The story is told of a team, a bad baseball team who stumbled their way to one of the most beautiful stadiums in all of baseball on a pleasant Sunday afternoon only to flush the whole thing down the toilet, as is their wont. Like usual, they had no consistent approach at the plate, swinging when they should have been looking, looking when they should have been swinging. Like usual, their starting pitcher was holding a wolf by the ears, letting in a scratch or two while nobody, to a man, offered to give him any sort of help whatsoever. You could think of this team as "The Mariners." That, however, would be wrong. As we discussed back in 2014, The Mariners are dead. And while 2015 might seem to suggest otherwise, the team that just lost a 4-1 game to the reigning World Series Champions--the team who sits atop the AL West in May for the first time since who knows when--is not the same team who turned this kind of weekly performance into an art.
The Royals got on the board early today because that's what they do. They don't have like Barry Bonds, or whatever, and they don't have a lineup full of Billy Beane fetishes waiting to make teams suffer simply out of statistical inevitability. No, while they are having a rough rebound from their first crown in a generation, the Royals still employ a bunch of obnoxious, smart, and frankly lucky baseball players who turn things like this:
This was partially some BABIP'in, and it was in part the result of a hit-by-pitch that, you know, if you saw it then whatever. But the key is that while Taijuan was certainly his new electric self at times--hitting 97, touching corners like he was walking the ball to the plate--he was also just the victim of One Of Those Days. The Royals started making him throw a lot of pitches, and as a result, he had to be pulled in the sixth after seven hits and three runs (one unearned). But those four strikeouts should remind you that we're still dealing with the makings of something Great here.
The Mariners didn't reach second base until the sixth inning. Both teams combined for 22 strikeouts. There are ostensibly flights leaving SeaTac as you read this, but the subtext of that idea would result in an image which looks quite unlike this one:
Seek for food and clothing first, then the Kingdom of God shall be added unto you.
The Mariners may have lost this game, but they did start to put something together against the Royals starting in the sixth as Royals' starter Ian Kennedy began nearing the end of his leash. Now often, getting to a team's bullpen can be seen as an answer to offensive woes. The Royals' bullpen, however, is Very Good, and such a strategy would probably do very little to mitigate any hitting deficiency: if you're not getting on base against the 2016 version of Ian Kennedy, you're not going to get on base all day. It's just not going to happen.
Instead, Seth Smith led off the eighth with a lucky grounder, deflected by Hosmer at first and which was the result of a pretty dang solid pitching sequence from the former Diamondback ace. Right after this, Cano singled up the middle, and then Nelson Cruz made the guy throw eight pitches only to load the bases with a zero-out walk. Guess what happened next.
Now, nowwwwwwwwwwwww calm down. The Mariners are dead, if you remember. But The Mariners are nothing if not at least shadows of what they once were. Someone once said there is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one, and if your response to the last sentence of the previous paragraph maps on to the events as they occurred themselves, then well that proves that right. But to be fair, the Mariners were facing a lefty throwing 98...in the sixth. With the bases juiced, Dae-Ho Lee and Kyle Seager notched consecutive strikeouts. Chris Iannetta drove in a single run.
But they got a run. A no-outs, bases loaded situation produced a run for the Mariners of Seattle, Washington. I can't believe you want to push this further, can we just leave it at that?
After Chris Iannetta whacked a grounder into right, Seth Smith touched home plate and then third base coach Manny Acta sent Robinson Cano packing for a second run. He was out by a good ten feet.
There is a critique to be made there, for sure. Jarrod Dyson has an arm, and the decision to send someone seems like a much more cut and dry process than things like pitch location, approach to certain hitters, etc. But also you've got Leonys Martin's .186 average coming up behind Iannetta, and that bullpen is a nightmare. So, you know, you take what you can get.
Consider the darnkess and the great cold
In this vale which resounds with mysery.
-Brecht, THE THREEPENNY OPERA
As the seventh and eighth progressed, the Mariners surprisingly started to reach base against said terrifying bullpen. As this began unfolding, Mariners rookie manager Scott Servais pinch hit Norichika Aoki for Luis Sardinas, who was starting at second so as to give Cano a day off from the field at DH. And it worked: Aoki reached base with a single right up the middle of the infield. But hold on one second:
Why is it always Sunday? Why, why, baseball gods, do you always make the weird lineup shit happen on these boring Sunday baseball games that I'm recapping? Why do you have multiple Mariners managers lose the DH through bizarre pinch-hit decisions which are, if half justifiable, at least head-scratchingly obnoxious? And why, why when it happens, WHY have you only ever made it so Jason Vargas was the one hitting late in the game? Why?
So no, the Mariners did not win, no, Mike Montgomery did not try to hit a baseball in the ninth inning. These are unfortunate things, but unlike the way these Sunday burners have historically gone, it's also not really a huge deal. The Mariners still won the series--their fifth in a row--and they are in a good position to gain some insurance in their division lead as they head to Oakland and Houston next week. These are good things.
Last year the Mariners were picked by many to win the World Series. If we're being fair we will say that's because the team looked pretty good on paper, but if we are being honest we'll say that it was only because they got kind of lucky in 2014. There were red flags all over the place: an overperforming bullpen, few returning pitchers, injuries, and a lazy pretense that all a team needs is two prime free agents in the middle of the order to finally end fourteen years of postseason woe.
Now they are off to the kind of start that should have happened last year, and if we're hearing silence it's simply because that narrative didn't work last time. Fifteen years, September exits. Dwindling attendance. Existential misery. All these things are supposed to be fixed by one magical run, some just storybook piece of living cinema that convinces even the most hardened realist to believe one more time. But that's not what's happening right now. No, here we are not tethered to some deep past, some linear line that connects this run with a Justin Smoak strikeout, a Milton Bradley ejection, a collision in the outfield, and finally a Carlos Gillen bunt. No.
If the Mariners are going to do this, they are going to do it not because of the past 15 years, but in spite of them. They are going to just kind of accidentally put something together, and then they will drop a Sunday game to the Kansas City Royals, 4-1, and it will be fine. They will do this or they wont, but either way they are going to keep trying, keep swinging, keep throwing. Whether that links us to some magical past ('95) or if it heals all the wounds the city has been accruing for a decade and a half, or hell, whether it does neither of those things, is besides the point. It will just happen, and we will be swept up in it. And I'm damned ready for the ride.
A Klee painting named "Angelus Novus" shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.