Today, the Mariners did not win. They did not beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, they did not split the series, they did not avoid a series sweep, they did not hold on to sole possession of first place in the AL West. Felix Hernandez struck out nine Angels hitters, and gave up only a single run before being pulled from action while on the hook--an echo endlessly recycling while calendar pages continue to accumulate in the corner of the room. And it's going to be fine.
Today the Mariners bullpen did not keep the Angels from tacking on two more runs in the eighth, choosing yet again to start regressing not simply to even out earlier overperformance, but exactly one out too late. In fact, in each of this weekend's three dropped games against the Angels, the decisive mistake came from the hand of a Mariner reliever--a member of a bullpen which had been somehow stringing together luck with Frankenstein projects and toothpick bridges until late. And that's fine.
If you're just joining us now I regret to inform you that it is in fact I, Baseball Guy, here to tell you not to be upset about these aforementioned facts. Now, sure. I get it. There are many misconceptions floating around out there about exactly who, and what, Baseball Guy is. Rather than dwell on higher or lower ground, I would like to instead clear up the air a bit, offer an olive branch meant to bridge the gap between our current impasse. Try and find some common ground outside caricature and performative declarations designed to build off an immediate emotional reaction which mistakes symptoms for causes. Freud called this displacement--I call it trying to make sense of games which ultimately, in the long run, mean nothing whatsoever at all.
1. Baseball Guy does not care if you have a strong emotional reaction to the Mariners painting Bavasi-esque nightmares on the baseball diamond.
This is the first, and perhaps most important, thing which needs to be addressed. Today, the Mariners played one of those games. You know, Felix is out there doing his thing, striking out nine over seven innings, stranding runners despite having a lower velocity and wayward sense of command which seems to be disappearing centimeter by centimeter as his late twenties turn into his early thirties, and so on. And during the time that is happening, we are treated to one of these
and heck, while we're at it, one of these gems:
I can't think how many times I've sat through one of these games. You too! We've all wasted hours of our lives, coming to the park hoping that maybe--just maybe--we'll see something vaguely resembling a Major League Baseball game only to then wonder if God is mashing buttons on his N64 joystick with his elbow while his copy of Ken Griffey Jr.'s Slugfest is glitching hey where did Ken Griffey Jr. go what is this? It sucks! It's obnoxious, it's annoying. We've been watching it happen for years. Hell, linear time aside, we've been watching it for decades!
But conflating immediate and temporary emotional reactions with totalizing conceptions of a team's "essence" is simply incompatible with the way the game of baseball is designed to function. That is the problem, not the existence of emotions in the first place. This should be obvious. It's true that capitalizing off the anxiety three losses in May stirs in fans following one of the saddest franchises in the past 40 years makes for good, if brief, spurts of interest among ones' constituency. I can think of one particular reason that might be what's happening here. And it's fine--but what that immediate reaction does not do is tell us anything about the inner workings and gear-movings of a sports team which plays 162 games a year, and more if you count spring training and possible playoffs (But why would that ever happen?).
Addressing this is not to discount reaction. But reactions are just that--reactionary. One time in middle school I decided I wanted to look like Mariners' outfielder Jay Buhner and thought that nothing, nothing in my life would be right until I dealt with that issue. I shaved my head--a pudgy, pimply-faced band kid who wore Star Wars shirts three days a week--and I can guarantee you that not only did I look nothing like Jay Buhner, but I also made my life a living hell as my hair tried to grow back over the next couple of months with infuriated parents and asshole kids who were nevertheless pretty creative at coming up with original, if not accurate, names. Now I can't listen to the guy in the booth without having a near-panic attack, but that just goes to show that you can't fix overwhelming emotion with more emotion, because it always, always finds a way back in.
But across a 162 game season, emotion is fine! Today I, Baseball Guy, watched as the Mariners broke up a no-hitter with a drag bunt off the bat of Shawn O'Malley in the sixth inning, finally putting something together amidst televised cuts to the dugout of a nervous and hopeful Felix Hernandez pacing himself a hole in the concrete of Safeco's home dugout floor. I then watched as Nori Aoki grounded into a force out, and was thrown off the bases while performing a should-I-or-shouldn't-I routine that wasted the first chance the Mariners had all afternoon.
I was frustrated because Nori Aoki is currently playing the worst baseball of his MLB career, still reaching base but striking out at a rate which might suggest underlying problems that "playing through it" won't solve. I was heartbroken because the look on Felix' face--he's been putting up with this shit for over a decade--was exactly the kind of thing Hope promised would soon vanish, with a Spring whisper in our ear of this time, it's for real. That hurt. I was upset.
