First off, I want to apologize for the lateness of my recap. I've had a bit of an interesting week, as I had scheduled to see a Hillsboro Hops/Everett Aquasox low A game this afternoon with my parents until my dad's sister had a "cardiac episode" earlier in the week and died. Or as my very non-emotional father said earlier in the week, "she just keeled over dead this morning."
I was really looking forward to sharing the minor league game with him this afternoon, but of course, life gets in the way. So I was able to catch most of today's Mariners game before hopping onto I-5 into the "city" of Hillsboro, and of course, that game is what I am charged to speak of here on this website.
And what a game it was. The Mariners beat the Minnesota Twins by a score of 6-4, and thankfully tied the series with the American League's third-worst team that would have looked quite a bit ickier if they walked away with a loss. Coming off of three series wins might have sent a few of us into a zone of expecting too much, but really, a series tie with a team like the Twins is kind of exactly what we should be expecting, especially considering this team is putting out Humberto Quintero and Henry Blanco behind the plate now, and starting Endy Chavez in the outfield.
So thankfully they were able to squeak a win by today. Erasmo Ramirez took the mound for his third start of the season and had a little bit of trouble--it just seemed he wasn't hitting his spots and left a few balls too high for too many deep fly balls. He left the game after 6 innings with 7 hits, 4 ER, and 1 home run, but he managed to strike out 6 Twins batters. We had, should you say, a spirited conversation in the game thread about whether or not Erasmo is a bust already, and holy crap, the 23 year old has started three games after coming off an elbow issue that might not be solved yet. He managed to earn the win today and snuck more strikeouts in a game than Jeremy Bonderman saw all year. If playoffs are truly out of the question, we should be hearkening around our televisions each time Ramirez takes the mound to see what he is capable of--this is the exciting stuff that starts to lay the framework for multi-seasonal narratives, if that's your thing.
But it wasn't 100% peaches and cream from the Nicaraguan right-hander, as he had a couple of messy innings where the Twins certainly beat him up a bit. In the second inning, Ryan Doumit hit a deep fly ball that Endy Chavez ran after like a cruise missile. Chavez leaped up to rob the dinger, but it bounced out of his glove to land in the infield where the umpires declared it a ground-rule double. Then, on the very next pitch to Twins first baseman Chris Colabello, Ramirez gave up a 2-run homer with an 86MPH slider high and away. They were the only runs Ramirez gave up in the second, and damned if it didn't look like he let the whole thing get to him too much. I don't know if you've noticed, but Erasmo seems to do this thing when he gets stressed where he takes his hat off and wipes the sweat off his brow while biting his lip, quite visibly. I'm sure it's difficult to stand in the middle of a baseball field on a hot July day, but it also helped serve as a bit of a reminder that the Mariners' starting pitcher today was 5' 11" and 23 years old and chasing his second career win in the big leagues. This is some exciting stuff to watch, even if he is letting us see his open wounds in the middle of some of these games.
But thankfully, the Mariners bats met him halfway this time, despite two games where it seemed like the guys were more interested in dugout shenanigans than doing anything productive on the field. Or, they just faced a left handed pitcher on Friday and fell behind early on Saturday. That's probably more accurate, but a play to emotion seems like an easier answer.
Kyle Seager got the scoring started in the third with a sac fly that scored Brad Miller, who singled in a four-pitch at bat off Twins' starter Kyle Gibson. And then the wheels came off in the fourth, with a Michael Saunders home run to lead off the inning and a 3-run Nick Franklin dinger a few batters later to put 5 runs on the board for the M's. And although Erasmo would get into a little trouble in the top of the 6th, the Twins wouldn't truly threaten again throughout the rest of the game. But here, I want to show you how he got out of that sixth inning:
This, on its own, doesn't look that interesting. But this was a taxed Ramirez with 103 pitches on his arm, having just given up two runs off a single to Clete Thomas (again?) that scored Ryan Doumit, and a Aaron Hicks sac fly to score Colabello. He was still hitting 93 on his fastball a mere batter earlier, and facing Pedro Florimon, threw three changeups in the zone to get him swinging for an out. Now granted, Florimon is known for having an "exceptionally poor eye" against offspeed pitches, but holy crap- you just made a couple of mistakes, and it's a one-run game, and you have enough confidence in your changeup to throw three down the very center of the strikezone--and it worked. Someone mentioned in the game thread that Erasmo's ceiling is somewhere around Felix. Now, I might have to argue that that's a bit of hyperbole. But one of the exciting things about Felix in comparison with the Zack Greinkes and Strasburgs out there is that the King has one of, if not THE, best changeups in all of baseball. So to know that Erasmo not only has the confidence to go to his in a similar situation, but to also watch it work damn well, is pretty exciting.
