Before we get in to the beautiful little bits of the game, or titan-unleashing, we all just witnessed, let me open with an ask of you.
It has been a damn long time since we were both given hope and received it here. The Seattle Mariners, whenever they've grabbed some new found belief in the offseason, always seemed to find a new way to fail. There were rosters that surprised us with their competence, but it was never the right team. There was a flashy right hook here and there, but the uppercut was always missing. It was hard to tell whether we were the boxer or the bag, as fans. Either way, every season left us battled in a new way that made us less-likely to step back in the ring. Stand up. Fight. Today the Seattle Mariners bashed four bombs and routed the Texas Rangers 10-2. The Seattle Mariners are for real.
It all started a bit, well, slow. After a game last afternoon that had all the energy and excitement of the first game back, the opening innings tonight felt more subdued. Hisashi Iwakuma, now seemingly lifetimes ago, started this game and dealt with a strikezone that was...well, it tended to do this:
A "strike zone"- pic.twitter.com/QX2aVOjYpy— David Skiba (@SkibaScubaShop) April 6, 2016
We call that sub-optimal in the Bigs. Anyway, Kuma never made it easy on himself, but it was hard for him to do that when the corners, and especially the lower end of the zone would just disappear at random. To his credit, he spread out six hits and three walks over five full innings while grabbing five punch-outs along the way. Leaving the game with only two earned runs felt like a bit of a relief, due to him having no real easy innings, but he lasted long enough to hand the ball to the bullpen. This was my favorite sequence that Kuma put together tonight, making Ian Desmond play the fool:
That's vintage Kuma, it just seems like you can never predict which way the ball will bend.
On the offensive side of the ball, well. What is there really to say? It all began a little too innocent, a little too slow for the 2-run performance last night. In the 2nd the M's pushed a run across after Nelson Cruz was hit by a pitch and Kyle Seager walked behind him, eventually leading to a Chris Iannetta single which brought Nellie around to score. Nelson would then lead off the fourth inning by absolutely unloading on a pitch for a solo home run to left-center. His first hit of the year. It should also be noted that Nori Aoki hit a long, apparently foul ball in the third that looked like it was a two-run shot, but nobody took the time to look it over.
After the fourth, things slowed down a bit for the M's offense. The bottom of the fourth inning saw the Rangers make things square again at two-all, and that old familiar feeling started creeping in. The game had dragged on, the Mariners had mounted no real threats to a relatively wild Martin Perez and we were all wondering for how long we'd need to convince ourselves that the offense would come around in time during a slow, April start. Then the seventh inning rolled around, and a pitching change for the Rangers.
With a righty on the mound, Seth Smith immediately came in and hit for Guti. As he does, The Professional promptly singled to left field. After a Chris Iannetta line out to center and a strike out from a pinch-hitting Luis Sardinas (we'll come back to this), things looked like they had fizzled out. Then Leonys Martin tripled in to the right field corner. 3-2 M's. Nori Aoki would follow with his first hit of the season, a single to left, which plated Martin. 4-2 M's as they ended their turn of the seventh.
What's really of concern here, however, what's really the crux of it all, is what would go on and happen in eight inning. Tom Wilhelmsen, yes, him. That beloved former Mariner and bartender, was called upon to hold the tide and get the Rangers back in the dugout to nab a couple runs and make a game of things. What happened was, well, entirely the opposite. Robinson Cano, that totem of all our past mistakes, of all our old and broken hopes, stepped in the box and did something spectacular.
I don't know how much faith you like to put in swings from the first couple days of a new season, but, Robbie has something special in that bat. What if I told you that there's magic in April?
So the score was 5-2 after Robbie jogged the bags for the second time in as many days. After Nellie and Kyle Seager then exchanged doubles, Cruz crossed the plate to notch the score to 6 for the M's. The next batter was Seth Smith. He did not miss. After Seth trotted the bags, Tom probably starting seeing red. No outs, four runs across the plate, the game lost. The next batter, after Seth Smith became the second Mariner to splash the second deck, was Chris Iannetta. It was Tom Wilhelmsen's turn to hit his spot.
Benches cleared, but no punches were thrown. We got a nice earful from both managers, a couple BIG WORDS, and Tom was tossed. Chris Iannetta, however, was still on first base when Luis Sardinas came to bat. Sardi had one more thought for the evening. And that was all folks, 10-2 in the top of the 8th, and the Rangers didn't have a bit of fight left in them.
Lost in the fireworks was a great showing from the bullpen. Nick Vincent had his first call for the M's and pitched a masterful sixth, Joel Peralta followed suit in the seventh, and Tony "The Zychuation" Zych threw the 8th and 9th for a complete shutout from the pen. As a staff, the M's struck out eleven and walked five, while allowing two runs on seven hits. When all the dust settled, the Seattle Mariners managed ten runs on eleven hits and four walks. What really stands out though, is the four bombs.
And that is why we're here. We're here because every damn April we, hopefully, find reason to believe. We've watched the slow starts for countless seasons. We've watched a team paddle up river for what feels like forever. But now, I think, we're watching something very, very different. We're watching a 1-9 that every day looks capable of plating five runs. There's a rotation that will be utterly dominant for some stretches. A bullpen that will hold water and then some. A team that cares about each other with a staff that is just as bought-in. There is a belief we haven't seen since a magic season many years ago. And we're seeing this all in April. We're watching a Roman trireme make land upon Carthage. Let's salt some lands.