It's a special feeling to watch your team play on the road, and walk away with a win. There's this sadistic satisfaction that comes with boldly venturing into another fan base's ballpark, and cheering wildly in the face of the swarm around you.
When your team wins, it's one of the best feelings you can experience as a fan. You walk out of there smug as hell, thoroughly enjoying the range of emotions emanating from those among you. They all thought they had the right team, the winning team. No, not tonight.
Though the personal adversity you face has no bearing on the game, it still means something to be completely outnumbered. When your team, up against your own personal odds, pulls out that win, it's glorious.
Tonight was something else, and tonight was pretty awful.
I wrote earlier today about how the Mariners had experienced a bit of an attendance bump early in the season, and that I'd hoped it'd continue. Well, it certainly continued—but it was always going to with this series. With the Yankees in town, it isn't really a litmus test for what the attendance numbers could look like for the rest of the season.
Still, I wanted to see something north of 25,000, maybe even hit 30,000 on a Wednesday night in June. Well, they hit 28,000, and it wasn't pretty. If you couldn't tell on TV, the lower bowl was packed with Yankees fans. It was apparent immediately. I didn't arrive on time, admittedly, but it hit me when Derek Jeter singled off the Hisashi Iwakuma in the top of the first. This was going to be one of those games.
Have you been to one of these games? It's this, everywhere.
Really. As far as the eye can see, there are real-life animated gifs.
A muscular tattooed fan in a tank and a camo Yankees hat stands and applauds a "LET'S GO YANKEES" chant coming from up towards the concourse. Three sixty-year-old men slap high fives—two in matching khaki corporate giveaway hats—on a Derek Jeter ground rule double during their guys night out. A twenty-something guy runs down the aisle between innings so he can snap a picture of the Yanks' beloved captain on his girlfriend's point-and-shoot camera.
The Mariners aren't alone in their susceptibility to having fans of this aging and mediocre team take over their stadium. But tonight, tonight it didn't even seem close.
As I mentioned, the Mariners are making up some ground on their attendance woes, but nights like tonight make it very clear how far they have to go earning back the full love of this city. It's going to take sustained winning, probably months of sustained winning. These Mariners-Yankees games used to be a showcase, an opportunity to passionately cheer on the Mariners as they tested their mettle against the best team out East—not the chance to watch the team some have been rooting for since then.
I have my theories for why the M's didn't draw a more boisterous crowd, especially in facing the Yankees at the greatest high-point since 2009. I'll keep it succinct here, just saying this: it wasn't my experience, but if you're at work, or at home with your family, and decide that, hey, it's about time you do head down to Safeco and check out these Mariners—paying $30 face per person just to get in the door makes following through on that bout of spontaneous fandom a little less likely.
So, we should talk about baseball. Let's do that in the bullets.
- Leaving in a tired starter is almost never a good idea. Lloyd McClendon has caught a great deal of flak in situations like this before, one involving Hisashi Iwakuma and a Fernando Rodney blown save. Fans questioned the decision when it went down, and they were furious when Rodney surrendered the lead—until they found out Kuma said he was done.
Tonight, we saw the alternative. And we saw why managers frequently take the safe—and less ballsy—play. A fresh reliever with a clean slate is almost always better than a tiring reliever. Iwakuma damn near allowed two home runs in one eight-inning at-bat against Brett Gardner before Derek Jeter ripped a ground rule double. None of these three pitches were what you'd call middle-middle, bull all were higher than they should've been, and the two to Gardner caught a good chunk of the plate.
The next time you want to leave the starter in, even if it's Felix, remember this game. Sometimes it doesn't always work out. And even when it does, it's rarely good process.
- Saying "the Mariners can't score just two runs in a game started by Vidal Nuno" would be to oversimplify things. I don't disagree with the sentiment, but a couple qualifiers. First, Vidal Nuno has a 6.78 FIP at home and a 2.10 FIP on the road. Evidence of such a split was on full display tonight, as the Mariners were hitting balls hard and, given the space to do so, Yankees outfielders were running them down. Examples:
The latter, especially, is a game-changing play. That's two runs if Jacoby Ellsbury can't come up with the catch. In addition to these fine defensive plays, there were a few liners hit right at defenders. The Mariners needed to find a way to push across a few more runs, and had the opportunities to do so, but it wasn't as if they were dominated by mediocre pitcher.
- Cole Gillespie keeps hitting. In three plate appearances tonight, he had a hard-hit RBI single and a walk. He's up to a 121 wRC+, which actually leads the team. The Mariners may have found something here, maybe even something more than a platoon piece. And you really wonder if that's the case when the manager is pinch hitting for him with Endy Chavez. I know Sunday was great, but this thing where Chavez is getting (multiple) high leverage ABs has to end.
- Lloyd McClendon leaving Hisashi Iwakuma in too long doesn't excuse Charlie Furbush for that 0-2 meatball. People often think this, and I don't know where it comes from. "Lloyd has to pull Iwakuma before that." "Yeah but even a little leaguer knows he has to execute better than that. That's all Furbush's fault." Well, yeah. These things aren't mutually exclusive. Anyway, that pitch:
You can't do that, Charlie.
- For the year, Yankees reliever Dellin Betances has a 0.94 FIP and a 15.19 K/9. The Mariners scored a run off of him. Specifically, Dustin Ackley hit an RBI liner off of him. Ackley is now 2-2 off Betances. I don't even know.
- In the ninth inning, with righty closer David Robertson on the mound, two outs and a man on first, Lloyd McClendon pinch hit John Buck for Brad Miller. There are reasonable arguments to be made for going with Buck or sticking with Miller. And that, really, is the problem.
- For Derek Jeter's farewell, the Mariners gave him a seat from the Kingdome and Robinson Cano gave him a Jay Z watch. I'm sure this wasn't the intention whatsoever, but these being incredibly classy and subtle jabs is just perfect.
The Athletics lost to the Angels tonight, so while the Mariners lost a game on the Halos, they didn't on first place as they hang just 4.5 back. But, they also face Masahiro Tanaka tomorrow, so they're staring a series loss in the face. Here's to another black magic miracle.