Oh yeah, and Nick Franklin hit another dinger in the 7th inning. I'm pretty convinced he can do almost whatever and Wil Myers will still walk away with the AL Rookie of the Year, but if he keeps doing stuff like this, you have to at least ask that he be involved in the conversation. And how exciting is it, not that he may get it, but that we have someone actually involved in that conversation since a certain late twenties-something Japanese player a few years ago?
So the Mariners leave the series split at two games a piece with the Twins. Like I said, I spent the day in Hillsboro, Oregon, just outside of Portland to see the Aquasox take on the Hops. I bought the tickets for a nice night out with my parents a couple of months ago, excited to see DJ Peterson, Justin Seager, and Austin Wilson, but of course they called Peterson up to Clinton a few weeks ago. It was still a great game--if you've never seen the Sox in person, you'd be shocked how much Justin Seager looks just like Kyle. It's crazy.
But the real thing I'm going to take away from this series came in the first game. My dad isn't the biggest sports fan--and by this I mean he really could care less two ways to the highway about anything that has to do with sports--but I really think he was looking forward to seeing the Hops game today. When his sister died unexpectedly, he realized he would have to miss the game to fly out to Montana to join the funeral, so I visited them on Thursday to watch the game and spend some time with them. The Mariners were hot--and despite losing the last game to Cleveland on Wednesday, I think we all expected good things to come out of a series with the Minnesota Twins of all teams. I know I did.
So I pulled into their driveway and pulled a couple of beers out of the fridge, one for me and one for my dad. I turned the television to ROOT in time to see the pregame show for a minute, and my old man started spouting off a few things about flying out to the funeral and this and that, and I could tell that he still had yet to process what had happened, and that he was coping with flight itineraries and postponed work meetings scheduled around this unexpected intrusion as a bit of a distraction--and that those distractions weren't working. He looked up at the game in progress, totally oblivious to everything that has happened to this team since they first took me to games in the Kingdome in the mid '90s, and started to ask about the team. So, how are the Mariners doing this year? Iwakuma threw a couple of early pitches down low and in the dirt to get a Twins batter swinging. Whoo boy, he said, he sure isn't looking good!
I wasn't quite in the mood to tell him that Iwakuma had meant to throw the ball as low as he did, because as I was watching the game, I realized that my dad had, for the first time since hearing his sister died, pushed everything out of his brain and was able to watch a baseball game that he didn't know heads or tails of and really enjoy himself. We watched in unison during the M's explosive second inning, after Mike Zunino, Dustin Ackley, and Brad Miller knocked a few in, and then Nick Franklin hit a three-run home run. My dad didn't know any of these players names--no not at all.
I started to explain to him how exciting it was that we finally had some young guys that were performing well, but I could tell the trajectory of my words was floating off into the distance and dissipating out the window, outside of his earshot. I watched as he smiled and saw a pitching meltdown (and seriously, who doesn't enjoy one of these now and then), and realized that no narrative mattered at that moment--no context for losing seasons and failed prospects could make that second inning better for my dad, who knew nothing about the Mariners, but was enjoying the hell out of that game of baseball because if only for a moment, it helped him to forget that he would never see his sister again and even a meaningless game could bring him a modicum of joy to a place he thought impossible before.
So today I watched Nick Franklin hit two home runs, and I saw Brad Miller go 2-3 with a walk. I saw Erasmo Ramirez squirm a little bit, but get out of a jam and earn his second win of 2013 with a wonderful ground to build upon. I saw Michael Saunders come back from the bench with a tape-measure home run and I saw the Mariners win a baseball game, and I realized that it didn't matter at all. The Mariners aren't going to make the playoffs, and this little late season run might not end up meaning anything whatsoever. But I watched a damn good baseball game today, and regardless of what happens, I think I realized last Thursday that we have it pretty good to be able to watch these guys pick up bats and figure things out for this team. And even if it doesn't translate into anything for a long time, we are watching some of the best living baseball players on the planet do their thing every day. And how cool is that? I for one want to put away my pessimism and look to the way my dad watched that baseball game, and realize that this whole thing that we come here to celebrate can be a lot of different things to a lot of different people. And maybe, just maybe, it can be different things to us, if we let it.
But then I got word that Michael Morse is coming back from Tacoma, and the first thing I could think of was his outfield defense, so I guess that pipe dream ended pretty quickly.