Now it's true that Baseball Guy will tell you that the season is long, that you shouldn't be too worried: if you're going to be worried about anything be worried about that velocity drop in the King's arm. But if you are still that upset after fifteen years of pathetic baseball, inane leadership and Justin Smoak warning-track-power, ask yourself what getting upset about a winning team having a shitty weekend really means in the larger picture of things. Ask how you made it through over a decade of truly awful teams playing exactly at their level (I know, I know--you Refused to Talk about them after a while, so I can understand if you may have missed some of that).
This is not to discount immediate emotional reactions. Not at all. All it is to say is that just as one wouldn't be wrong for staring at the heavens and tearing off clothing to curse the heavens after a losing streak, it's also not wrong to suggest we're going to make it in the end. That's because
2. Baseball Guy does not believe there is only one proper way to be a fan of a sports franchise.
Please note, however, that this is different than saying anyone should be free do to what they want, to anyone, anytime, with little to no regard of potential consequences be they social or material. An example: after coming back onto the mound in the seventh, Felix snagged three speedy outs to the bottom of the Angels' order, routine grounders and liners that have become the bread and butter of mid-inning Felix ever since he learned to let the strikeouts make sense rather than line the box score every outing.
In the bottom of the inning we began to play that same audio-visual cut-to-desperate-Felix routine we know so well, as Cano lined out seemingly inches in front of the left field fence, Cruz earned an out, and then a Chris Iannetta single was wasted with a grounder off the bat of Kyle Seager. It was exactly the kind of spot that your four best hitters are expected to show up--never mind that unlikely come-from-behind rally last night--and despite the fact that this sentence would boil the blood of the people who founded this site, I think it's actually true, to an extent. The reason you employ players like Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager is because they will, more often than not, do good things. This doesn't mean they will always do good things, but why get invested in the meaninglessness of sports if we don't kind of believe in it, just a little bit?
Why? Because it literally doesn't matter. We all cope with losing in a different way. Hell, I'm probably the most pessimistic person who writes for this website, but that doesn't mean that I think someone else's optimism is a scourge. I just don't understand it. But my general overwhelmingly negative outlook on life also makes me feel like the Mariners shitting the bed in another May Felix start is a thing to be expected, the norm, a Thing That Often Happens. In fact, if anyone is still that upset about this weekend, that tells me they actually care, they really care about this team, and want to see them win, and maybe even believe (or believed) that they could. That is a good thing!
At the same time, this is not to say that somehow, Baseball Guy knows both what's best or what's going to happen. No, you see,
3. Baseball Guy doesn't claim to know what will to happen.
But rather than dwell on that fact like a curse, I think we should follow the advice an old Danish friend who reminds us that the impossibility of knowing is actually a kind of freedom, as terrifying as it is. With that in mind we could look at a few happenings from this game, and try and make sense of them the best we can. Such as:
- Shawn O'Malley returned to the Major Leagues today and as mentioned, coldly broke up a no-hitter against his former team with a drag bunt up the first base line. It was his only hit of the day and he struck out twice, but his presence immediately gives this team an opportunity to sit Leonys Martin without resorting to Nori Aoki in center. Importantly, this also makes living with Aoki's recent struggles less contingent on the construction of the roster, and could, depending on how O'Malley's tenure goes, provide Dipoto with the freedom to keep outfitting this roster to the best of its ability. See how this works? Bad things can actually be good.
- Felix Hernandez is still averaging 90 on his fastball, and he started his afternoon off by giving up a single to Yunel Escobar and then immediately walking Kole Calhoun before falling to 2-2 against Mike Trout. But then Felix did something interesting. He dropped his changeup from 88 down to 86, and got Trout swinging at the corner of the zone, and then never looked back. While giving up a run over seven, he still managed to strike out nine and even began sitting at 91 by the fifth or so. What any of this means is a mystery. All we have to go on is the fact that velocity drops are almost always a sign of things to come, but Felix is still, somehow, finding a way to be effective. This is the other side of the freedom which can either deliver us or be the source of overwhelming anxiety. The only answer is to nestle ourselves within the gap.
- Guti is probably not feeling well right now. We don't know that, though. What we do know is that he hasn't been--and continues not to be--playing well.
- The Mariners bullpen is a source of concern, but unlike last year there are reinforcements on the way soon to be ready to join the club. Will they fix the problem? Who knows! But they are coming.