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A Bloop, A Blast, A Blast, a Bloop, More Blasting

On HOF Weekend, the Mariners Travel Back in Time to May

Seattle Mariners v Toronto Blue Jays
the sound the thunder makes
Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

On this, the day before the day our Kid is inducted, the Mariners went into the Blue Jays’ house and delivered a shellacking the like of which we haven’t seen since...well, it’s only been like a month, probably, but it sure feels longer. Among all the one-run grindfests and ninth-inning white knucklers and gutpunch Astros losses, the Mariners today played a no-doubter. Kudos to the Jays fans who stuck this one through—and there were a lot of them—on a steamy 90-degree day in the Rogers Centre, because this contest was pretty much over by about the sixth inning.

It wasn’t always a no-doubter, though. In fact, if I told you that in today’s game, Iwakuma would struggle with his command, the Jays would turn four double plays, and home plate umpire Jordan Baker’s strike zone would be located somewhere on the isle of Brigadoon, you might expect a very different outcome to this contest.

Also, if I told you that this was how the game would start for Nelson Cruz:

I mean, knuckleballers are a tricky sort. But when you’re fouling back middle-middle 78 mph, maybe today—this, the day before our Kid is inducted—maybe today is not your day. Despite Canó’s base hit (a passed ball would allow him to take second), Cruz would strike out here to end the burgeoning threat. So, one of those days offensively. I mentally prepared myself for another day of gritting through each inning, scraping around the corners in this low-slung rickety go-kart of a Mariners offense, and hoping Iwakuma would be able to keep us in it.

But Iwakuma never looked comfortable on the mound today. He started off Ezequiel Carrera with two straight balls before a comebacker that whapped off his glove and caromed over to Canó for an easy toss to first. One down, twenty-six to go. But then the insouciant Josh Donaldson walked, and Edwin Encarnación hit a ball so sharply it became wedged in Shawn O’Malley’s glove, and up comes Michael Saunders because even without Bautista, this Blue Jays’ lineup is designed to extract pain from opposing pitchers. It took six pitches to get Saunders to pop up in the infield—Kuma placed a perfect 88 mph fastball on the inside corner, just above the belt—and then Troy Tulowitzki grounded out on four pitches. Crisis averted, but it cost Iwakuma 22 pitches’ worth of mileage on his arm, only ten of which were strikes. These are very un-Iwakuma-like numbers, and his discomfort was evident from his body language. Iwakuma, never the fastest worker, took a ton of time between pitches, pinwheeling and stretching his arm, taking long walks around the mound, talking to himself. He looked visibly annoyed when hitters fouled off his putaway pitches.

The thing is, when you’re in your mid-thirties, there are days your body refuses to cooperate. You go to reach for the switch marked “pitch seven innings of baseball against one of the American League’s most potent lineups” and find it’s jammed. It’s probably the damn heat, why is it so hot, why does this stadium offer you only two experiences: terrarium or tanning bed. Iwakuma continually fell behind in counts, not being able to access his splitter as early as he wanted to, and although his fastball command was there, none of his secondary pitches were behaving. When he missed, he missed badly. We had a discussion in the comments the other day about the term “gritty” and how it only seems to apply to certain baseball players. Iwakuma we tend to think of in balletic terms: elegant, controlled, precise. Today, he was none of those things. He was uncomfortable and sweaty and stiff and probably cranky, and he dug down into his own natural reserve of grit and ground through as much baseball as he was good for, giving up just two runs over six innings of work.

One run came in the second, when Kevin Pillar, who got on with a walk and to third on a Devon Travis single, decided to challenge Norichika Aoki to a duel (Pillar won, as one does when one combatant has speed and the other has a Fruit by the Foot for an arm). The other run came in the sixth—a Michael Saunders home run that I cheered, because the measure of love is wanting the best for someone even when that hurts you—and didn’t matter much, for reasons I will explain forthwith. Kuma ended the day with 98 pitches, 60 of which he threw for strikes. He lasted six full innings, which is pretty great on a day when your starter doesn’t have his best stuff, and gave up as many walks as he recorded strikeouts (3), but he only allowed four hits. Iwakuma was careful with the dangerous Blue Jays hitters, parrying and retreating, balancing the limits of what he had that day against the lineup’s power pieces. Because that’s the other thing about being in your mid-thirties: you’ve come to understand your body’s limitations, and how to use them against others rather than against yourself.

