SEATTLE (AP) — J.P. Crawford was the beneficiary of a pitch-clock violation. One big swing from Ty France made certain it became noteworthy on opening day.
Crawford’s walk helped by a timer infraction called on James Karinchak sparked an eighth-inning rally that was capped by France’s three-run homer, and the Seattle Mariners beat the Cleveland Guardians 3-0 on Thursday night.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of buzz around town about the expectations and what we hope to do this season and you can’t get off on a much better start than we did tonight,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said.
Opening day was a dramatic pitchers’ duel between Cleveland ace Shane Bieber and Seattle’s Luis Castillo that lacked any offense until the wild eighth inning.
Crawford walked on a 3-2 pitch but only after being gifted a ball when Karinchak (0-1) committed the lone pitch-clock violation of the game with the count 0-2. The reliever was clearly rattled, firing the pitch after the violation to the backstop. Crawford fouled off a couple of pitches and eventually walked on a check-swing that Cleveland argued should have been a foul ball.
Guardians manager Terry Francona believed the ball had been foul tipped.
“It happens and you’re hoping that doesn’t spur on more, but James had a tough inning … and that made for a tougher inning,” Francona said.
Kolten Wong was hit by a pitch with one out and France went opposite field with a pitch out of the strike zone and cleared the wall down the right-field line.
France doubled off the wall in right-center earlier in the game and finished a triple short of the cycle. His homer ended any flashbacks the Mariners were experiencing from the last time they were in T-Mobile Park last October and lost 1-0 to Houston in 18 innings in the ALDS.
“We hadn’t scored a run in 26 innings so it was time,” France said.
Andrés Muñoz ran into trouble in the ninth, giving up a single to Amed Rosario and a double to José Ramírez with two outs. But the Seattle reliever got Guardians newcomer Josh Bell to ground out for the save, finishing a game that wrapped up in a brisk 2 hours, 14 minutes.
Until the eighth, pitching was the story for both teams looking to replicate their playoff runs from last season.
Castillo was dominant from the outset with another overpowering performance that fell in line with several spectacular starts last season after he was acquired from Cincinnati.
Castillo needed just 74 pitches to get through six innings and that ended up being his limit. He struck out six and the only runner he allowed came on an infield single that clipped the right-hander.
It was a scary moment at first as Will Brennan’s line drive struck the back of Castillo’s head, with most of the impact appearing to be absorbed by the pitcher’s dreadlocks. Castillo said it was about 50/50 between impact on his head and his hair.
“When the ball hit me, I realized that was OK right away,” Castillo said through an interpreter.
Three relievers finished the four-hitter. Paul Sewald (1-0) worked a hitless eighth.
Despite constant traffic on the bases, Bieber kept Seattle off the scoreboard and matched Castillo with six shutout innings. Bieber scattered six hits and struck out three, and most importantly came up with key pitches with two outs and runners in scoring position.
“I couldn’t really buy a clean inning today but that’s what it’s all about, trying to bend not break, and was able to do that for a couple of innings,” Bieber said.
Seattle threatened in the third, fifth and sixth against Bieber but was unable to get a two-out hit with a runner at third. France grounded out in the third and Julio Rodríguez hit a line drive that was run down by Brennan in right-center to end the fifth.
France doubled in the sixth — missing a home run by about a foot — but ended up stuck at third after Cal Raleigh popped out.