It’s no secret that the Mariners have struggled to win at home in front of big crowds this season. In fact, an intrepid Lookout reader even threw some math at it. But tonight, with a crowd of 37,055 souls aboard the SS Safeco and fireworks looming on the horizon, the Mariners for once did not disappoint. They biffed and bashed their way (and okay, Texas helped too) into a 7-5 victory against the division-leading Rangers, cutting Texas’s lead down to three games. For once we came over to the Mariners’ house and they didn’t put our hand in a bowl of warm water while we were sleeping, you guys!
Earlier today, I wrote about Hisashi Iwakuma and how, despite a shaky beginning to the season, he is decidedly not broken. Iwakuma is giving up more hits because he’s hanging out in the zone more, and some bad BABIP luck is skewing his numbers some. But aside from a few stinkers, Iwakuma has largely been effective at limiting the damage while buying time for the offense to score runs. The question is always, will the offense score runs, and Iwakuma has been left holding the bag a few times as the offense sputters. Not so tonight.
Iwakuma pitched well against a formidable Rangers offense, but didn’t have a clean inning until the 4th. In the first inning, Jurickson “you can’t send me down” Profar managed to fight off an inside pitch on his hands and bloop it into shallow right, and things were beginning to feel unpleasantly familiar. However, Iwakuma was able to use the aggressiveness of the Rangers’ offense against them all night, getting easy pop outs on first pitch swings, and when Profar attempted to steal second, Iannetta was able to gun him down easily. After going to a 3-1 count on Ian Desmond, Iwakuma was able to come back with two fastballs that moved like they were on Soul Train to strike out the swing-happy Desmond. Nomar Mazara continues to be annoying, singling on the exact same pitch Kuma had thrown Profar, but then Rougned Odor also tried to be a member of the first-pitch swinging club and wound up sending an 85 mph cutter to shallow center (all hail King Leonys, we missed you).
After the Mariners went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the first, Kuma had a little trouble in the second. Ryan Rua was again a victim of the first-pitch swinging curse, popping up a well-located 87 mph fastball, but no sooner did Dave Sims get done detailing Prince Fielder’s slump than he managed a bloop single and oh no not this again. But Iwakuma has Elvis Andrus’s number; if you watch the video of his outing against the Rangers earlier this year, you’ll see Andrus weakly waving at several pitches, getting called out for lousy check swings that he at least has the decency to look outraged about. The same was true here, and then Moreland didn’t get the memo about first-pitch swinging and sent a fly ball out towards Guti to end the inning and strand a runner on second, where Fielder had advanced after a wild pitch (a two-seam fastball that moved more than Iannetta was expecting). The Rangers had been hitting .292 against the league with RISP, but .345 when facing the Mariners, which is a fun treat, so getting out of this inning was huge for Kuma and the Mariners. The Mariners’ offense, for its part, would respond to this with a Dae-Ho dinger, because Derek Holland was too busy thinking up his next witty Twitter handle to read the scouting report on Dae-Ho and thus left a 92 mph sinker middle-middle that Dae-Ho politely deposited into the ‘Pen at a 31º exit angle. Reading is power, kids.
Kuma would struggle with his command in the third inning, walking the inferior Robinson C. on six pitches before getting Profar to ground into a double play. Then it was Iwakuma’s turn to leave an 85 mph splitter right in the middle of the plate which Ian Desmond served over the LF wall; Seth Smith could only turn around to watch it sail off like a poorly-invested IRA. The next batter was the dangerous Mazara and Iwakuma missed his spot, allowing a double, and suddenly things felt like they might spiral out of control. Iwakuma righted the ship, however, getting Odor to send an easy chop to Dae-Ho to end the inning. After the Mariners failed to answer in the bottom of the third, Kuma came back out to work a strong fourth inning, retiring the Rangers in order for the first time, again victimizing Andrus for the final out. Then, the Mariner bats woke up.
Part of me is delighted that opposing pitchers seem to forget that the Mariners have the second coming of Saddaharu Oh; the other part of me is insulted. And to his credit, Holland tried to keep this ball in on Dae-Ho. But the power of the leg kick compels you. Seager would follow up with a solo shot of his own to put the M’s up, 5-1, and look at this how much do you love this goddamn team:
Kuma worked an efficient inning again in the fifth; by the end of the fifth, he had thrown 68 pitches to Holland’s 95, and he only needed twelve pitches to get through the sixth. Kuma would end up going seven innings, giving up three runs, but two of them were on solo home runs in the seventh: a first-pitch swinging middle middle 82 mph splitter to Ryan Rua, and an 80 mph sinker that Mike Moreland crushed into the tunnel. A fun fact is that there is only one ballpark that has had more home runs hit in it than Safeco this year, and that is the bandbox GABP in Cincy. That’s weird, right? I knew I shouldn’t have wished for more dingers on that monkey paw. So Kuma left with the score 5-3, and then Nick Vincent sort of bumbled through two-thirds of the eighth and gave up a run and then it was time for DANGER UP IN THE CLUB THE EXTENDED PARTY MIX. Cishek would wind up with a four-out save despite giving up a run on another (!) Mike Moreland (!!!) home run (!!!!!) because sometimes baseball is super, super dumb. But luckily, the Mariners had scored a bunch of runs in the eighth inning, because that’s kind of our thing this year?
So, to be fair, Texas helped the Mariners score their runs in the eighth. Nelson Cruz should have struck out but got to first on a passed ball because baseball is sometimes a Joseph Cornell box, a slightly old-fashioned, beautiful but inscrutable piece of modern art. After an intentional walk to Kyle Seager, Iannetta calmly laced Tolleson’s 82 mph slider into the 5.5 hole, and a poor throw from Rua hit the oddly-placed Tolleson and rolled to the backstop, scoring Cruz from third. This was sort of an inning of what-ifs; Seth Smith hit a looper into LF that Desmond made a nice sliding grab on, but scored Seager from third anyway; then after another error committed by I’ve-spilled-ketchup-on-my-Chirinos, Martín juuuuust missed a home run. The insurance runs would prove to be enough, however, and a happy crowd got to watch a fireworks show that looked pretty cool on TV, and maybe just maybe this will be the thing to get the weekend-winning-monkey off our backs? I mean, we even have a new rally mascot and everything:
Man, that kid is gonna sleep good tonight. Let us all sleep well tonight in Mariners fandom, my friends, and drift off to dreams of Dae-Ho dingers and fancy high-fives and meaningful summer baseball.