Watching losing baseball year after year without devolving into hysterics requires the fan/viewer to learn to appreciate individual moments. Experiencing season after season devoid of an enjoyable overarching story, we look for the clever turns of phrase, the redeeming characters, and surprising individual moments.
This sort of mental compartmentalization was almost required if you were going to make it through a Mariners season in the past. You let the losses wash over you, and try to numb yourself to the familiar cold slap in the face when they hit you, and then opened your eyes and tried to find something beautiful on the horizon.
In 2015 there was nothing more redeeming about that view than watching Franklin Gutierrez return from years of baseball purgatory to reclaim his career, and provide us with the kinds of big hits and iconic moments that endure with fans for a lifetime. When Jack Zduriencik was fired as GM many, including myself, feared it would mark the end of Guti's time in Seattle. So when Jerry Dipoto quickly re-signed him to a one year contract I was ecstatic. How could you not be? Guti forever, after all.
The 2016 Seattle Mariners, however, are changing the way we take in baseball. For some of us it's a return to a kind of daily nervous energy/excitement cocktail that we had completely forgotten about. For those of you who are viewing years thirty and beyond from far in the distant future this is an experience unlike anything previously known. For us all, we are learning that when you root for a winning baseball team the individual moments, glories, failures, and minutia all fall to the background. They are relegated to footnotes in the real news, the only news: Will the Mariners Win Today?
This exhilarating new ecosystem we find ourselves in seeks to take the fantastic individual story of Franklin Gutierrez, man, husband, snappy dresser, thumping outfielder, and reduce him to a bottom line. This is the price we pay for success, and it's unavoidable. This is why, with Gutierrez off to a slow start, many of us start to worry about things we would really rather not.
Winning is the absolute damn best thing, and like almost everyone else I look at Baseball Prospectus' playoff odds, see the Mariners with the best World Series changes in the American League, and I find the earth below me a bit unsteady. However, in the furious, raging, cacophany of joy that a winning Mariners season will bring about it's on us to remind ourselves to appreciate the daily bread that each game is capable of providing.
That's all preamble for a chance, no, a need, to take a moment and appreciate what Franklin Gutierrez did over the weekend to a John Lamb fastball.
Leading 1-0 in the top of the fourth the Mariners put the first two runners on base with an error and a single. After a Chris Iannetta fly out, Gutierrez stepped to the plate. The first two pitches from Lamb were changeups. Each probably looked tempting out of the hand, but thousands upon thousands of repetitions have helped teach a major league hitter to recognize the difference between a fastball and a changeup. Gutierrez was now sitting fastball, and Lamb would oblige.
Tucker Barnhart set up, low and away:
But, um, the 90 MPH fastball he threw was not, in fact, low and away:
Thanks to the miracle of technology we know that the timing and force of Gutierrez's swing added somewhere between 20-25 MPH to the ball, in addition to what Lamb's left arm initially provided. Launched at 29 degrees and 112.1 MPH the ball soared up, up, and ever so away.
"I put a good swing on it. I got into a good hitter's count. He threw me a fastball, and I hit it really well," said Gutierrez. "Only two times in my career have I hit a ball like that where you don't feel anything in the bat. Today I think was the longest homer I ever hit in my career. It's amazing."
For another angle, Gary Hill Jr. walked out to the seat where the ball landed. Somewhere, waaaaaay off in the horizon there, you can kind of squint and imagine where home plate might be.
Took a visit to the spot where Franklin Gutierrez launched his homer yesterday. Wow pic.twitter.com/cU1OvRhMIh— Gary Hill (@GaryHillJr) May 22, 2016
It's one home run, on one day, in what's rapidly starting to feel like a deep, deep well of wins and positive vibes. My earnest hope is that it serves as a, erm, launching point for Gutierrez to recapture what he had in 2015, when he slugged over .600, and captured my imagination in a way that no position player has for the Mariners since Ichiro. But, even if it doesn't, it is a moment, and a beautiful one.
As he often seems to do, Guti put it best:
"Yes, I think that's the sweet spot," said Gutierrez. "You cannot hit a ball better than that."
He's speaking not only for himself, but for me, for you, and for anyone who has ever swung a bat. He is correct. For one swing, on one day, Guti was baseball, perfected.