SEATTLE -- Scott Servais is a first-year manager. This, however, isn't his first rodeo.
Servais is in his 29th season in baseball. In addition to an 11-year big league career as a catcher, there was time in the Minor Leagues, and then front-office experience as a director of player development with the Rangers and an assistant general manager with the Angels.
So when the Mariners started to stumble in June, Servais knew the time had come for a meeting with a handful of veteran players.
A message was delivered.
"It was not talking about wins and losses," Servais said. "It was about the need to play better. You can't control certain things that happen that results in wins and losses. You can control how you play and how you prepare."
And it was received.
With a 9-4 victory against the Orioles at Safeco Field on Sunday, the Mariners completed their first four-game sweep since they victimized the Royals back in July 2012. They also wrapped up a homestand in which they won seven out of nine games from the postseason hopeful trio of the Cardinals, Pirates and O's.
And now they embark on a seven-game road trip leading up to the All-Star break with a chance to reaffirm their emergence as a factor in the American League West. First comes three games against the Astros in Houston and then a four-game visit to Kansas City to face the defending World Series champion Royals.
Not the easiest of tasks, but then the Mariners are in the midst of one of the most challenging stretches that any team will face this year. They showed up at Fenway Park on June 17 ready to embark on a 31-game stretch in which 28 of the games are against teams which either lead a division, or are within two games of one of the two Wild Card spots in each league.
They stumbled early, losing two of three to the Red Sox and were swept in a four-game series against the Tigers. That's when they came back to Safeco and Servais figured it was time for a meeting.
After their 7-2 homestand, Seattle heads to Houston having regained that home-field edge (22-20) and with reason to look at what's ahead -- even if Servais said he's more concerned about how the Mariners play than who they play.
"I don't look at schedules," Servais said. "It is a matter of controlling how we play. I talked to the coaching staff, 'Let's not focus on their team. Let's focus on our team.' When we do the things we can do, we're pretty good."
And the Mariners were real good the past 10 days, particularly Seth Smith, who homered in each of the four games against the Orioles, including a third-inning grand slam off his former Rockies teammate Ubaldo Jimenez on Sunday.
Smith is now one of seven Mariners players with 10 home runs, the first time they have had that many before the All-Star break since they came into existence as an expansion team in 1977. His four home runs and a double were among the 23 extra-base hits Seattle had in the series vs. Baltimore, the second most in franchise history over a four-game series.
And then there was a mound session by Felix Hernandez on Sunday morning that went well enough that Servais said he expects Hernandez to come off the disabled list after the All-Star break when the Mariners will host the Astros and White Sox for a seven-game homestand.
That's all part of this 31-game stretch that runs through a three-game visit to Safeco by the Tigers on Aug. 8-10 right after a three-game series there against the Angels, the only team that wouldn't be considered a serious contender.
In that time, they have visits with the Blue Jays, Pirates and Cubs, and then return for a 10-game homestand in which the three games against the Angels are in between a four-game series with the Red Sox and a visit by the Tigers.
Challenging? That's life in the big leagues.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.