Baseball, like all sports, is a team game. Baseball, like other sports, can sometimes be taken over by just one player who wills their squad to victory. For the Seattle Mariners, for so many years, that player was Felix Hernandez, who would put the team on his back and try and drag them kicking and screaming to a 1-0 victory.
Saying Happy Felix Day doesn’t ring necessarily as loudly and as enthusiastically as it once used to. Don’t get me wrong, I still love seeing the King take the mound, but he is a different King this year. And from the get go of the game, it looked like he was going to be a bad king who needs to be overthrown.
The Pirates jumped out to a quick and tidy three run lead in the bottom of the first. Gregory Polanco homered to center to make it 1-0. Felix tried to rectify the situation by hitting Andrew McCutchen with a pitch, and then Starling Marte tripled to deep right as the appropriate punishment for the free base runner. When the dust settled, the Pirates led 3-0, and it would still get worse before it would get better.
You know things are bad when the opposing pitcher hits a home run. Yeah, yeah, yeah I get it Madison Bumgarner hits home runs lets put him in the Home Run Derby. But realistically, it isn’t a good game when the opposing pitcher hits a home run off of you -- especially when that pitcher is named Francisco Liriano. Liriano, with a career 235 plate appearances and an OPS of .359 (although he does have one dinger).
We no longer have the King Felix of old. That dream is long and dead, and hopefully one that will rise from the ashes to lead us to victory, because if anyone deserves to partake in the postseason it is Felix Hernandez. And it would be quite the shame to actually have the Mariners completely waste away all of his best years and be sending out a pitcher to start the series who is no better than your third or fourth rotation guy.
But, baseball is a game of nine innings. And the above paragraphs were just how this shit all started out. But then the game promptly went from shit to yay! The Mariners went for blood in the top of the third inning. Franklin Gutierrez led off the inning with a solo shot to make it 4-2, and then Kyle Seager hit his 20th home run of the season to tie the whole thing up.
Kyle Seager now has 20 home runs in five-straight seasons. I let my Baseball Reference play index lapse, but I’ll just assume that this has never happened in Mariners’ history before so congratulations Kyle Seager you are now the best hitter this team has ever seen.
Oh yeah, so back to the game. The Mariners put their foot on the throat of the Pirates in the top of the fourth inning with some “National League style small ball” as Rick Rizz called in on the radio. Basically, they were able to put guys on base and score them without hitting home runs. Go M’s. A Leonys Martin single, King Felix sacrifice, Shawn O’ Malley double, Franklin Gutierrez walk, Robinson Cano single, and Nelson Cruz infield RBI groundout later, the Mariners led the Pirates, 7-4. Isn’t small ball fun?
Amidst all of this offensive flurry, King Felix actually settled down a bit. He was hardly sharp overall, but considering how bad he started out, he did a great job of settling down and making sure the Pirates would get no more runs on the board. His final line is hardly inspiring, but when your offense puts seven runs on the board, you can clunk one in.
But the real meat and matter and fun and terror and joy and fright and oh shit and oh drink celebratory beer and oh open sad beer came with the Mariners’ bullpen. Vidal Nuno relieved King Felix in the bottom of the 7th inning and left the game approximately five minutes later with batters on first and third with no outs. Enter Tom Wilhelmsen.
Wilhelmsen was vintage Tom. He was mixing drinks and hurling them at the batters. Andrew McCutchen ordered a fastball down the middle but Bartender Tom was feeling surly and dipped a pint glass in a broken urinal and slid that down the bar instead. His first out left McCutchen flailing at a curveball like he had never seen a ball rotate in his life. Next up, Starlin Marte said, ‘Hey Tom, I’d like a water because I am now the designated driver for Andrew and he can’t drive and needs to have his stomach pumped because you fed him pee instead of booze.’ Tom just stared him down and said, ‘Get the hell out of my bar,’ broke a bottle over Marte’s head, and sent him back to the dugout in a daze. It was a beautiful sight and boy oh boy do I love Tom Wilhelmsen when he is on.
Now, since this is the Mariners, nobody was content with that tense seventh inning. Edwin Diaz, who has been one of the best relievers in the game, saw how good Wilhelmsen was and must have thought to himself, ‘Hey, I can do better than that.’ Only problem, no one was on base when Diaz started out the bottom of the 8th inning. A single followed by a double later, problem solved! Men on second and third with no one out! Props to Scott Servais here, because hindsight is always 20/20 so props are in order since it worked out right, as he kept his gut in check by chowing down Tums and left Diaz in the game. Diaz rewarded the skipper by cleaning up his own mess, retiring the next three batters and ultimately preserving the 7-4 lead for Steve Cishek to close in the ninth.
At any time, multiple times, this game felt like it was getting out of hand. But it didn’t, and therefore it was a fun game to listen and watch. Felix started out terrible, but he willed himself to a mediocre start to keep his team in it. After so many times of letting Felix lose games 1-0 over his career, the Mariners’ offense actually helped out. The Mariners got a good win against a good team, and hopefully established a bit of momentum as this brutal stretch of August scheduling lurks on the horizon.