The Mariners have rarely been a team that makes good things look like they come naturally. We all want good things to come naturally, of course. They look like they come so naturally for other people and other teams.
The feeling, which is not a particularly good feeling (as feelings go), comes most frequently while scrolling social media, or while listening to someone delineate their exploits. You’ll see someone who just bought a house, or hear someone who talks about the promotion they just scored, and the feeling comes. Call it envy, or resentment, or jealousy: it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, it’s a horrific twinge as your mind tries to convince you that something might be seriously and fundamentally wrong with you, which has caused you not to achieve those things.
Of course, that feeling doesn’t hold up after a few seconds of clear-eyed reasoning. You see the new house on social media, but not the 7% interest mortgage on a 30-year fixed term. The promotion sounds great, but those 70-hour work weeks don’t sound great.
The problem is that the analogy doesn’t exactly hold when you try to apply it to the Mariners. Trust me: I’ve tried every cognitive gymnastic in the book in order to try to justify how my Mariners fandom will ever start bringing me returns on my investment. Oh, those other teams had to spend $200 million to win the World Series. Not my money. Okay, well, they had to tank in order to get there. Sure, but they got there.
The coping has turned inward as the Mariners have inched further and further down in the standings. Their strength of schedule has been really hard! Their xwOBA has been much higher than their overall wOBA! The bullpen will turn it around! Et cetera, et cetera.
This month has been the initial litmus test of the first assertion: that the Mariners will look better when they start playing worse competition. Unfortunately, it didn’t go great against the Oakland A’s last week, as the Mariners dropped the series to their pitiful, tanking Bay-area rivals.
This series, then, was a must-win by any stretch of the imagination. Injuries be damned — if the team can’t win against the perennially cellar-dwelling Orioles, they’re probably not going places this season.
After a win in the first game, yesterday’s meltdown turned today into a rubber match that probably looked like a joke to most of Major League Baseball, but felt urgently important for its implications to Jerry Dipoto’s upcoming State of the Team address (if only).
It didn’t start great. A Jesse Winker TOOTBLAN cost the Mariners a run in the first inning, and Chris Flexen continued a worrying stretch of middling command as he gave up a string of singles that gave the Orioles a 2-0 lead.
Thankfully, the Mariners’ opponent was the Baltimore freakin’ Orioles, after all. Taylor Trammell continued his great start to his season with a double to lead off the third inning, and a Winker single brought him home. Later, with Luis Torrens on third base, Julio Rodríguez showed off his speed yet again as he stole second and forced a throwing error that allowed Torrens to score, tying the game at 2-2.
More icky singles and doubles in the bottom of the third made the game 3-2, Orioles. On that note, it’s been striking how different it feels to watch Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, or Marco Gonzales, versus watching… any other Mariners pitcher. The Logan/Kirby/Marco experience is fun. The any-other-pitcher experience ranges from milquetoast to actively harmful to an observer’s health.
Thankfully, the M’s finally put together a big inning in the sixth. Three straight singles from Julio, J.P. Crawford, and Eugenio Súarez ultimately set the stage for an Adam Frazier sacrifice fly and a Torrens two-RBI single to put the Mariners up 6-3.
The most frustrating thing about the 2022 Mariners, unfortunately, has been their propensity to blow leads. Tonight’s goat of the bullpen was Matt Festa, who recorded one (1) out, two (2) hit batters, and one (1) hard-hit double. Woof. Paul Sewald was summoned to limit the damage, but an unfortunate Cedric Mullens double allowed both of his inherited runners to score and tie the game.
Of course, with the game now tied, both bullpens began to look exemplary. Sewald threw another inning of pristine relief, and Andres Muñoz did the same. Two amorphous Orioles relievers kept the Mariners off the board through nine, and to extra innings we went. As has been the case with every game so far this season, the Mariners’ season was on the line.
Adam Frazier began the tenth by grounding out to the right side, allowing Súarez, who tonight played the part of the Manfred Runner, to advance to third base. Not that that mattered. Abraham Toro, who also had a couple of exemplary plays at third base tonight, cracked the first fastball he saw out to deep center.
A less dead ball might have carried more than the 411 feet that this one did. Eighteen other baseball fields would have allowed it to escape their walls. But though it didn’t quite make it over the fence, the ball did make it over the outstretched glove of Cedric Mullens. Ricocheting off the top of the wall, the ball careened into center field far enough for Toro to coast into third base with an RBI triple.
The Mariners, unfortunately, weren’t able to score Toro from third, so the Orioles got their shot in the bottom of the tenth with the game-tying Manfred Runner on second base.
It would have been game-tying, anyway, if Diego Castillo hadn’t pitched the game of his season so far.
Two sliders, a fastball, and a final slider to Austin Hays culminated in a swing-and-a-miss for strike three.
Five straight sliders to Ryan Mountcastle ended in the exact same way.
Adley Rutschman, to his credit, had enough discipline to work a 3-0 count against Castillo. Castillo fought back though, ultimately inducing a line drive into the shift to seal the game and strand the abomination that is the Manfred Runner at second base.
So it was that the Mariners scratched, hustled, and gave their all just to eke out a 7-6 game win and a 2-1 series win against one of the worst teams in the league.
As with any Mariners game, though, it didn’t matter. Gone was my angst over the implications the game had for the rest of the Mariners’ season, or what the way the game played out said about who the Mariners are as a team. Those are the thoughts that tend to fester over the course of the day, in the hours leading up to the actual game.
No, as Abraham Toro grinned in his postgame interview, I didn’t have the inclination nor the energy to care about the fancy new houses the Dodgers and the Mets are living in, nor the brilliance the Rays seem to be inherently gifted with.
I was, as they say, just happy to be here.
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