If you pay attention to AL baseball outside of the Mariners, you probably know that the Tampa Bay Rays are a pretty good team. They have been especially dominant in the regular season over the last couple of years. Rather than spotlighting a player in this week’s Throwback Thursday, I thought it would be fun to look back at one of the M’s most impressive series’ of their exciting 2021 season.
Despite the Rays’ continued success in the American League, in 2021 the Mariners were able to give them fits in the season series and narrowly missed a 7-game season sweep of the eventual #1 seed in the AL playoffs.
The Mariners truly dominated this series, and while it didn’t end on a W, Seattle came out feeling like they had Tampa’s number when all was said and done. For this recap, rather than going through it game by game, I just want to look back and highlight some of the most memorable games and moments between these two teams last season.
The Mariners dominated the Rays in 2021, so let’s check it out.
Runs were not all that hard to come by for Seattle in the first series, despite the Rays boasting the lowest team ERA in the AL in 2021. They averaged over 5.5 runs per game during the 4-game home set in June and followed that up with an 8-2 beatdown, during which Ty France drove in 3 runs on 3 hits in the opening game of the series in Tampa.
While Game 1 in Tampa was certainly the most dominant performance by our guys in this series, the 4-game home series was by far the most entertaining.
It started with an intense Game 1 that ended in walk-off fashion. After Shed Long Jr. plated the tying run, Kyle Seager pinch hit for Taylor Trammell and took care of business, pulling a fastball just past the diving glove of the Rays second-baseman to walk it off. But that was just the beginning of the fireworks in this series.
After a less dramatic 5-1 win in Game 2, Logan Gilbert took the mound for Game 3 fresh off a dominant performance in Cleveland. The team proudly rocked the Steelhead uni’s in celebration of Juneteenth and the atmosphere in Seattle was primed for a big night.
After Gilbert gave up two runs in the second inning, his offense didn’t waste time giving him some breathing room, putting up five of their own in the bottom of the inning, including a 2-out grand slam from J.P. Crawford.
After that things got quiet for the offense and stayed that way for quite a while, but Gilbert was able to hang in there and limit the Rays to 4 runs over 5.2 IP. J.T. Chargois and Paul Sewald were able to do their thing and shut down the Rays in the 7th and 8th, but in the top of the 9th with Mariners closer Kendall Graveman on the bump, the Rays pinch-hit Brandon Lowe for Taylor Walls and he tied the game up with one swing, driving Graveman’s pitch over the wall in center field.
The Mariners weren’t able to walk it off in the bottom of the 9th, but Rafael Montero was able to hold the Rays off in the top of the 10th to give the Mariners another shot at it. It only took one swing for Mitch Haniger to drive in the ‘ghost runner’ JP Crawford with a line drive into left and allow the Mariners to clinch the 4-game series.
The series finale was everything Mariner’s fans had hoped for. A series win would be nice, but a 4-game sweep would be EPIC. After minimal offense through 9 innings and a solid performance from Marco on the mound, the game was tied 2-2 heading to extras. Montero again was able to hold Tampa scoreless in the 10th, which set the Mariners up for yet another walk-off opportunity.
After the first four batters in the bottom of the 10th were unable to push across the game-winning run, Shed Long Jr., who was 0-3 on the day, came to the plate with the bases loaded and 2 outs to face (future Mariner) Diego Castillo. On a 1-1 count, Long was somehow able to pull a pitch that was up and away just over the fence in left field, ending the series with a bang.
The series in Tampa gave the team the opportunity to show their resiliency, a trait that had Mariners fans everywhere glued to their TVs for the last month of the season. Seattle had just come off the brutal “Jonah Heim” series in Texas and momentum seemed to be slipping away. Instead of rolling over, they took it to the eventual AL East champs on their own, weird, horribly-lit turf.
Seattle finished the season with a 6-1 record against Tampa Bay, suffering their first and only loss in a disappointing 4-5 defeat in the season series finale. While the season didn’t end as we had hoped, this team did give us plenty to cheer for in 2021. Playing competitive baseball against good teams is a great sign, and this series showed us that they can do that. Here’s hoping they can keep it up as they head into what many expect to be their championship window.