This is not how things are supposed to be going.
The Mariners are supposed to be controlling the zone, working long pitch counts, stealing bases, slapping the ball around, and pushing runners around the bases, punctuated by the occasional towering Cruz homerun or Seager smash double. The Athletics, for their part, are supposed to be lying in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the AL West, crushed by the weakness of their non-Sonny Gray rotation and toothless offense.
Instead, tonight the A's beat the Mariners by looking like the team we were supposed to be, while the Mariners sank back to an uncomfortably familiar version of themselves. Starting from the first pitch, the A's batters cornered historically bad-first-innings-haver Nate Karns (ERA of almost 8 in first innings, this feels like a factoid that should have come up earlier??) and made him throw 876 pitches. Okay, it was 35, but that's how it felt. Karns had what looks on paper like a solid plan for the game, relying heavily on his curveball, which the league only batted .170 against last year. And it looked for a while like the plan was going to work. After allowing a leadoff single to Coco Crisp, he of the .175 2015 batting average, who then stole second, Karns got Chris Coghlin to ground out and struck out Josh Reddick using a combination of fastballs and his off-speed curve. But then Danny Valencia stepped in and this happened:
Pitches 2 and 3 here are both fastballs for called strikes; 4 is a fastball fouled away. Pitch 5 is an 84 mph curveball that hung up too long and was promptly delivered up the middle for an RBI single. The next batter is Stephen Vogt, and after Karns gets him into a 1-2 count, he delivers a curve that's almost identical to the one above, which Vogt deposits in right field. This sets up Jed Lowrie for an RBI single but Karns escapes the inning with just a two-run deficit when Vogt is thrown out trying to score from first base, thanks to what I believe was some KILL MACHINE DECEPTION:
Yeah, I could definitely get used to watching that all year.
The Mariners' offense struggled all evening to string together hits. Aoki magicked his way onto first base in the bottom of the first, only to be caught stealing on a Cano strikeout. Overall, the zone, like a wild horse or wayward child, was not controlled: Marte struck out on four pitches. Cruz struck out on five. Seager took two balls before hitting into the shift for an easy out. Dae Ho Lee took two balls and then popped out. Etc. Etc. When a Mariner did get a hit--a Franklin Gutierrez single in the second inning, a Cano double in the third--the effort was squandered. The lone run for the Mariners, and stop me if you've heard this one before, came on a solo homerun off the bat of Chris Iannetta in the second inning. Rich Hill had struggled in his debut for Oakland, taking over for an ailing Sonny Gray, and couldn't even make it out of the third inning. Tonight he struck out ten batters across his six innings of work. He also hit two batters, Ketel Marte and Dae Ho Lee, which means he has now hit three batters in about nine innings of work (he hit Adam Eaton of the White Sox with the first pitch on Opening Day). This seems to me...not great, as far as command goes, and without wanting to take anything away from his performance, it's possible that the Mariners were worse batters than Hill was a dominant pitcher.
Do you know who did look like a dominant pitcher? Mike Montgomery. In the ninth, down 6-1 (Karns gave up a two-run HR to Josh Reddick, did I forget to mention that part? Also, The Zychuation also gave up a run in his two innings of work), MiMo needed exactly eleven pitches to dispose of the law firm of Semien, Crisp and Coghlan. Obviously, small sample size, etc., all those things apply, but one has to take joy where it's offered, okay? And Montgomery sitting down Coghlan on three pitches (FB at 96, FB at 90, then pulled the string with a CB at 79) certainly brought me joy.
Here's one more joyful thing: proof that Robi is healthy.
With the bonus leg-kick from DHL, even. It might not feel like it tonight, but this team can be, will be fun.
Felix Day tomorrow, y'all. And a celebration for the Final-Four UW Women's Basketball team. I'll be there; come say hi if you are too!