“We didn’t get a lot of breaks tonight. We won the ballgame.”
Scott Servais sounded relieved after the game and I identified with him as much as one can with a turtle-human hybrid. Results are what matter, and to this point they had not been there, whether the process was or not. Trusting numbers and believing the mean will be regressed to has been tested thoroughly this week. Tonight’s win was a breath of fresh air for many reasons, foremost among them that even without many 50/50 moments going their way the Mariners won the game.
The reason for that was clear - Felix Hernandez was brilliant. Three strikeouts might not jump off the page but the King’s efficiency should. 89 pitches, 63 strikes, and excellent command of all his pitches. His mechanics looked easy, repeatable, and smooth. The last time Felix made it seven innings into the game with under 90 pitches was 2015, and he was only ousted in this game after 7.1 IP due to an eternal 7th inning that cooled his well-oiled joints. Even his one run allowed came on a single, a bunt that somehow eluded Mike Zunino, and a groundball that skipped over the mound and up the middle.
18.1 innings this year. Zero walks allowed. We’.ve said it dozens of times already, but this looked like a New Felix Hernandez™. That should be royally exciting.
The runs came for the Mariners, dragged out of them onerously like a child protesting their bedtime. Despite grounding into two of the M’s three double plays, Nelson Cruz reminded us what happens when a baseball runs into him in an alley, and with a 115-mph exit velocity deposited his first home run of the season in dead center field. After a slow start, the Mariners 3-4-5 went 3-for-9 with 3 BBs. Baby steps, baby steps.
The Mariners took the lead in that long bottom of the 7th. They say every time you watch a baseball game you have the chance of seeing something that’s never happened before, and that was absolutely true tonight. Jarrod Dyson laced a single, then stole second base after Jose Leclerc spent roughly fifteen minutes attempting to confirm Guillermo Heredia was intending to bunt by picking off repeatedly. Heredia squared around early enough that Adrian Beltre could have grabbed a glove, hobbled out of the dugout on his strained calf, and taken a spot in the infield before the pitch came, but Heredia dropped down a gorgeous fluff bunt that somehow evaded the defense for a single.
Mitch Haniger (who else) followed that up with a
home run double single off the top of the left field fence that was initially ruled a 3-run homer by third base umpire CB Buckner. Unfortunately, there’s a first time for everything and CB was wrong. What looked like a #MitchMash initially in fact hit off the top of the wall and bounced back into play towards a listless Jurickson Profar. As a result of an oddly conservative move by Guillermo Heredia to tag up on the ball, Haniger was awarded only first base, meaning the sure double was relegated to a single. Assuredly this fresh hell would come back to bite the M’s as they took a 2-1 lead into the 8th inning that should have been 3-1 or 4-1 by rights.
Except it didn’t. After The King exited to the thunderous applause he’d earned so resoundingly, Marc Rzepczynski came in and got two lefties to roll over softly. The bullpen that had a 28th ranked ERA (7.71) entering this game looked far more like the bullpen that was tied for the 10th best xFIP (3.63). Edwin Diaz looked untouchable, which is to say he looked like Edwin Diaz and not the groggy, uncomfortable shade of Brandon League we saw rushed out onto the field last weekend. 2-1 it was and 2-1 it remained. A start towards undoing the damage of the awful first week. A team that looked like they’d been pressing managed to squeak one out at last.
They needed this.
We needed this.
There were frustrations, of course. Mike Zunino had a brutal game at the plate that made his defensive miscue all the more apparent. Zunino has stifled his habit of chasing curveballs in the dirt from a reggae airhorn to a lonely trumpet, but so far this year he’s seemed overmatched by fastballs, perhaps as compensation. When he’s made contact it’s still been hard and solid, and his plate discipline is undeniably improved, but when he’s not hitting homers Zu still looks pretty rough at the plate. I could talk about Danny Valencia hitting a ball on the screws and drawing a walk, yet looking like an Arctic tern in Ethiopia his other two at-bats, but I don’t want to. Know why?
Because Felix looked awesome, dammit, and the Mariners won, realistically in that order of importance. If you didn’t see the game, I’m not sure the highlights will do it justice, but that’s fine. He’ll be back. He’ll be here. He’s ours and nobody else can have him, and that just might mean something again.