The Mariners beat the Houston Astros today. That's one sentence that is able to tell you the story of the baseball game played this afternoon in Houston, Texas. In October, all that really matters is how high the number is in your win column, and to that end, the Mariners helped themselves as much as they could in a single day, sans a doubleheader. In fact, you could also look at the team's record following the win, 13-15, and see that the team is slowly building back to .500, and think wow, what a great day for the Seattle Mariners!
To that end, it's entirely possible that the Mariners had an absolutely incredible three hours of baseball against the most abysmal offense in the league, seeing the return of All-Star pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma as he two-hit the Astros aided by home runs from Kyle Seager and Stefen Romero, and a 3-4 day from Brad Miller. In this game, Cole Gillespie got the start in left field and hit a triple an inning after he made a diving, face first catch into the gap to rob the Astros of what would have been their only run of the game. And the final scene of this wonderful day in baseball history would have been recorded on ROOT's broadcast cameras, as Lloyd McClendon emerged from the dugout applauding the returning defensive nine, slapping mitts and exchanging high-fives like they were currency on a team ready to hit the playoff betting pool in Vegas.
See, the thing is all of that could have happened today, and while none of it did, the end result is still the same. Mariners win a game, increase to 13-15. Hisashi Iwakuma gets his first win of the year. The Astros lose.
What did happen? Oh, you don't want to know. Seriously, I debated not even talking about it. But alas, that's kind of my job here, so...well...here we go. The Mariners carried two hits into the sixth inning off Astros starter Dallas Keuchel, who I've now watched pitch a handful of times and still can't seem to understand. In 2012, Dallas Keuchel started 16 games for the Astros and picked up three wins. He ended the year with an astronomical (ha, get it) xFIP of 5.12, an SIERA of 5.40, and still somehow managed to carry a BABIP of .277, which suggested that holy crap, Dallas Keuchel is awful. This year so far? Oh, you know, an xFIP of 2.84, 2.74 SIERA, with an even worse BABIP of .333. Dallas Keuchel grew up, or found some cheat codes or something, and the Mariners were on the wrong end of it today.
Keuchel got through the first four innings with only 48 pitches. A big part of this was thanks to the Mariners, who decided to be aggressive to the point of stupidity today. Michael Saunders opened the game with a leadoff drag bunt, because LLoyd was excited to get his new leadoff man out there and then have him do something that just about anyone else in the clubhouse could do if they wanted. And without the speed of Almonte, too. In fact, the only two hits in the first six innings came off a Justin Smoak double in the second and a gap single from Michael Saunders in the third. Meanwhile, the Astros had put up two runs of their own off Iwakuma after Jonathan Villar rocketed a triple into the eighty-thousand mile wide outfield of Minute Maid Park that scored a run, followed by another RBI single.
These two runs weren't the end of the world though. And the great news was that Iwakuma looked surprisingly sharp in his first start of the season, having missed however many days after playing catch with a net in the offseason. For a first start back, his command was incredible, and his movement, oh my god, his movement. I forgot how much movement Iwakuma gets on his pitches, and today was a revelation. Take a look at this AB, which was Iwakuma striking out Matt Dominguez to end the first.
This was the fourth batter Iwakuma had faced all year. He didn't pitch an inning of spring training. He played one minor league game. Otherwise he threw a bunch of BP to Mariners hitters over the past few weeks, and then he comes and does this. His line on the day isn't quite as sexy as this at-bat suggests his day was: 6H, 4R, and only 3 strikeouts, but don't even be worried about that. Iwakuma is back, and the Mariners just got a whole hell of a lot better because of it.
And then we come to whatever happened in the middle of this game. You know, a crutch for uninspired sports writers has always been to compare the game they cover to some other sort of material thing--a playoff basketball series as theater, a football game as war, what have you. That's all fine and well, but if we were going to go this route with today's game, it would have to be something else altogether.
I don't even know what it would be, but I'll tell you this: I kind of wonder if the crazy middle innings of today's game weren't the aberration from the norm. That's what everyone thought, right? Here's the model.
