Going into this, we knew it would be a tough one. Adrian Sampson—or Adrian Sacrificial Lamb-son—is a tender soft thing making his first MLB start against the evil Rube Goldberg contraption that is the Red Sox’s lineup (just when you think it’s over, a boot descends from the 9-hole to give you an extra kick in the rear). To this end, Sampson bore up relatively well, considering he is essentially an IKEA bag split open and used as shelter against a monsoon. The Mariners’ batters decided to give Sampson the royal treatment on his debut by which I mean the treatment teams of past years have given King Felix by which I mean these polyester-blended numbnuts gave him no run support. Welcome to the bigs, kid. You’re one of us now (gooble gobble).
The frustrating thing is this game could have gone so differently. Somewhere in an alternate universe where we all have an extra eyelid but healthcare is unlimited, free and fantastic (wait, am I just describing France?), Adrian Sampson has collected his first ever MLB win and taken selfies with his parents in the ballpark, which has an actual green monster in the outfield but that’s a story for another day. Because in this game, our game in our boring normal universe where the Mariners Mariner Marineringly, Leonys Martín took his leadoff duties seriously and poked a single to LF like he was playing croquet with Xander Bogaerts’s legs, and then Seth Smith poked a single to RF but not between anyone’s legs because that’s poor manners, and then Canó worked an eight-pitch at-bat before he got a single too, and the Mariners had the bases loaded with no one out! How could this possibly ever go oh no Nelson what are you doing. The worst thing you can do with the bases loaded that’s not a triple play, that’s what. At least one measly run scored and Kyle Seager was next, and we can always count on Kyle to put up a good professional at-bat and whoops 1-1 count and whoops 1-2 and wait that’s an easy pop-up, inning over. What should have been an offensive rocketship that blasted Rick Porcello right out of Fenway instead became a dented, yellowing plastic pirate ship in the public pool that belongs to no one, the pool that’s always uncomfortably warm and makes your skin sting like a thousand baby rats are nipping at it all over.
For his part, Sampson battled through the first inning and managed to escape the hungry gaping maws of the top of the Sox’s order, tiptoeing along the edges of the razor-sharp teeth without ever falling in. It took him twenty-something pitches and five batters faced but when he finally got Hanley Ramirez to pop up to end the inning without allowing a run to score you could hear Sampson on the broadcast grunt HYUNNNGGGH! I was already thinking of the Sampson-and-Delilah spin I could put on this recap, in which the Red Sox play the part of radio host Delilah and it was going to work, okay? Adam Lind, he of the perpetual 0-2 count, added another run for the Mariners with a towering dinger because he’s your worst significant other who always does juuuuuust enough to keep you from kicking him to the curb and hey sorry I cancelled on dinner with your friends but look I changed this lightbulb over your porch and added a timer to it so you won’t have to use that tiny flashlight anymore in the winter. FINE.
So in the top of the second it was 2-0, Mariners, and Sampson gutted his way through another three innings, giving up the occasional hit and throwing a ton of pitches to a fairly unfriendly zone but holding off Boston’s offense, which has been hitting .292 at home and .282 on the road, just to give you an idea of what the kid was up against. The third inning had a scary moment where Pedroia hit a rifle shot to right field but it was magically within the range of Seth Smith’s riding mower. Sampson did a good job of keeping the ball low and away from Boston’s dangerous hitters, although it took a ton of pitches to get him there: he finished the third at 58 pitches, as the shadows began to settle in across Fenway—what’s the opposite of rosy fingers of dawn? Gloomy shadows of doom? Anyway, the shadows might have helped Sampson, or maybe he had just settled, but he worked a clean third and an almost-clean fourth inning, just giving up one solo homer to Jackie Bradley, Junior. Sampson even made a nice play on a weak nubber off a check-swing of Ramirez’s bat, leaping off the mound like a gazelle and running it to first himself. Sampson’s stuff isn’t electric and he only managed two strikeouts in his 4.2 innings of work, but he showed good composure on the mound, made smart pitches with command of the zone, and only issued one walk. It fell apart on him in the fifth inning, but more on that later.
The shadows did not help the Mariner bats, which went so stone cold after the third that Demi Lovato is writing a song about them as we speak. The last real Mariner offensive threat of the game happened in the third inning, which is not exactly a formula for success. After Martín singled, Seth Smith hit a double off the Green Monster (clang clang clang went the Monster! Welcome back, doubles-hitting Dad) on a nice little inside-out swing to move Martín to third, and why test out Martín’s weak hammy against JBJ’s strong throwing arm, because here come Can...óh no (strikeout), and oh okay well Cruz...ing disappointment (strikeout) and well at least here’s Kyle overly-Seager-to-swing-at-the-first-pitch-and-ground-out. Those puns were bad; the at-bats were worse. The Mariners would struggle to get even one baserunner at a time over the next six innings. Get it together, you jabronis. I mean seriously:
If this is the heart of the order, we might need a transplant.
Meanwhile, midnight struck for Sampson around the fifth inning when his command began to falter, probably because the shock wore off and he realized what kind of a situation he was in. Never look down, kids. After letting the first three men reach and letting a run score to tie the game, Sampson got rabbit-man Dustin Pedroia to ground into a double play, allowing another run to score to give Boston a 3-2 edge but putting two important outs on the board. It looked like Sampson would escape further damage after getting Xander Bogaerts into an 0-2 count, but then Sampson got Bogaerts’d:
That’s not a particularly bad pitch. It’s a 90 mph fastball in the middle but inside enough to jam him, or it should have been, but Bogaerts gonna Bogaert. Servais lifted Sampson for MiMo, who managed to get Ortiz to ground out to end the inning. MiMo, back in his long relief role, would give up a run in the sixth, but work a scoreless seventh, and then what should have been a scoreless eighth, except Ketel Marte dropped what could have been a double play ball on a relay from Canó and Hanley Ramirez blew through the third base coach’s stop sign to score because that’s just how big the balls of the SAWX are. Ramirez also got the final out of the game, a weak grounder to first base off the bat of Steve Clevenger, and then stood in the basepath and stared down Clev before turning and walking to the first base bag, which is kind of a jerk move to me, because for real, you’re going to bigtime Steve Freaking Clevenger? Speaking of Red Sox I personally dislike, tomorrow the team goes up against David Price, he of several bad tweets. Let’s get that W tomorrow, you Mariners, and then retroactively give Sampson the Swelmet for today.