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Mike Zunino mashes, Guardians bullpen locks it down in 6-5 win over Mariners

The Guardians win this potential playoff preview series

MLB: Cleveland Guardians at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The umpiring crew of this game may not have been the worst officiating in sports today, but they are probably a close second. Between some weird handling of the pitch clock and their flat-out refusal to give strikes in the lower part of the strike zone, it wasn’t a pretty showing for blue today. None of that matters though, because in the end, the Guardians overcame it to take the series finale against the Mariners, 6-5, in 10 innings.

Cal Quantrill had an up-and-down season debut, starting at a low point with a Julio Rodríguez lead-off home run. He ended up lasting 4.2 innings with four earned runs, three strikeouts, and a pair of walks. The sinker looked nice for the most part, but he wasn’t given the bottom of the zone that he needs to let it work and get ground-outs.

Baseball Savant

The end result was that he had to get the ball up more just to get strikes, and more often than not those attempts resulted in some batting practice meatballs that were hit hard all over T-Mobile Park. We didn’t see any of the fabled splitter that Quantrill was supposedly working on in the offseason, but maybe he’s saving it for another game, or one where he feels like he has better control of his primary stuff.

Quantrill’s worst inning undoubtedly came in the bottom of the third. It was a weird inning that started with Oscar Gonzalez and Andrés Giménez avoiding a collision in shallow right field, but also not fielding a ball hit by Rodríguez, who made it all the way to second when the blooper fell harmlessly between them. This was also the inning where the most egregious misses at the bottom of the zone came and when Mike Zunino couldn’t stop a wild pitch. Quantrill was not at his best today anyway, and this inning certainly didn’t help.

After giving up three runs and losing the lead, Quantrill rebounded for a 1-2-3 fourth inning and recorded an out in the bottom of the fifth before Cal Raleigh scored on an error and his day was over.

The entire bullpen was superb in relief of Quantrill today, though. Tim Herrin, making his major-league debut, struck out all four batters he faced with a wicked-looking slider and a four-seamer topping out at 96.4. He may have only faced four batters, but he finished with the second-most swings and misses generated by a pitcher (5). Nick Sandlin, Enyel De Los Santos, and Trevor Stephan were all flawless as well (Eli Morgan allowed a hit but still looked very good) as the Guardians offense worked on chipping away at Seattle’s bullpen late in the game and into the 10th, where Josh Naylor plated the eventual game-winning run.

Well, more accurately, he was present for the game-winning play while the Mariners fumbled a routine double play.

With the bases loaded and one out in the top of the 10th, Terry Francona turned to Josh Naylor off the bench to replace Gonzalez. There was originally a righty on the mound, but of course Mariners manager Scott Servais changed to a lefty to face Naylor. Naylor hit a dribbler back to the pitcher, who immediately threw home for the force out. The relay to first for the second out wasn’t nearly as clean, however, and it hopped away into foul territory. José Ramírez took advantage and scored the go-ahead run while Josh Bell slid into third. Trevor Stephan made quick work of the Mariners in the bottom of the 10th to seal the win.

Speaking of Bell, he attempted a stolen base earlier in the game. It did not work. At all. We all love and appreciate him all the same anyway.

Offensively, this was the Mike Zunino show from start to finish. The Guards’ shiny new catcher started with the second hardest-hit ball of the game: this 108.4-mph three-home moonshot in the second inning. He also finished with a pair of doubles.

If there is a line where Zunino can hit enough to make his defensive issues no longer matter, he flew by it today. Anything close to this on a regular basis and Bo Naylor will have plenty of time to figure things out in Columbus.

While not nearly as flashy, Myles Straw deserves a round of applause for walking twice and swiping a key base in the top of the ninth inning. He doesn’t need many games like this to make him a valuable center fielder with how well he plays the position, but it’s always nice to get them. Although he did take one bad route in the outfield that caused a rare miss, he also played another one perfectly off the wall and almost nailed Eugenio Suárez rounding into second. It’s easy to believe he’ll have more plays like the latter than the former over the course of the season.

I’ve watched a lot of baseball over the weekend (mostly while waiting for Guardians games to start), and I feel confident in saying this was the best series. The only other contender was the Blue Jays and Cardinals for how wildly different each game was, but every Guardians-Mariners game was thrilling down to the end. Both of these teams will play again next week in Cleveland, and there’s a good shot they’ll face each other again in October. Every single one has the chance to be a classic.

For now, the Guardians make a trip south to Oakland to face the A’s for a three-game series.