Today, the Mariners won a baseball game. They had to do this—it was required of them—but despite it all they still remain 2.5 games back from the second Wild Card spot, and their first playoff appearance in fifteen years.
I’m not really in the mood to wax poetic about it, though. We’re all, it seems, cogently aware of the reality of the situation this team has put themselves in over the past couple of months. Last night they showed up to Target Field and looked like the flummoxed sack of sprouting potatoes which they so often have resembled. Today was the opposite. Now, for the next seven days they will have to figure out how to win five, maybe six games. They did this to themselves, with every exasperated glance at a breaking ball and through every 493-foot home run. Today, thankfully, just happened to be more like the second part of that sentence.
So rather than talk about where they will go—or where they have been—I’d like instead to just look at a few scenes from today’s game. Most likely, baseball will be over in a week’s time, and for all the excitement (or nausea) this particular group of bozos has given us, I’d like you to take a minute and think about just what it’s going to feel like on January 13th when the sun goes down before you get off work and your television is overflowing with Other Things. You know—that feeling when you’d even settle for Miguel Olivo fouling off a belt-high 83mph sinker twelve games back. No? Nothing? Well, you’re a much healthier individual than myself, I suppose. Now it’s my job to change that.
With two outs in the top of the first inning, home plate umpire Jerry Layne took a foul ball off the chin area of his facemask. As if trying to suppress the force of the blow with bent knees, he immediately lunged backwards only to be caught mid-fall by Twins’ catcher Juan Centeno. It’s a strange sight, really. You can almost think he’s about to call a punchout here, but instead, he’s two seconds removed from his second head injury in the past month alone.
With Canó and Centeno cemented on either side, Layne did his best not to fall over, but it apparently wasn’t enough to convince the Twins’ medical staff to advise he stay in the game. All in all, the afternoon was delayed for a few short minutes and he was replaced behind the dish by Hunter Wendelstedt, and then everyone went on about their business like nothing had happened. I can’t help but look at this image, however, and wonder if you would have been able to tell what it depicts had I not spent the past two paragraphs detailing its context to you.
Speaking of context, had you not watched this game, you might not have realized that these two images are actually presented in the reverse order from which they occurred. In the top of the second inning, Nelson Cruz took an 86 MPH cutter out of the hand of Twins’ starter Hector Santiago and promptly put it 432 feet away into the middle of Target Field’s second deck. Less than 24 hours earlier, Cruz hit a baseball into the third deck, measuring over sixty more feet in estimated distance. And although the lead from today’s second-inning homer would be erased only a few moments later, he was here standing at the plate here in the sixth with a one-run lead. A tepid path to victory, but a path nonetheless.
Santiago promptly threw him a sinker at the top of the zone, and Cruz swung right through, missing. He grimaced. He stepped out of the box. He put his hands together and lurched over as if to hide the details of what had happened while knowing his pain was as legible as an image on a 70mm cinemascope screen. Something was wrong. But he had to finish his at-bat—just step up, swing into a grounder, and jog down the line and straight into the clubhouse to be evaluated by an awaiting trainer. No big deal. The ball went 381 feet.
Cruz was pulled upon making it back to the dugout, and while he has been struggling with some nerve issues for a while now, it sounds as if he’s feeling up to playing every day from here on out. In any other circumstance you’d fret—will he further aggravate what hurt him in the first place? Will he even be effective, playing at 3⁄4 capacity? Apparently you only need to worry about one of those things in this case.
I don’t really have anything insightful about this one. It’s just Dae-Ho Lee getting an out with his butt.
The Mariners were down a run in the fifth inning and while it wasn’t the end of the world, their previous outing was casting somewhat of a harrowing shadow over the next four frames. Leonys Martín had reached on a walk, and Jesús Sucre was at the plate. Sucre had already doubled back in the third, and with the caveat that this was only his fourth game of the month, was riding a 9-for-13 streak, which is either nature enacting its own particular version of Alanis Morissette’s irony song or just the truth, the fuckin’ truth. Well the man of the
hour month decided to add to his collection and hit a baseball over the left field wall to put the Mariners up by a run. I mean, sure, why not.
Jesús Sucre has played in 88 Major League Baseball games. He is, by all accounts, perfectly comfortable with his role, knowing that his job is to provide solid defense on the days that the everyday catcher gives his knees a rest. Anything else is candy. Today he hit his second home run in the big leagues, and while he’s hit a few more in the minors, I can’t help but wonder if his celebration upon crossing home plate was something scripted, natural, or if it was as much a product of life playing chess with contingency as is his 257 wRC+. Either way, if they do this—if they end up pulling this off next Sunday—they couldn’t have done it without this very home run.
Steve Cishek was teammates with José Fernández for the better part of three seasons in Miami. Leonys Martín knew him since they were both budding talent in Cuba. I’m sure everyone in that clubhouse has at least one story, and they are the ones who actually had met him. It wouldn’t be right to spend more time on it at this website, beyond realizing that these guys had to come out and play baseball when many of them probably wanted to do exactly the opposite of that.
Taijuan Walker has had somewhat of a tumultuous season. He’s flirted with perfection, but he’s also shown, at times, a nagging inability to...well...get it together. Whether that perception is warranted or not, Taijuan has seemed to let stressful situations transform him from a lock-down firethrower into a 24-year-old kid in over his head with no exit plan. But today was different. After giving up a leadoff single to Robbie Grossman and a one-out single to Byron Buxton, Walker was set to face Brian Dozier and his 42 home runs and, pending that, Jorge Polanco, Joe Mauer, oh no, then there’s Miguel Sano who ok he strikes out a lot, maybe I can get him to whiff on sometno, wait, I might not even get there that’s a lot of outs maybe next inning okay, shit, think, calm down wh
I don’t know what goes through Taijuan’s mind when he runs into a jam, but that’s kind of what being overwhelmed feels like to me. Well today Taijuan got Brian Dozier to pop out on the first pitch, then struck out Jorge Polanco on four. As you can see here, he kind of just clapped his mitt upon getting the call, and while you don’t want to diagnose what was happening before you can at least say this: Taijuan stared down adversity and seemed to feel good upon conquering it.
It started raining during the final two innings of 2016 baseball in Minnesota this afternoon. The lazy metaphor would be to say that this is a fitting end for yet another .350 season by the worst team in baseball, but the reality is that the Twins have some exciting young players and are likely on their way to feeling what we felt like when the clouds of Zduriencik parted for bright rays of Jerrys.
For some reason though, this moment sticks with me. I wonder exactly what it will be that I’m hoping for on January 13th, what kind of picture-memory I will concoct in my head. To counter snow and the lack of routine that scoreboard watching brings with it, you would think it would be an expanse of blue over the green, a sunset, something like that. But you have to keep playing in the rain even if you don’t want to, only until you can’t. That’s what baseball has always been about to me and that’s how I want to remember it. So I will.