DENVER — The starting pitcher that the Mariners desperately need to return to his previous form of seasons past took the mound Tuesday night at Coors Field, squaring off against an opposing starting pitcher the Mariners would gleefully add to their injury-riddled rotation for this season and the new next few seasons, if only he was available and wouldn’t cost too much in terms of prospect return.
Given the stadium, the elevation and the sticky 90-plus degree temps, a possible pitching duel between Seattle’s Marco Gonzales, who did pick up his first win since April 15 vs. the Orioles despite only making it through five innings, and Colorado’s, German Marquez, who gave up four runs in six innings pitched, wasn’t really expected and didn’t materialize. Neither was particularly sharp or crisp.
But what did happen is the Mariners’ expected catcher of the future, who would love to work with both starters in winning seasons to come, found the hitting stroke that earned his recent promotion to the big leagues. After registering his first big league hit, a bloop single to center in the second inning, Cal Raleigh ignited a Seattle offense held quiet by Marquez for five innings, ripping a game-tying laser of a two-run double in the sixth inning and eventual 6-4 come-from-behind victory over the Rockies.
It was the Mariners 20th win in their past 29 games as they improved to 51-44 on the season. The seven games over .500 represent a high-water mark in the 2021 season. They remain 2 ½ games behind the A’s, who defeated the Angels, 6-0, for the second wild card spot. It was Seattle’s 20th comeback victory this season. The Mariners are now 42-13 on the season when scoring four runs or more in a game.
Quiet and unassuming in public settings, but with a command presence on the field, Raleigh had gone hitless in his first three big league games, striking out four times in 12 plate appearances and registering just one ball in play with an exit velocity of more than 100 mph.
While it might be a single in the scorebook and likely becomes a line-drive single when he tells his future children, let the record show that Raleigh’s first MLB hit was a blooper, or a bleeder, or a dying quail, or a flare or whatever you want to call the soft pop-up off a 95-mph fastball from Marquez that broke his bat and landed just in front of a sliding Garrett Hampson in center field.
But in his next plate appearance, with the Mariners trailing 2-0 and looking like they might be upping the trade value of Marquez, Raleigh produced the result fans and the front office have been waiting to see from the big catcher. With Kyle Seager on third after a one-out double and Ty France on first following a single, Raleigh lashed at a first-pitch fastball from Marquez. He sent the 96-mph heater into the right-center gap with an exit velocity of 109 mph — the hardest hit ball in the game.
Marquez came back to retire Jarred Kelenic on a hard-hit groundball. But after running the count full on Dylan Moore after being up 1-2, Marquez hung a slider in the middle of the plate that was promptly pasted into the left-field seats for a two-run homer and a 4-2 Mariners’ lead.
Seattle pushed the lead to 6-2 in the seventh on a two-run double to the gap in left-center from Ty France.
Seattle’s four-run top of the sixth off Marquez put Gonzales in line for the victory. Pitching in front of friends and family, who made the trip from nearby Colorado Springs, where he was a high school pitching legend, Gonzales pitched five innings, allowing two runs on six hits with three walks and three strikeouts. His command wasn’t particularly sharp with 55 strikes in his 85 pitches and runners on base in every inning, but he was able to execute pitches to end innings without allowing runs. An elevated fastball struck out All-Star shortstop Trevor Story to end the third inning. A changeup on the hands of Elias Diaz produced an inning-ending double play in the fourth. But a leadoff walk to third baseman Joshua Fuentes to start the fifth came and a misplaced first-pitch sinker to Connor Joe, who was called up before the game, led to a two-run homer and a 2-0 Rockies lead.
As for Marquez, the veteran right-hander pitched six innings, allowing the four runs on seven hits with two walks and five strikeouts and falling to 8-7 on the season with a 3.50 ERA. The Rockies have said they don’t want to trade their best pitcher, but given the state of their franchise and his relatively affordable contract that features club control through 2023 that teams find enticing.
The Mariners are desperate for starting pitching help in the immediate future and over the next two seasons until top prospects like Emerson Hancock and George Kirby come up. But general manager Jerry Dipoto has been adamant that he won’t give up top prospects who were deemed as core pieces of the team’s rebuild.
But with the team’s success that could change. Ending a now infamous and embarrassing playoff drought that extends back to 2001 might motivate ownership to try and win now.