Good evening to you. I confess this recap will be short. I did not get to watch it, I am late for dinner, etc. You have my apologies. The game deserved a great recap, and that's the thing about this team right now. EVERYTHING deserves great words. There isn't time or energy sufficient to fully discuss the buffet of joys thrust in our hearts by this Mariner team, and we aren't ready for it. I thought that I was. I was optimistic during the offseason. I believed in the majority of Jerry Dipoto's moves, and felt this team could fight and scratch.
My brain was prepared for this, but like a bobsledder who has spent weeks in a bathtub, with his eyes closed, leaning in and out of every turn in his mind, nothing could prepare me for the pure, visceral reality of winning baseball. It is amazing, breathtaking, all-consuming, and overwhelming. Where to start, when you cannot imagine ever ending?
- After Taijuan Walker provided us all with a not-so-pleasant whiff of the all too familiar rank of death by pitching only two innings with reduced velocity in his last start, we were all a bit anxious to see how he would look today. Walker answered the bell, and did so with ferocity. Through five innings Walker struck out nine, walked none, allowed two hits, and no runs. He was attempting to find what feels like the ever rising ceiling of both his and his team's potential. It was thrilling.
But, if baseball has one defining trait, it is its complete inability to give even a single fuck about our pretty storylines. Walker opened the sixth with an out, but after a Brandon Guyer double, Walker walked the next two batters to load the bases. With comically hard swinging Corey Dickerson at the plate, it was time for Walker to reassert himself, and get a key strike out.
Tie game, no longer Tai's game. Walker struck out the next batter, but then, after his third walk in the inning matched his season total coming into the game, he was removed. Overall today was a testament to the potential of Walker's immense talent, and how fragile the results produced by it truly are. The most important takeaway, win or lose, is he showed all his stuff, and appeared fully healthy.
The Mariners acquired that 4-0 lead by jumping all over a wild Chris Archer in the first inning. After a Nori Aoki lead off single Archer walked three of the next for batters, including Kyle Seager to force in a run. Seth Smith followed up with a one of those lazy groundballs that are double plays when you are the 2004-2015 Mariners, but are two-run singles when you are the 2016 Mariners.
The next inning Nelson Cruz hit a laser beam of a home run, and the Mariners appeared ready to cruise, ahead 4-0.
From 4-4 the two teams decided to riff off of Pokemon and play a game called "Gotta Strand 'Em All". Combined the Rays and Mariners went 3-18 with RISP today, and though the bullpens combined to allow six walks (and seemingly three times that amount of three ball counts) both offenses were unable to take advantage.
The only crack appeared in the seventh, when Robinson Cano lead off with a double, moved to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a Nelson Cruz sacrifice fly to make it 5-4. It's here that, somehow, the cobbled together Mariner bullpen has made games feel like an automatic victory. But Joel Peralta and Steve Cishek, by far the two most effective relievers on the roster, were both unavailable due to heavy workloads. As such, it fell to Nick Vincent to close out the game in the ninth inning.
From here, things got weird. The Mariners, desperately thin on relief options, brought in Steve Johnson, whose entire pitching arsenal is the equivalent of a ten year old doing a magic show at his little sister's birthday party. Over an inning and two-thirds Johnson faced no fewer than five Tampa batters with the winning run in scoring position. He struck out no one, walked two, and, when facing aforementioned strong-swinger-grand-slam-hitter Corey Dickerson with the game on the line, retired him with this pitch:
It's the kind of magic that winning teams (not necessarily great teams) have. Thirty-four games into the season the Mariners' offense and starting rotation have looked every bit playoff-caliber. But with injuries decimating the bullpen the team is absolutely scrambling anytime they have a medium to high leverage situation without Steve Cishek or Joel Peralta available.
The good news is that tomorrow is an off day, and Joaquin Benoit may be close to returning. If this is the worst the bullpen personal will be all year, the Mariners have massaged/lucked their way through it admirably.
It ended with Chris Iannetta. Iannetta, the very essence of average in almost every respect, is one of so many of Jerry Dipoto's roster additions designed to patch the gaping holes left by Jack Zduriencik's regime. Coming into today Iannetta had a wRC+ of 91, 0.4 fWAR, and has called and defended admirably, if unspectacularly at catcher.
I do not know Chris Iannetta. He doesn't smile very much. He rarely talks, and when he does it's in that words without substance, professional player speech honed by those whose jobs demand public exposure, but whose personalities crave privacy.
Today, Chris Iannette got a 3-2 fastball up and outside. He took the swing that the greatest hitter this franchise ever had, seated a few feet away, perfected:
Head down, hands back, wait. Wait for the ball, trust yourself, see it.
Chris Iannetta does not smile, and he does not say exciting things. But he helps you win. He is a major league quality catcher, he is our major league quality catcher, and he has a wRC+ of exactly 100.