gone. That has to be part of our decision-making heading into 2019 and, frankly, those are some tough decisions because we are at a bit of a crossroads in looking where we’re at as a club and trying to determine how we get to a championship-level.
“Because we’ve taken two steps forward, and then three steps back.”