"Same ol' Mariners."
It's true, isn't it? In many ways they really are. Early in the game we watched the team get paper cut to ribbons for the millionth time by a soft-throwing, left-handed pitcher. In the third the Mariners used a double and a ground out to get a run on third with one out. In a tense, 0-0 game against the reigning AL Cy Young Award Winner, Seth Smith hit a ground ball right at a drawn in Carlos Correa. Then, Nori Aoki went down flailing against a barrage of curveballs.
Same ol' Mariners.
They were wasting a gutsy effort from Nathan Karns, as well. Karns' stuff has been erratic and electric in equal measure all April, and sure enough he was forced to tight rope his way through four baserunners combined in the third and fourth innings. But he did it. Nathan Karns, the Mariners fifth starter managed to give his team a chance against Dallas Keuchel and the AL's trendy preseason pick to reach the World Series. The Mariners were squandering it.
Same ol' Mariners.
What does that phrase mean to you, exactly? Does it inspire a helplessness? Does it make you want to scream in frustration that you can't argue with the apathy a person uttering those three words feels? Does it makes you feel like, maybe deep down, they're right? Things will never change? That the Mariners are a cosmic joke perpetrated upon a small, noble group in order to make light of their own misplaced sense of loyalty and affection? That maybe we should just forget it, and focus our energies solely on the draft and training camp like good, right-thinking Northwesterners?
Same ol' Mariners.
It changed in the fifth and, as all epics must, it started with the simplest of things. Chris Iannetta, blessed savior of the catcher position, drew a walk. Dae-Ho Lee hit a double play ball, only somehow this ball was exactly where Carlos Correa was not, and he was running back and to the side seemingly forever before he gloved it. He turned and threw, and the ball seemed to float in slow motion. Dae-Ho Lee was safe, with an infield single.
Seth Smith walked to load the bases with one out, and here we were again: Another chance for the Mariners to cause friends, coworkers, and relatives to change the channel, roll their eyes, prepare a casually dismissive comment the next time they see you. Nori Aoki was happy to oblige with a ground ball to first that led to a force out at home. But Ketel Marte ripped a line drive up the middle, and the score was 2-0. Then, Robinson Cano was jammed, the ball was falling over the shortstop's head, Manny Acta was foolishly waving home Aoki, and the inning was about to end on yet another Mariner TOOTBLAN.
The ball sailed hi, Aoki was safe, 4-0, Mariners. But Robinson Cano, who spent last season agitating fans with his seemingly careless play, wondered off first, and was picked off. He stood there, while Tyler White ran at him, at peace with his fate. But past Cano, Jose Altuve was waving, screaming, pointing towards home.
Ketel Marte was alert, running, and very fast. 5-0.
Same ol' Mariners. No, not those. Those!
It's a torrent now. Someone has turned Nathan Karns' knob to the "Taijuan Walker" setting a day after setting Taijuan Walker's at "Felix Hernandez". After walking three and striking out no one through four innings Karns strikes out the side in the fifth. He sails through the sixth and, after Robinson Cano fails to remember that baseball requires three outs to retire a side, emphatically finishes off his best start in a Mariner uniform by striking out Luis Valbuena on a curveball.
Then, in the bottom of the inning, hungry for redemption, Cano waits with the bases loaded. Four times Michael Feliz throws Cano a 2-2 fastball, and four times Cano fouls it off. Each swing provides a microscopic, infinitesimal bit of data back to Cano's hands and arms. Feliz throws a fifth fastball, and the accumulation of information Cano has acquired is too great to suffer it. 9-0, the few brave souls on a cold Tuesday in April, who may soon have to arrive an hour ahead of time to find their seats before first pitch, and wait twenty minutes to use a restroom, let go and scream.
When you go to work or school tomorrow, wear that hat, the one you've always felt self conscious sporting. Put on the jacket with the Compass Rose, straighten and dust off that old team photo you have buried underneath paperwork. The feeling we have now is so special, and so, so fleeting. Embrace it, soak it in. There will be so many times this year the team drives you crazy, makes you sad, disappoints. You wear your Mariner gear tomorrow, and when you see Bill at the office you look him in the eye and you ask him:
"So, same ol' Mariners?
- Nathan Karns deserves further praise. The Astros are in a phenomenally bad funk right now, and as I said the 3rd and 4th innings could quickly unraveled. But they didn't and the Mariners fifth starter, the one who's acquisition nearly melted LL's servers in rage, ended up with the following line:
7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 6 K, 3 BB, 104 pitches, 63 strikes
The entire rotation just finished a turn in which every starter went at least seven innings. When the season began the rotation was the one segment of the team that felt like it could be among the very best in the game. The past time through, they have showed a glimpse of why.
Every starter has at least gone 7 through this turn— Gary Hill (@GaryHillJr) April 27, 2016
5 starts 2.48 ERA
36.1 IP 25 H 9 BB 26 K's
- Ketel Marte, after looking bound for Tacoma after the first ten games of the season has recovered to look much more like the slash and burn, nifty young shortstop he was the last third of 2015. Today he had three hits, the aforementioned breathtaking baserunning gamble, and a few slick plays at short. He'll always be overshadowed by the freakish talent of Carlos Correa, but for a team that has seen an endemic failure to produce quality players up the middle of the field his recent stabilization on offense coupled with his electric speed has been a joy to watch.
- There are , truly, so many more things that deserve to be said and written about this game and the way this team has ripped off eight wins in eleven games after losing five in a row. But it is very late and I am very tired so I will close with this:
Since the end of 2003, when the Mariners stopped having great teams, only the 2009 iteration featured an April with an above .500 record. Hope has almost always quickly been ground underfoot, and any joys to be found mined by only the hardiest of souls.
The Mariners took on the reigning Cy Young Award Winner, and the prohibitive division favorites with their number five starter. They slowly and methodically ground them to dust, and that rival, the same one that forced Jesus Sucre to the mound a year ago, was forced to use their backup catcher as a pitcher to save their arms, if not their dignity. I have no knowledge of the future, but I know good baseball when I see it. I know it is good because it is not bad, and we are fans uniquely familiar with bad baseball.
The Mariners are playing good baseball, and they are doing so without getting an abundance of flukey outcomes or performances. They just might be a good team, and tomorrow they'll look to sweep the Astros before welcoming the defending World Series champs to a sunny Seattle weekend, the King's Court, and a fanbase rapidly learning to cheer again. If it's going to happen, this is how it starts.