But really, Iwakuma didn’t even have to be all that careful because R.A. Dickey, in the battle of the old men, was less careful. He didn’t have a single clean inning and, although he kept the Mariners from touching home in the first two innings, things unraveled in the third. After Aoki grounded into a fielder’s choice to wipe out O’Malley, who was on with an infield base hit—his first of three for the day—two hit by pitches (Smith and Canó) loaded the bases for Nelson Cruz. Could he?

Heck yeah he could. This video unfortunately cuts off before the best part, which is Mike Blowers chuckling, “heh heh. He’s so strong,” so I would recommend finding that if you missed it. After a quick 1-2-3 bottom of the third (Josh Donaldson tried to make it more by actually throwing out his elbow to get hit by a pitch, but Jordan Baker was not fooled), the Mariners returned in the fourth to tack on two more runs and knock R.A. Dickey out of the game. Riding with a comfortable lead now, Iwakuma went 1-2-3 again in the bottom of the fourth. He struggled a little in the fifth, but was able to come back and strike out Encarnacion to end the inning.

The Mariners put the game out of reach in the sixth by dusting up old friend Jesse Chavez for...hang on I’m still trying to add up all the runs. In list form, then:

  • Chris Iannetta, who has been having not so much fun with hitting, broke through his slump today. He had already walked earlier, but he greeted Chavez by smashing a gap double that made fans and Chris alike very happy:
so nice to see that smile again
  • Shawn O’Malley, bunter supreme and on-base machine, laid down a perfect bunt and managed to beat out Donaldson’s throw;
  • Norichika Aoki, who does not care for Tacoma, singled into right field because that’s a thing he does now, apparently;
  • Seth Smith, Professional Baseballer, also singled into right field, bringing the Mariners up to 6-for-11 with RISP on the day;
  • Robinson Canó decided that singling into right seemed like good fun;
  • Nelson Cruz GIDP because somewhere one of the baseball gods came back from break to find that someone had left the Mariners’ BABIP luck dialed all the way up;
  • Kyle Seager, Polite Southern Gentleman, saw that everyone else had filled their plates and there was enough left over for him to guiltlessly crush this meatball to dead center.

In came Bo Schultz, the fireballer—and if I were a Blue Jays fan, I might be muttering some about using Schultz in garbage time, but that’s why I’m paid the no bucks—to stop the bleeding, but not before the Mariners had hung 11 runs on the board. Eleven! That’s lovely. Reminds me of a friend in college who knew a girl who named her kid Elleven so the number would be right in the name, which I have always thought was dumb but suddenly find incredibly lovely. It’s a nice weekend for 11, isn’t it? [/Directs laser beam of thought towards all members of the BBWAA/]

Wade LeBlanc came in and worked an efficient inning in relief, followed by two not-so-efficient innings. He was great in the bottom of the seventh, though, with two Ks and a broken bat groundout. In the eighth, the Mariners beat up on Drew Storen a little, which I feel badly about because the Jays fans began to openly boo him, but what do you want people? Anyway, after both Smith and Canó reached, Nelson decided to add a little LeBlanc insurance—Carte LeBlanc, if you will—and fired a rocket into the seats. No, a rocket rocket:

Something worth mentioning is Adam Lind went 2-for-4 today with a walk. His teammates weren’t able to score him, as was the case here, where he came up after Cruz but was stranded on base, but these are encouraging signs. Hopefully the improvement will stick after the Mariners cross back over the border.

So okay, Wade LeBlanc gave up some dingers at the end here, because the Blue Jays recognized the only way to win would be to engage the Home Run Derby settings on this game, but one was to Michael Saunders, which you can’t even really be mad about (try it. All the anger just flows directly to Jack Z.), and another to Justin Smoak, which is just funny. Also the strike zone went completely wackadoo here—call it the Charity Quadrangle—with the strike zone for Mariners’ hitters being approximately the size of Lake Ontario, and the strike zone for Wade LeBlanc being about as big as the Blue Jays’ win expectancy for this game. Satisfyingly, the final out went to Josh Donaldson, who almost hit it out, but Seth Smith tracked it down at the wall and made a fine catch. Josh Donaldson, bested by Wade LeBlanc and Seth Smith. Allow that to wash over you for a second.

This recap has run terribly long because the game was super long, in between all the aged pitchers and luxurious home run trotting and whatnot, but also because this is the kind of win you can savor for a while. The box score is littered with heroes of all shapes and sizes. But in case you skipped to the end of the recap—you probably flipped to the end of the Deathly Hallows, too, didn’t you, you scamp—here is everything you need to know about this game, summed up in a gif:

We may be in Toronto, but over these past two games the Mariners have turned it into the city of Brotherly Love.

Happy HOF weekend. It’s a good time to be a Mariner fan.