So, before you read any further, I feel compelled to warn you that tonight gif-making wizard and overall hilarious person José Rivera is taking a well-deserved night off, meaning we must depend on Official Highlights and also my own brand of cave paintings to get the idea across. I apologize, but even geniuses deserve a night off here and there.
I have the feeling that between the NFL season opener, the vast array of playoff baseball in the minors, and the Mariners’ general swoon over the past month, maybe a lot of people opted out of the game tonight. This is fine and okay. Certainly the matchup of struggling young pitcher Taijuan Walker vs. Derekkkkkk Holland is not one that shouts joy into the heart of most Mariner fans. And for the first inning, it looked like it was going to be a rocky road indeed. Tai started the game by looking like someone had put a wicked Memory Charm on him and obliterated his knowledge of the strike zone. He started off the game with a four-pitch walk to Nomar Mazara, and then walked Ian Desmond in a seven-pitch at bat. He rallied to strike out Beltrán on three pitches, then battled with Beltre for nine pitches before getting him to fly out harmlessly to Guti, and then Odor flew out at the warning track to end the inning. No damage done, but it took Taijuan 27 pitches to get through the inning, of which only 14 were strikes. For their part, the Mariners went down 1-2-3 in their half of the first and my finger started itching towards the remote to check out the football game (and to see how my fantasy team, Used Derek Carr Salesmen, was faring). But Taijuan came out swinging in the top of the second and was able to get a 1-2-3 inning of his own, after which Dae-Ho came up and reminded us all that he may be hitting for average lately, but he’s still a power hitter at heart. Okay, so you should watch that highlight because Goldsmith’s call is great and there’s a fantastic fan catch at the end, but if I could sum that dinger up in one image it would be:
Walker started off the third by hitting Robinson Chirinos in the ninth pitch of the AB, and after Mazara flew out, Ian Desmond corked one right up the middle and then Beltrán singled into right to score Chirinos. Beltre smacked a fastball into left and Desmond was given a green light to score from second but Texas forgot that Servais had deployed THE BAT SIGNAL in the lineup:
Okay and this one is also worth wading through the ad to get to because it’s amazing on both ends—perfect throw, perfectly received by Iannetta, who is Tai’s favorite catcher—but also because of the teeny tiny thumbs up Iannetta gives himself when he realizes he’s stuck the landing, and how fun is it to have a left fielder who is a KILL MACHINE? Let that just wash over you for a second. Odor would single after this to drive in a run and give Texas a 2-1 lead, but it could have been much, much worse. To his credit, Tai kept his cool and got Moreland to pop out in fair territory to Kyle to end the inning and staunch the bleeding.
The Mariners had a golden opportunity in the third when Shawn O’Malley fouled off pitches until he finally got one to drop in right field, followed by Heredia working his way to a full count until he smacked a single into right and O’Malley made it to third without even a throw because he is the lightning. Oh, the plate discipline and the grueling at-bats, how I love them. Guti worked a walk to load the bases and...well. You know how this one ends. Iannetta had struck out to begin the inning, and then Canó and Cruz both struck out to leave the bases loaded.
Essentially, though, the Mariners would get a re-do of the third, as Tai would come out to pitch another 1-2-3 inning, and Seager started the bottom of the fourth with a single into right field, because Kyle Seager is from North Carolina and very happy to mess with Texas and their weak conception of BBQ. Dae-Ho Lee took a walk because he is an OBP machine now and Martín singled into center field because screw you Texas. This brought Chris Iannetta up—again, already, I know. Is there another Mariner you want up less with the bases loaded and no one out? Okay don’t answer that. Anyway, Iannetta must have been enjoying the Tai bump tonight because he laced an 81 mph offspeed pitch down the left field line, scoring Seager and even though Dae-Ho never drives faster than his guardian angel can fly, he made it home as well to give the Mariners a 3-2 edge. Heredia hit a little chopper up the middle that Odor couldn’t get to which brought in Iannetta for another run before Guti struck out and Canó rolled over on one to end the inning. Before you cast aspersions on the Guti strikeout: it was a ten-pitch battle that drove up Holland’s pitch count to 90. In the fourth inning. Also, Guti’s earlier plate appearance, the walk, took eight pitches. Across the board, the Mariners put up (mostly) well-disciplined, long plate appearances tonight that stood in stark contrast to the Rangers’ slash-and-burn mentality.
In the fifth, Taijuan decided, in a 2-2 count to Ian Desmond, to shake off Iannetta twice and throw Desmond a fastball that missed its spot badly, which he promptly deposited over the right field fence. Learning is a bell curve and sometimes it dings extra hard. But again, Tai didn’t get discouraged and came back to do work on the heart of the Rangers’ order, getting Beltrán to ground out and then Beltre—what do you mean this was a single?—before K’ing Odor and Moreland. Tai’s night would end here, with 105 pitches—not ideal—and only three strikeouts, but with just the two first-inning walks and two earned runs. This is progress. Evan Scribner came in to work the sixth and dismissed the Rangers 1-2-3, with a little help from Robinson Canó. He would come back to work the seventh as well, along with Ben Gamel—part of what Servais has dubbed his “hands team”—who promptly had the ball hit in his direction, of course, and made an excellent diving grab. After Beltrán took Scribner down the left field line for a double, Servais lifted him for Vincent with two outs, and Vincent was able to get Beltre to fly out deep to Gamel which stopped my heart for just the merest of seconds. Scribner looked good, showing a great ability to miss bats and work the edges of the plate. Vincent would also work the top of the eighth, going 1-2-3 with two groundouts and a strikeout and generally looking much more like early-season Nick Vincent than the more recent vintage.
In the home seventh, Texas sent Jake Diekman out, who started off by declining to throw Canó a single pitch in the strike zone, striking out Cruz, and then serving a delicious belt-high fastball to Kyle Seager:
Another year, another career-high in home runs.— Mariners (@Mariners) September 9, 2016
Kyle Seager just keeps getting better. pic.twitter.com/81quNWXgpU
Díaz would come on to close it out and looked much more like the Edwin we’re used to: he threw one crazy wild pitch that probably made Elvis Andrus’s life flash before his eyes before striking him out on three pitches, threw pinch hitter Jared Hoying a 99 mph fastball that actually looked like a fireball coming out of his hand before getting him to fly out to a hustling Heredia (I love him in left field so much), and ending the night with a called strike three to Mazara, a slider that somehow hit 89 at the top of the zone. This is another video from MLB that’s worth watching (although would it kill them to show the whole at-bat?), just to hear Goldsmith say BALLGAME with the vocal equivalent of jazz hands. Oh, seeing Díaz’s smile is pretty great, too.
Fall is here, and interest in the team is waning. School has started back up, the season is winding down, football flutters its eyelashes at us from every corner (Peyton Manning is everywhere, suddenly, has anyone else noticed that? I keep expecting to open my closet and see him standing in there with a pizza). But nights like tonight keep the home fires burning. Wrong sport but—we’re still dancing.