SEATTLE – If there were such a thing as a smile that were part sheepish and part sly, Marco Gonzales might have it mastered. It’s the combination of being the guy you want your daughter/sister to marry and also being the rip-your-opponents-heart-out competitor you wish there were more of on your team.
It appeared again following Sunday’s 3-1 victory over Toronto that secured a fourth straight series win fort the Mariners. Gonzales was asked if he wanted to discuss the throngs of Blue Jays fans and their annual subjugation of the stadium seats and beer stands during the three-game series in Seattle.
The question was in reference to his seething postgame comments a year ago when he took a loss vs. the Blue Jays and felt most of the 30,715 in attendance cheer against him in his home stadium.
“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 takes a dump on our dining room table,” he said after that loss. It was a memorable quote that spoke to the frustration of this yearly occupation.
Sunday’s crowd of 29,698 – about 80% cheering for the Blue Jays – were rendered a non-factor for most of the game. Gonzales gave them little cheer about, tossing seven innings while allowing one run on three hits with two walks and five strikeouts to win his career-high 14th game of the season.
So did he have anything so say about the fans in victory?
Gonzales paused briefly – as the battle between boy-next-door Marco and competitive Marco battled in his mind – gave that little smirk/smile, and replied: “No, it didn’t matter who was in the stands. I had a lot of family here. My wife, our extended family, my brother flew in, so to me, it didn’t matter who was in the stands this weekend. It could’ve been empty for all I care, I wanted to put on a show for them and do them proud.”
Not exactly quote of the year material like last year. But it was earnest. And typical humility in victory for Gonzales. But setting a career high in wins mattered to him because of what it represented to his teammates.
“Going into the season, my main goal was to find my consistency,” he said. “Be someone that my teammates looked at and said I did the same thing every day, went out and competed and took the ball and was the same guy. I have a little ways to go. But at this point, it’s been good to be able to see that result come through and know I’ve stuck to that process.”
While Gonzales has tried to remain consistent in his day-to-day and start-to-start approach, the results didn’t always follow.
After starting the season with a 5-0 record and 2.80 ERA in his first seven starts, Gonzales endured miserable stretch of outings that started on May 1 and carried into the first week of June. His team on a similar declining trajectory that was building into a freefall.
The Mariners lost all seven of his starts in that span, and he went 0-6, posting a 7.79 ERA. That low point of that suboptimal stretch came on June 2 when he allowed 10 earned on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings against the Angels at T-Mobile.
He ripped himself after the game, saying: “It starts with being accountable. The way that I pitched was just unacceptable. Not giving my team a chance to win. Exposing our bullpen too early in the game. I think there’s a lot of things I need to work on. I need to help this team win. I need to be a guy that’s dependable and reliable and that hasn’t been the case. I’ll be the first one to say that’s on me.”
He vowed to fix it. This wouldn’t continue. And he made good on that promise. Sure there have been a few less-than-stellar outings. He’s not going to dominate like other pitchers. But since that awful outing, he’s posted a 9-4 record in 14 starts with a 3.53 ERA, including 20 walks and 72 strikeouts. In those 14 starts, he’s allowed more than three runs just twice and has pitched five or more innings in all of them. In his last six starts at T-Mobile Park, Gonzales is 5-0 with a 2.14 ERA, allowing 10 earned runs in 42 innings pitched with 37 strikeouts and six walks.
“It’s a combination of a lot of things – mental and physical – and being able to not do too much and control what I can control,” he said. “It’s easier said than done sometimes. But I was just trying to find consistency and stay in that feeling as long as I can. Baseball comes in waves and you try to stay consistent and not ride those waves. It takes a lot of practice and a lot of failure to understand and stay level-headed. That’s the person and pitcher I need to be.”
Manager Scott Servais credited Gonzales’ continued growth as a pitcher and a competitor from when he was first acquired from the Cardinals at the trade deadline of the 2017 season.
“It’s how you win 14, 15, 16 games in this league, can you get through the fifth, sixth, seventh inning,” Servais said. “That’s when the games are won or lost. He as the ability to really bear down in those spots. He knows that’s the separator. We certainly saw it today and we’ve seen it a number of times.”
Two years ago, the Mariners weren’t sure they could trust Gonzales to do it.
“It was a hurdle he had to get over,” Servais said. “He was coming back from injury and developing a young guy.”
Gonzales was crisp early, using the Blue Jays swing-happy aggressiveness against them. He worked the first five innings scoreless, allowing just one runner to get into scoring position and that was because of his own throwing error on a pickoff move to first base.
“No one to blame but myself,” he said of the error that put a runner on third. “That’s a huge way to get out of the inning.”
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