Fernando Rodney reached back and twisted his body at the waist, right along the same vertical axis that pulls the bill of his hat ever so slightly to the left. Then, he turned the whole thing right back in the opposite direction to give the baseball he was throwing just enough juice to whip right past the swinging bat of Matt Joyce, who mistimed it and knocked it right back into the glove of Mike Zunino. The game was over, and the Mariners had just defeated the Tampa Bay Rays, 7-4.
As Rodney turned around to face the centerfield bleachers, he put his hand behind his head, pulling out an imaginary arrow he then pretended to launch into the concrete ceiling of Tropicana Field just like he used to day-in-and-day-out over the past two years. And right then, the faces of twenty-three thousand residents of St. Petersburg, Florida contorted into snide disapproval, bathing him in a boo cleanse in order to let him know that goddammit you traitor why did you leave us and also why have the Rays lost 39 games this year?
Rodney departed the field today wearing a silver 'S' on his hat instead of a white 'TB,' and in the process did his part to help the Mariners clench their 32nd win of the 2014 season. His 17 saves are tied for the fourth-most in all of baseball, and despite earning a nickname due in part to his penchant for tumultuous, anxiety-ridden appearances, he's doing exactly what Jack Zduriencik asked him to do when he signed him to a two-year, $14 million dollar contract in February.
Now, I just spent three unnecessarily verbose paragraphs talking about what was on my television when the Mariners game ended today, but if you were to ask me, the most interesting sentence I typed included the words "he's doing exactly what Jack Zduriencik asked him to do when he signed him to a two-year, $14 million dollar contract in February." I mean, think about that for a minute.
Today the Mariners beat the Rays, and they got good production out of Willie Bloomquist and Endy Chavez, but the onus of responsibility there hasn't been as much of a Jack Zduriencik thing as it's been an unfortunate Justin Smoak, Brad Miller, and Michael Saunders' Shoulder thing. Then, today, Roenis Elias pitched 7.2 really great innings, but his unpredictably successful rookie season hasn't been a front-office revelation as much as it's been a Woah, Wait, How Did This Happen? kind of thing. Dustin Ackley had three hits today, including a bases-clearing double, and while Jack Z did draft the guy, it wasn't exactly the usual outing from our bearded southern utility outfielder extraordinaire.
No, instead, what I wrote earlier was that Jack Zduriencik looked at the open market during the offseason and made a good decision that appeared kind of weird to some at the moment. He gave a 37-year old reliever a decent conract despite having a $500k closer that was statistically having a great rookie season, and he did all this after the Seattle Times posted a damning front-office expose that only further illuminated the pin on his chest that depicted the team's win-loss record and run differential during his tenure leading the ship. And yet, here we are. And thinking about it...what a perfect metaphor for the entire 2014 Seattle Mariners season. Weird, but not terrible on paper. Uncomfortable. Not supposed to work. Yet...somehow...it works.
But yes, to the game. Today, Elias ran into some early luck, needing only six pitches in the first inning, with some well-hit outs. It gave him trouble in the second after getting Ben Zobrist to fly out, as he gave up a solo home run to James Loney immediately afterward. After a walk to Yunel Escobar and a single to Logan Forsythe, the Rays did their best to honor the late, great Don Zimmer by having Ali Solis bunt the runners over, which ended up scoring a run in the process. But afterward? Elias remembered that whole complete game outing thing, and settled right back don for almost the rest of the game.
His pitch count was in great shape, leading many to wonder if he would have a chance at another complete game in the process. The Mariners did their best to give him some support of their own as well, with a solo home run from Cole Gillespie in the second ensured that Loney's wouldn't dig a hole. In the fourth inning the Mariners plated two, following singles from Dustin Ackley and Brad Miller that were driven in by Willie Bloomquist. It's kind of weird, because on one hand, it's wonderful and exciting that Brad Miller reached base and then scored a run. But his single--earned from the official scorekeeper--was a grounder right to the mound and at Alex Cobb, which could have been a double play in any other universe. It did the job, but man, when you're trying to beat a slump I imagine you want legit hits into the outfield and not random luck. Or not, I don't know. I drink beer on my couch and watch baseball, so what do I know.
The real fun came in the fifth inning, which saw Cano leading off with a single followed by a walk to Kyle Seager. Mike Zunino then singled a moment later, loading the bases for Dustin Ackley. Ackley looked at two pitches, and then walloped a curveball right over the center of the plate into the centerfield gap, scoring everyone. Dave Sims, relaxing on ROOT's casual polo shirt day, lost his mind in the process, hearkening back to his now famed Kyle Seager homer call:
Sims: Bases loaded, 0-2 count.
Blowers: /scribbles incoherently into notebook
Sims: Hit well...right centerFIELD...that ball is going to get down and hit the base of the fence! Everybody is gonna score here!!!
Blowers: /still scribbling, resisting the urge to shout 'oh boy'
Sims: Cano, Seager, here comes Zunino!
Blowers: /looks up, smiling.
Sims: HOW ABOUT KYLE ACKLEY
Intern #2: um...Dustin...it's Dustin
Sims: Dustin Ackley, comin up big.
You probably don't believe me. Watch it and see.
Elias was great through the rest of the game, coming back out in the eighth to inch closer to his second complete game. But after Desmond Jennings doubled and was sent to third on a grounder--and was then plated with a dinger to Evan Longoria--Lloyd went to his pen to close the game, and Danny Farquhar came in to get Ben Zobrist with only three pitches. Rodney came in and notched the above-noted save, and that was that. 7-4 Mariners.
Now, on one hand the above statement could be frustrating. Rodney has been known to have some late game dramatics, sending many into convulsions over his apparent inefficacy and penchant for tugging on your nerves. But this is seriously the 2014 Mariners, distilled, squeezed through a rag, stored in a glass bottle and left to ferment for the spring. Not supposed to work on paper. Eyebrow raising. Yet...it works. Don't ask me, don't ask them. But just know that Fernando Rodney has flung a lot of arrows into the concrete ceiling of Tropicana Field, and somehow, it appears he may have more to throw for the rest of the year.