Well what we had here today was a baseball game played between a hot team looking to push towards their first playoff appearance in years, and another team fighting through some recent difficulty. Two-and-a-half hours of a ballgame where a young pitcher from the Caribbean faced off against a lineup not recently thought of as an offensive powerhouse. One of these teams regularly trots out one of the best closers in the game. The other has a third baseman seeing recent success after a breakout 2013 season.
See, the joke is that all of those things in that paragraph describe both the Mariners and the Royals, so I could have been talking about anyone with any sentence and you'll never know. But, as it turns out, only one team can win any given baseball game. So with that in mind, you can easily know which team I'm talking about in this next sentence: One of these teams won today's baseball game.
Yes, yes, that team was the Mariners, and yes, they have just swept the (formerly) hottest team in baseball today, taking Yordano Ventura and the Royals to town in a 2-1 victory. You can change the pronouns all you want in that last sentence, but it wouldn't be true any other way.
It started out looking a bit dangerous, with Elias running into a few speed bumps during the first few innings. It could have been a plethora of things--the Royals' second look at the guy, luck, or just simply the fact that Elias was having a tiny bit of trouble hitting his spots at times. But Elias refused to let any of that get to him, walking the first batter he faced before retiring the side in the first. In the second, Elias gave up back-to-back singles to Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez before sending a runner to third on a flyout. Justin Maxwell came up and whopped a first-pitch changeup out of the zone into centerfield, and as Gordon took off for third, Jones tried to rocket a throw to home, missing by about ten feet in two directions. It wasn't a bad throw at all, but I'm having trouble really imagining that throw over the outfield fence everyone talks about.
After the run, Elias seemed to be a little on edge, as he hit Alcides Escobar in the next at bat with a curve that didn't break right. But after a visit to the mound he got out of the inning, and never looked back, only giving up two more hits and a walk before his day was done.
The Mariners first got on the board in the fifth, after Mike Zunino doubled and scored on a Willie Bloomquist double. The game was tied until the seventh, when Zunino hit a solo dinger that even Dave Sims was sure about, and the Mariners had the lead at two. Ventura, who was seriously a little scary until this point, started to run out of gas. Next it was Ackley, with a single. Then, Brad Miller. No outs, two on. Willie Bloomquist was up, who had just hit a double a few innings earlier, and was told to bunt them over, presumably because all-MLB power hitter Endy Chavez was up next and ready to drive in two runs. But, you know, Ackley was out at third, so the only thing that happened in the abstract was that the Mariners suddenly had an extra out. What's that tune? Um...something...something something...
Endy and Jones weren't able to do anything, and the inning was over. Elias came into the seventh looking pretty good, as he first got Danny Valencia out on a grounder, but quickly gave up a single to Justin Maxwell. Pedro Ciriaco came up and tapped a bunt and the throw was so close, initially called safe by first base umpire Laz Diaz. Lloyd emerged from the dugout to challenge the play, and it fell to the M's this time.
It's funny, because it seems the idea of the replay challenge emerged amidst the haunting of Galarraga's near-perfect game: that this system was devised to be used sparingly to correct mistakes and protect umpires from angry mobs after blowing a call that was so obvious on television. But, and I don't know why we should have expected anything else, it has now turned into another strategic advantage. If there is a close play on a base, think about challenging it. And even though the Mariners got the call reversed today, it took four full minutes to get word from New York. Elias was cold, and you have to think that Lloyd chose right then to pull him had something to do with that four-minute wait.
Medina, Furbush, and Farquhar all battled their own struggles through the seventh and eighth innings, and Rodney came on in the ninth for the close. The Royals had a man on in each of these last innings, and while I was only listening on radio and couldn't see the crowd, you could hear them over the voice of Rizzs and Goldsmith, palpable and electric. 23,000 fans isn't an enormous crowd by any means, but I've been seeing some of the beat writers talk about the atmosphere around these Royals, suddenly playing well despite a decades-long playoff drought. Each inning, the tying run stood on a bag, and it was oddly nerve-wracking. Worse was when Farquhar balked Omar Infante over to second in the eighth inning.
The tying run was 180 feet away, and Billy Butler was up. One of the only Royals no one wanted to see here. As he rocketed a line drive off Farquhar's pitch, it apparently snaked up just into Willie Fucking Ballgame's glove, and the run was saved. Farquhar struck out Gordon to end the inning, and Rodney got out of the ninth with only one on.
So yes, we can move our pronouns around all we want in these first paragraphs, but once you start talking about the game you can't. Yordano Ventura had a better line than Roenis Elias, but he lost the game. The Royals and the Mariners had just as many hits and baserunners, but the Mariners had one extra run. In a way, this win was due to the fact that the Royals didn't have a dinger and the Mariners did. That's not exactly accurate, but it is exactly what won the game, and that's all that matters. The Mariners swept the Royals with two of the three wins coming from their 4th and 5th pitchers. Now if they can carry some of that energy and excitement to Safeco tomorrow to face the Red Sox, the M's will head into July in great shape.
But you know, it's going to be a sea of red and an 0-1 Felix loss tomorrow, so don't count your chickens before they hatch.
*apologies to Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, et al.