It was a game that should have been about Taijuan Walker. As I sat at my computer at work today I saw this tweet go across my screen:
In case it's not clear that is Taijuan Walker's brother. I can see it in the smile, personally. I am not in any way medically trained and blessedly have no experience with the kind of procedure Walker's brother underwent today but when I hear "brain surgery" that strikes me as something with a distinct possibility of disastrous complication. The burden that Taijuan Walker felt today when he woke, when he ate breakfast, as he reviewed his game plan, and did his stretching must have been heavy. Then, less than an hour before first pitch, a time when most pitchers have entered a state of manic focus on the task at hand, another tweet:
Surgery went good. They got the tumor out! Thank you everyone for all your prayers. Means a lot to my family!— Taijuan Walker (@tai_walker) August 12, 2015
I would imagine that as Manny Machado dug into the box in the top of the first Taijuan Walker's mind was less than clear. He responded beautifully, striking out Machado on a 3-2 split. But the 2015 Mariners are dumb and stupid. First, Gerardo Parra looped a ball into right field which served as an excellent visual demonstration by Nelson Cruz on why he's an excellent DH by huffing over to it, diving awkwardly, missing the ball, and allowing Parra's bloop single to become a bloop double.
A fielder's choice and a walk later Matt Wieters poked a weak ground ball to short. Now Parra actually stopped to allow the ball to pass, and with the ball taking Brad Miller towards third by far the easiest play was to that base. But Brad Miller does not do things easy so he tried to throw to second, only Robinson Cano hadn't bothered to cover the bag for some reason. So now the bases were loaded, and this being 2015 Jonathan Schoop ripped a ground ball into the hole to score two.
Then the Mariners did something that they rarely do: They immediately came back with a shovel and scooped up the crap they just took all over the field. First it was Nelson Cruz, who took an awkard, weak looking swing and hit the baseball 410 feet:
It was Cruz's 34th home run on the season, which now leads all of MLB. The Mariners have never had a player lead major league baseball in home runs. I have been for some time, and remain still, out of ways to describe the offensive performance of Nelson Cruz this year. This is a once in a lifetime kind of season for the guy.
After Cruz's home run closed the gap to 2-1, with two on, Mark Trumbo came to bat. Now Trumbo is probably going to go down as one of the poster boys for everything that went wrong with the 2015 Mariners. Mark Trumbo is basically what happens to Nelson Cruz if you print him and then scan him and then do that process all over again about five times. He's just a much worse Nelson Cruz. That the cost to acquire him was a player that could have kept Mike Zunino out of the lineup on a regular basis and that that player was Welington Castillo, and that Welington Castillo has spent a few months hitting like Mike Piazza just makes the blame light brighter.
But, if you dig deeper, and you remember that we don't believe in clutch around here, you notice that Trumbo's bat has been a pretty harsh victim of poor timing:
With bases empty: 128 wRC+
With men on base: 58 wRC+
With men in scoring position: 40 wRC+
Tonight, Mark Trumbo had enough of that shit. When Chris Tillman threw him a terrible 1-0 slider he hit it and he hit it very, very hard. The look on his face as he came back to the dugout showed his grim satisfaction:
Just like that, it was 4-2 Mariners. After a Kyle Seager sac fly an inning later, it was 5-2.
There it sat, as both teams took turns squandering opportunities and being the sad, mediocre baseball teams that they are. It would be remiss to not laud Taijuan Walker overcoming both the aforementioned personal stress and dumbass teammate-added stress. After a 33 pitch 1st inning Walker got right back to the guy he's spent the last two months being: Pounding the strike zone, limiting walks, getting strikeouts, mixing pitches. In addition. after an altitude-neccesitated hiatus, the curveball was back. (I am calling the following the "Colin O'Keefe-tweet-embeds-will-do-my-work-for-me-because-I-am-tired-and-the-game-went-long segment.)
Dramatics aside—after the absence in COL, Walker's curve was back again tonight, mostly. Threw 16, 11 for strikes, four in play and no hits.— Colin O'Keefe (@colinokeefe) August 12, 2015
Here's Walker getting Adam Jones to swing way over the top of the curve. Two of his six Ks were on the breaking ball. pic.twitter.com/oEpHJzZhou— Colin O'Keefe (@colinokeefe) August 12, 2015
And it isn't just the pitch itself, which has been very good—it's the threat of it. Watch how helpless Davis is 0-2. pic.twitter.com/xh7VXi2NY3— Colin O'Keefe (@colinokeefe) August 12, 2015
Walker's final line: 6 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 6 K, 1 BB. Pitchers are strange, magical and mystical creatures but Taijuan Walker looks like a good one. It's not safe to get excited. It's never safe. But it's probably ok to do so, with all the government mandated warnings and caveats that such a recommended emotional response contains.
So the game was sailing along just fine but then in the top of the 8th Tom Wilhelmsen walked Gerardo Parra and then did something very bad when he threw this pitch to Adam Jones, who you may recall was once a Mariner:
That made it 5-4. Lloyd McClendon, always ready to notice a problem a batter too late, pulled Wilhelmsen for Joe Beimel to face Chris Davis. Beimel threw a 1-0 fastball here:
And Davis took this swing at it:
And hit the ball here, because he is one of the strongest baseball playing humans alive:
So at this point you could look over your handy dandy Mariner Game Checklist and put a nice little mark next to "Suck at hitting with runners in scoring position" (4-14 on the day, 2-11 at the time of Davis' home run) and "bullpen blows what should be a comfortable lead." Everything was going according to plan.
But if you recall, in the process of losing in exquisitely painful fashion yesterday the Mariners got Zach Britton to throw 38 pitches. This left the left-hander on the bench when the game predictably went into extra innings. After Fernando Rodney allowed three instances of hard contact without issue the Mariners actually managed to get the first two runners on and then, THEN Mike Zunino drew a walk. That was surprising.
Of course if the Mariners were going to win in a walk off today it was gong to be Austin Jackson, because I advocated trading him earlier in the day. Jackson took his silly, perpetual 2-strike swing at a low fastball, always trying to fight off a major league pitch for that triple-A slider that's never coming. But this time he somehow found himself some chalk. The ball was fair and the Mariners won, 6-5. Cue the party:
Guti: "1-2-3 cha-cha-cha I am so sexy."
Felix: "Haha you are made of glass shatter Glass Man shatter!"
Miller: "IN FLORIDA WE EATS THE BODIES OF THE HEROES TO GET THEIR POWERS!"
Rodney: "Ok game's about to start time to jog out to the bullpen sure hope today goes ok."
The Mariners won, friends. I hope it made you happy. It made me happy. Hisashi Iwakuma on the hill for the 2nd straight series win and something that resembles momentum. I am taking my son. It's his first time to Safeco this year. So, y'know, do it again guys. But maybe a bit quicker next time please.