Every time the Mariners get set to play the Athletics, I make the same joke. I've been making the same joke for as many years as I can remember. "Oh, this is going to be boring and a half," I say. I don't think I've made that particular joke ever before, but I've made countless jokes that were variations on that one. The Mariners are about to play the A's? I hope you have something better to do, like anything. Buy a stack of a thousand pieces of paper and count the pieces of paper to make sure there are a thousand of them. Count them again because it's easy to lose track and screw up.
I'm certain the Mariners and A's have played some thrilling games before. It's not like every game between these two teams is weeding the lawn. But the general impression of these games remains what it is, and that's why when the Mariners and A's opened the season overseas it seemed like Major League Baseball was punishing Japan for something. When these two teams meet, you expect it to be a meeting no one remembers in a day. There's just this vague, lingering hint of something stale.
Games like this are why we think like this about games like this. You have a certain impression of any given matchup, even if you don't realize it. If the Mariners are playing the Indians, you'll think that it's going to go a certain way. If the Mariners are playing the Angels, you'll think that it's going to go a certain way. Your thought processes are based on a general evaluation of recent matchups previous. Tonight's game just guaranteed that we'll keep thinking the same way about Mariners/A's matchups for at least a little while longer. Eventually, we might look forward to games between the Mariners and the A's. Eventually, they might develop a track record of wild, meaningful unpredictability. That track record hasn't started developing. I'm looking forward to tomorrow night as little as I looked forward to tonight. Maybe a little less.
I'm trying to think of the right analogy for these games. I have two, so I'm going to try them both. You remember those little toys that you would press down on a hard surface, and then after some short amount of time, the toy would pop up into the air? I'm sure those things have a name but I never got around to learning it because I never got around to playing with one of those toys more than once. One analogy would be that Mariners/A's games are like those toys. The game begins, you look at it waiting for something to happen, and then one thing happens, and then it's over. And then you never want to deal with it again and you think about throwing it in the trash. A one-year-old might be entertained by these toys, but a one-year-old might be entertained by vacant baseball, because one-year-olds are stupid.
I have another analogy. Last Thursday night, I noticed a fairly large spider in one of the corners on the ceiling of our bathroom. I didn't do anything about it, because I don't really mind spiders, and I like the way they can keep a bathroom ant- and bug-free. The spider was still in the same place all day Friday, and then all day Saturday, and then almost all day Sunday. I got tired of it just hanging out up there so I dropped it into a container so I could put it outside. The spider was dead. It got up in that corner and then it died, because it turns out we don't have a bunch of ants and bugs and crickets and shit that get in our bathroom. I don't remember what the point of this analogy was. I recall that it was incomplete. I think the idea is that a Mariners/A's game is like a lifeless spider on the ceiling. You keep waiting for it to do something interesting, and you don't realize until too late it's been dead all along.
The Mariners lost to the A's Monday night 1-0. It was a comically Mariners/A's Mariners/A's game. All of the usual features were exaggerated, as if this were a racially insensitive propaganda poster. This game was basically the Mariners/A's game we expect all Mariners/A's games to be, except on turbo, or anti-turbo. There was a run, because there always has to be at least one run, but it happened so suddenly, and it was over so quickly. The run scored in the second inning, and it was as if Seth Smith just wanted to get it over with. "I guess I'll be the one to do something interesting," said Smith, "so that all y'all can keep on doing nothing interesting."
Going into the bottom of the ninth, behind 1-0, the Mariners had Kyle Seager, Jesus Montero, and Justin Smoak due up. Coming back from commercial, ROOT Sports showed the Mariner Moose in the stands by a bunch of young kids cheering enthusiastically for a comeback. Those kids genuinely thought the Mariners might score one run, that they might score two runs or three runs or four runs or even five runs. No. You can't blame the kids. You see them and you think "don't be so naive," but you have to learn before you can stop being naive. All of those kids learned something tonight. They learned what the rest of us take for granted, but there was a time that we first learned it too.
Mariners, Athletics, one run to no runs. You can't even work up the spirit to complain about anything because if you followed this game, it drained you of your energy. The last out was recorded, and after I came to, I thought, yep. Guess I can't complain about exactly what I expected. Nobody made me watch. I chose to watch. Why did I watch? What was the point of that?
There was, in truth, one positive. I don't want to bury Erasmo Ramirez when he was outstanding for eight innings, or at least made to look outstanding for eight innings. This was just the A's, in Safeco, and the A's haven't hit this season, but the A's have hit in June, quite a bit. Erasmo's performance was fantastic, and that's the one thing I'll specifically remember from this game for the next while. My brain will remember the rest of the action, somehow, but I won't be able to recall it offhand; it'll just be there, quietly influencing other thoughts.
In Erasmo's first start, he lasted five innings. In his second start, he lasted four innings. In his third start, he lasted eight innings, and he was strong from start to finish. His last pitch, number 103, was a 95 mile-per-hour fastball in a corner of the strike zone to Kurt Suzuki. I think the Safeco pitch speed numbers were a little hot, but only by about one tick, meaning Ramirez was bringing it. He finally had an opportunity to show a little positive emotion, which was good, since some Mariners needed to be able to.
Erasmo just kept on mixing his pitches, and he kept on getting the right results. Precisely two balls in play were marked as line drives. My absolute favorite fact is that Erasmo threw 28 changeups, and 13 of them were swung on and missed. Five were balls. Four were fouled off. His arm action was perfect, his location was perfect, and that pitch just mowed the A's down. Ramirez generated 17 swinging strikes in all, and he finished with ten strikeouts, after coming into the game with 13 strikeouts. Ramirez struck out 13 of the first 93 big-league batters he faced. Tonight he struck out ten of 26.
Strikes, secondary pitches, grounders, limited solid contact - this was peak Ramirez, and this was proof that Ramirez doesn't have to just be another Blake Beavan. I know that's a common worry, given that Beavan is as unexciting as pitchers come, but I do not believe with any fiber of my being that Beavan would be capable of having a start like this. Beavan's career-high for swinging strikes in a game is ten. He's struck out more than four batters in a start once. One time. Extreme performances are proof of ability. Kerry Wood wasn't going to strike out 20 batters every start, but he proved that he could do it. Wily Mo Pena wasn't going to hit every fastball 500 feet, but he proved that he could do it. Erasmo Ramirez has proved that he can do this, and Blake Beavan hasn't, and this was Ramirez's third-ever start in the Major Leagues.
Oh, there was a mistake. There were a few mistakes, but one that Ramirez paid for. With one out in the top of the second, Ramirez wanted to start Seth Smith with a fastball in the low-away corner. The fastball ran up, it ran in, and Smith pounded it out to center field. It wasn't a weak home run by any means, and Ramirez was punished for missing his location. From one perspective, a pitcher shouldn't get tagged with a loss when he pays for just one bad mistake. From another perspective, it's important to eliminate all mistakes and stay in control at all times against Major League competition, and now Ramirez has learned that one misplaced fastball in the bigs can be enough for defeat. That's a crummy lesson, but I can't think of anything better than a Mariners/A's game to teach it.