Welcome to the future.
As long and punishing as this season has been for the Seattle Mariners — on the brink of 100 losses, and far removed from a shot at the playoffs for the 18th consecutive year — there does appear to be hope. It arrived Tuesday, in the form of a 24-year-old rookie outfielder.
In just his second major league at-bat, hours after his promotion from Double-A Arkansas, No. 10 prospect Kyle Lewis belted his first MLB homer 426 feet into Seattle’s bullpen in left center, becoming the fifth Mariner in history to homer in his debut.
“It was a lot of fun, man. A lot of fun,” Lewis said. “I was just trying to keep it as simple as possible, and trying not to make things bigger than they are. When I hit that, though, it was definitely like an out-of-body experience.”
Lewis circled the bases quickly and was swarmed by teammates when he returned to the dugout. His parents clung to each other as they cheered from the stands.
“Really special,” Lewis said. “They were really nervous before the game. I was glad I was able to get a hit for them. I just wanted one hit.”
The one hit was the highlight of Seattle’s 4-3 comeback win over the Reds at T-Mobile Park, and seemed to usher in the next era of Mariners baseball. This season is long lost. The Mariners entered Wednesday 59-86, and barely held off their losing streak extending to a season-high seven games on Tuesday, thanks to a two-run, go-ahead homer from Kyle Seager in the eighth. But, those numbers don’t matter so much now in September, as Seattle continues to develop its promising farm system.
“It doesn’t matter where we’re at in the standings or what our win-loss record is,” Seager said. “You’ve got guys that are debuting, you’ve got guys that are young, that are just getting here. There’s an excitement level, there’s a learning level there, so everyday will bring something knew.
“Whether you’re in it or not, it really doesn’t matter. It’s exciting and it can be a lot of fun, and there’s a lot of teaching moments.”
Lewis was one of four September call-ups from Arkansas who joined the Mariners for Tuesday’s homestand opener, and the first to appear in a game, starting in right field.
He sharply grounded out to third in his first at-bat against Cincinnati starter Trevor Bauer, and worked a 2-0 count before launching his solo homer in the fifth.
He turned on a high fastball, and crushed it to break up Bauer’s early bid for a no-hitter. The homer tied the game at 1-1, and ended up a string of 12 consecutive batters retired by Bauer, who had allowed only a first-inning walk to that point.
“To get the first hit out of the way, and for it to be a pretty loud one was pretty cool,” Seager said.
Right-hander Justin Dunn, the No. 5 prospect who is scheduled to start Thursday, right-handed reliever Art Warren (No. 26) and utility infielder Donnie Walton (No. 28) were also called up after the Travelers’ trip to the Texas League Playoffs ended short of a title.
Walton had a quiet debut Tuesday, entering as a defensive replacement at shortstop in the ninth, but did set a MLB record, becoming the 65th player the Mariners have used in a game this season. The 2014 Rangers held the previous record for players used in a single season at 64.
“It’s great experience for these young kids,” manager Scott Servais said. “They’ve worked really hard to get here, and they need to enjoy it.”
Lewis is one of a few prospects in the organization who could break with the big-league club full time sooner rather than later, and is one day expected to be regularly roaming the Seattle’s outfield.
The Mariners’ top pick in the 2016 draft, Lewis has missed substantial development time to injuries, but hit .407 in 13 spring training games for the Mariners before logging 122 games with Arkansas and slashing at .263/.342/.398 with 25 doubles, two triples, 11 homers and 62 RBIs.
“It’s just another part of my story,” Lewis said of his journey from debilitating injuries to the big leagues. “I’m going to continue writing my story every day. You don’t know what that entails each and every day, but I’m going to continue to try to give it my best shot each and every day, and see where I end up.”