Six innings of low hitting baseball. Good pitchers hitting their spots, a few runs crossing the plate, and some dad wearing khaki cargo shorts in the left field bleachers, trying to calm his bored son down with a hot dog and jumbo sized soda while Brad Miller strikes out.
EVERYTHING COMES UNGLUED!!!!!!
The Mariners scored eight runs in the seventh after LLoyd gets tossed for complaining that Houston was stalling to get their relievers warmup time. Astros walk in a run (Zunino's first unintentional walk!), Condor RBI double, Stefen Romero RBI single, Cano RBI single, Seager RBI double, and finally, a MONSTER 500 foot home run from Justin Smoak. I don't know how far it actually went, but it bounced off the glass wall so it would have been out into the street if the roof was open.
Then, MORE MADNESS! The Astros score, and score, and score again. Chris Carter hits a dinger off Iwakuma in the seventh. Dominic Leone comes in and pitches to a picassoesque strike zone, giving up a homer to Jonathan Villar. Brad Miller bobbles another infield play and Dexter Fowler scores Altuve. 9-6 Mariners. Then...Yoervis Ballzone Medina, who I still think the Mariners should just leave at the ballpark on their way to the hotel tonight, to make it a one-run game. 9-8 Mariners. Madness. The wheels are off. No, there are no wheels. You are rolling down a hill in a wheel-less '78 Chevy Mailbu, and the bottom of the car is scraping against the pavement so hard the sparks are painting the navy blue and teal frame into a charred black coat of shame. It's your car. It's the Mariners car. And you can't get out of it. The door lock jammed three years ago.
BACK TO NORMAL
And then, ah yes, then Fernando Rodney comes into the game to get out of the eighth, and closes the door in the ninth with a bit of a hair-raising save which is exactly what normal is to Fernando Rodney. The Mariners squeak a win out, albeit a win in a game that saw them once leading by seven with an eight-run inning.
Yes, it was something else to see. But I got thinking about what this was, what the hell I just watched on television today, and I realized something. See, everyone is going to think about these middle crazy innings as this capital-E Event, sandwiched by more normal baseball reined in by normalcy taking control and statistics evening out. But I'm not sure that's really how it works.
See, if we go back to the car thing, we should pretend you're driving that 1978 Chevy Mailbu again. It has wheels this time, sure. But you've been out for a while, driving around town, and everything seems fine. Got the engined serviced with a nice $240 tuneup that guaranteed a little more production out of the ol' gal, and things have really been great. But then you start to notice that every time you turn the steering wheel all the way to the right it makes this awful screeching noise. It's terrible, you can't mask it with the radio, you can't ignore it. It's the worst. People in other cars look at you because even they can hear it. Embarrassing.
One day, you make a sharp right turn to avoid some jackass merging into your lane, and your car catches fire. Black smoke billows out of the engine like an angel being released back into the heavens, and your hood pops up and blinds you as you try to regain control of the wheel, violently swerving in and out of traffic. You are sure you are going to die. You will die. No, you are dead already.
But then, suddenly, providence! You pull your car over to the side of the road, get a tow, and the mechanic does some little fix that I don't understand because I don't know anything about cars, and it turns out that your 1978 Chevy Malibu is actually going to be fine, and even driveable again next week. Thank your lucky stars! It was all a random, accidental episode! You are going to be FINE! But no, that mechanic is a lying sonofabitch. Your car is old as hell, and you probably shouldn't be driving it, you idiot! What are you thinking? This car is 36 years old and you think it's safe to take out on the road every day? What are you, crazy? Its only a matter of time until it explodes again because your engine exploded and they didn't replace it with one that isn't prone to exploding!
I don't know about you, but that's kind of what today felt like. Thankfully, I don't know anything about cars. I do know that sometimes they can fix up really old ones and they drive fine, because there is a guy that lives down the street from me that has a car from the 1940's, and he drives it around every once in a while. He goes to church sometimes, I think, or the Farmers' Market. But still--maybe your 1978 Malibu is going to be fine. Maybe it only needs a few extra parts, I don't know. You could be totally safe. They have people good at fixing those things nowadays. It might not even take a big fix. You could be in for smooth sailing ahead.
But probably not.