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65-79: Schrödinger’s Ballgame

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If the Mariners lose in an empty stadium, does it make a sound?

5'9" is technically average height
5'9" is technically average height
Otto Greule Jr

"This crowd has really, really thinned out," Rick Rizzs tells the radio audience after nine Astros came to the plate in the top of the ninth. That was, sadly, the story of the game. Paid attendance for tonight's game was 9,808, though this of course counts all of the season ticket sales, vendors, and seagulls. To be fair, it's a mere ten short of a Joe Saunders/Zach Britton matchup on Monday, April 29. Meanwhile, the Indians, who ended the night a game and a half out of the Wild Card, rolled the turnstiles only 9,794 times. It's tough all around, some places.

I don't like attendance shaming, because there are so many factors that go into ticket sales: prices, product, competition, promotions, opponents, beer prices. But while crowds are often used as an indictment against the fanbase, it's far more often an indicator of flawed management. (Recall Key Arena's last season, when Sonics fans were told the city couldn't support basketball, or whatever product the team was selling.) The Mariners used the youth to build interest all summer, and now that we've reached September, when we usually get to enjoy cups of coffee, the thermos is already empty.

Can we blame Mariners fans for their collective, silent shrug? Baseball doesn't have to be about winning. Witness the Mets and the Cubs, who created a culture out of losing lovably. The Mariners have done everything they could to create the same familiar camaraderie, and the marketing department does ("I'm a seat" notwithstanding) a remarkable job. But despite the fact that nearly everyone who played will be back next year, outside of Ibanez and perhaps Morales, there's no feeling of investment, no feeling of progress. There's no story. This is where narrative is so essential: the numbers tell us what happened and what is likely to happen, but they don't make us care.

People who theoretically existed:

  • Taijuan Walker. Walker weathered a few rough innings early, leaving some pitches up and getting touched for a couple of runs on three doubles. He also touched 98 on the radar gun and settled down, going five, retiring the last nine batters in a row, and striking out eight. His FIP for the night: 0.45. Location
    Walker got swinging strikes on seven pitches out of the zone, four of them at the top of the ladder. The fastball command isn't all the way there, nor should we expect it to be, but it's pretty liberating when a guy can just dial it up when needed. Someday, he'll need a Plan B, but for now, it's fun to watch.
  • Abraham Almonte. He doubled and scored on an error in the first. Then, in the seventh, he turned on a pitch down and in to hit the first home run of his career, a go-ahead two-run shot. He's going to be more fun to watch next year than Endy Chavez was.
  • Kyle Seager and Dustin Ackley both walked three times. All three of Ackley's walks came with two outs, which doesn't mean anything, but tells you a little about the cruel nature of baseball and random distribution. Between them, the 4, 5 and 6 hitters combined to go 0 for 12.
  • The game was going swimmingly until the top of the ninth, when Danny Farquhar came in and melted down. He struck out the first batter, Brandon Barnes, and then walked two batters and gave up two ground ball singles. The ground balls happen; the walks hurt. It happens sometimes.
  • In the weird play of the game, Justin Smoak caught a fly ball, spun, fired it home - and hit the batter, who was kneeling down in foul territory. a run, though an inconsequential one, scored on the play.

Yes, the game was disappointing, especially when it was former Mariners closer-of-the-future Josh Fields finishing things off. But with Taijuan Walker, we really do have something worth getting excited about. Hope you enjoyed it: Joe Saunders pitches tomorrow.