George Kirby pitches his best game in over a month, to set the Mariners up for a crucial win which puts them closer to a wild card spot.
The season was on the line following Monday night’s 5-1 loss to the Astros. As a result, the Mariners fell 1.5 games behind their divisional rival for the final AL Wild Card spot, with just six to play.
This made Tuesday’s matchup all but a must-win for the Mariners. Fortunately for everyone concerned, this was the game when George Kirby reverted back to the pitcher he’d been for the majority of the season.
The return of elite Kirby
Kirby had endured plenty of adversity of late, highlighted by the unnecessary backlash he’d received for recent comments he made following a game versus the Rays. He wasn’t helped by a six-game run where he’d produced a 5.56 ERA and 1.294 WHIP.
The 2023 All-Star actually started out Tuesday’s outing as if he was going to continue to struggle. Two singles and an intentional walk saw him facing a one-out, bases-loaded situation in the top of the first.
However, Kirby was able to retain his composure to get the two necessary outs and escape the inning with no damage. After this he saw little trouble, save for a two-out, two-on situation in the sixth, which he duly resolved.
When it was all said and done, the righty had allowed five hits, one walk and — mostly importantly — no runs. With him going 6.0 innings, it also represented his team-leading 19th quality start of the season.
Kirby only generated four strikeouts on the night, but it didn’t matter. This was more like the version of the pitcher who arguably has the best stuff on the team.
High on efficiency
The 25-year-old was as efficient as ever, taking just 84 pitches to get through his six innings. He also continues to lead the Majors with the lowest walks-per nine innings and best strikeout-to-walks ratio.
Kirby spoke postgame about how he’d continued to keep faith in his ability. He said:
” You’ve just got to keep trusting your stuff, and I’m not going to stray away from keep attacking the zone. I did a really good job of that tonight and sometimes you get rewarded for it.”
The Rye, New York native also offered some insight into his game plan for the Astros. He said:
“They don’t like the ball inside, so just keep feeding them inside and play the slider off it. I’m really glad I executed tonight with both of those.”
Mariners manager Scott Servais was both happy and relieved with how Kirby performed. He said:
“Heck of a job by George. I know his last four or five starts have been a little rocky, but I thought today he was locked in right from the get-go.”
Mariners offense helped by Astros mistakes
Of course it doesn’t matter how good the pitching is, without any run support. The Mariners bats did reasonably well in this respect, although they were also helped by the Astros equaling their season-high of three errors.
The first significant error came in the bottom of third, when a wild throw by Jose Altuve allowed Mike Ford to come home for a 1-0 Mariners lead. This was soon followed by a Julio Rodríguez sacrifice fly, which provided a 2-0 advantage through three.
Cal Raleigh hit a RBI single in the bottom of the fifth, with a throwing error by Kyle Tucker on the same sequence resulting in a 4-0 lead. Teoscar Hernández added a RBI single soon after, to make it 5-0 through five innings.
There was some angst caused in the top of the seventh, after Kirby had been replaced by Justin Topa. The reliever just didn’t have it on the night, as he loaded the bases with no outs.
As such, Servais was forced to go to Matt Brash. And while Brash did give up a sacrifice fly RBI — which was ‘credited’ to Topa — he manged to get his team out of the jam, by allowing no more runs.
The Mariners added some insurance in the bottom of the seventh, courtesy of a France solo homer that made it 6-1. Brash came back in to pitch a scoreless top of the eighth, to maintain the 6-1 scoreline.
The Astros had one last gasp in them in the top of the ninth, with Altuve getting a RBI single off Andrés Muñoz. The reality is a lot of Mariners fans are never going to feel secure with Muñoz in the closer role, but he managed to then shut the door for the game to finish 6-2.
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Gut check time
Servais praised his players and their ability to come through with their backs against the wall. He said:
“Gut check win for our ballclub. Really happy for our guys. Obviously we’ve been scuffling here the last four days, and you start to wonder if we can get it going again.”
With the victory, the Mariners now improve to 9-3 on the season versus the Astros. If they can win Wednesday’s rubber match, they will move ahead of the reigning World Series champions and into the final AL wild card spot.
Servais spoke about what’s at stake in the series finale. He said:
“It really makes it interesting tomorrow night and that’s the way it’s going to be down the stretch here. We’ve got to come out tomorrow with the same kind of fire in our belly, because it was there today.”
While the Mariners wouldn’t be out of it if the Astros won on Wednesday, they’d have a momentous mountain to climb with just four games remaining. Bryce Miller will take the ball, with the Mariners hoping it’s not a bad omen they’ve lost the last four games he’s pitched.
What’s your prediction for Wednesday’s rubber match? How confident are you the Mariners will get the win they need to move into the third AL wild card spot? Let us know in the comments section below.