Appraising this series on Tuesday morning, I saw two wins out of three for the Mariners. They head to Cleveland this afternoon having won two out of three.
I am smart.
Félix Hernández looked healthy and steady, and James Paxton is an ace with few who can match him. The Tigers had a short lineup and an even shorter bullpen. Seattle’s likely loss would come with Justin Verlander outdueling the heated whole wheat bread that is Hishashi Iwakuma.
I am foolish.
New faces upon new faces shined underneath the S and compass rose today, yet one familiar name and one specific compass rose were the center of attention around halfway through the scoreless tie.
Leonys Martín did not play today, but his clearing waivers and accepting an assignment to Tacoma felt like the first break the Mariners had gotten all week. Yesterday’s game was great, but Nelson Cruz is great and James Paxton is great and Félix won 13 games in 2010. Even bad teams win when their ace starts. Good teams can win when they have to make do. Successful teams do so enough to be in contention at the end of the year. The Mariners have been far from successful this year as a whole, but they were today, and they’ve done enough that their position is far from irreparable.
It felt, at first, like the same game we’d seen all season from Kuma. Ian Kinsler walloped a ball into the depths of center field, but Jarrod Dyson rendered it harmless as he glided under it. Tyler Collins singled. Collins was the only Tiger starter to record a hit and was responsible for four of their seven baserunners (a metaphorical middle finger instead of his more notable tendency). Exit velocity king and Athenian night club bouncer Nick Castellanos was hit by a 1-2 cutter that got away from Kuma. Same old story.
Except it wasn’t. On a day where swirling winds would later play a part in undoing Detroit’s outfielders, Guillermo Heredia persevered. At a full sprint he tracked a Victor Martinez foul fly for what felt like an eternity, yet not quite long enough. He laid out feet first, making a two-legged slide with his eyes to the heavens in a near perfect recreation of everyone’s favorite Nori Aoki blooper, but this play will find itself playing on a different reel, in between different innings.
A spectacular catch that elicited a visible “wow” from Kyle Seager. The Tigers’ threat concluded three pitches later on a routine grounder to Robinson Canó. It was the last threat Iwakuma would face until his third time through the order in the 6th inning.
Unfortunately, not only was that roughly six hours later due to Justin Verlander’s eternal pace, the game remained close due to both starter’s effectiveness. Verlander was 6th-slowest in the league in Pace prior to today’s game with a staggering 26.4 seconds between pitches. I believe that will leap up a few spots after today’s monstrosity, and while baseball does not need to speed up necessarily, Verlander’s mid-AB siestas seemed excessive. I cannot cast the first stone regarding pace considering my penchant for throwing pickoff throws has drawn the ire of many of my friends, but Verlander’s turgidness expanded to when no runners were on.
Frustratingly, his arsenal was in vintage form, just like a wine that was bottled in the 2nd inning would have been by the 6th. Verlander threw 119 pitches, the most of any pitcher in the MLB this season, and surrendered just one run in seven innings. The run was a gift, following the providence of Martín’s return, as a Nelson Cruz blooper resulted in RF Jim Adduci colliding with Collins as the two outfielders converged on the wind-swirled popup.
Er, I mean, this:
And a healthy Kyle Seager delivered one of two huge hits he had today, this one giving Seattle a 1-0 lead in the top of the 6th. Collins would avenge his error, starting off the bottom half of the inning with his second double. After striking Castellanos out on a cutter that the erratic coverage of today’s Gameday listed as painting the outside corner but my eyes watching the screen said was right down the middle, a rollover grounder that kicked off the end of a sliding Canó’s glove allowed Detroit’s lone run to score. After an Upton flyout, with 3.1 innings to go, ideally, the Mariners’ maligned bullpen was entrusted with holding a 1-1 tie.
Marc Rzepczynski has had some loud outs so far this season, but his 0.00 ERA still stands after inducing a weak groundout to end the 6th and opening the 7th with a K of Adduci. Tony Zych came in and played with kindling for 1.2 innings, but ultimately did nothing more than give up two fly outs that would have been routine on a less windy day. He walked Collins, the only man to offensively endanger Seattle today, but showed that when your stuff is good enough, you can make it work, even when it’s not your best day.
The king of dominant even without his best stuff, Edwin Díaz, would follow, but not before the Mariners took the lead in the top of the 9th. Seager rocketed a double into the gap like a man who was unaware his three days off didn’t carry him all the way into May. He was driven in by Ben Gamel, whose first two hits of the season gave him a 197 wRC+ on the day (aka three points shy of Mitch Haniger’s 200 over this entire season, *sniff*).
With a 2-1 lead, Díaz had all the leeway he needed to wreck Justin Upton’s day, K’ing him on three pitches. Alex Avila was treated similarly, with a foul ball and a lone high fastball the only record of his protestations. Andrew Romine pinch-hit and singled on a grounder up the middle, but James McCann was not cast as the hero today. Taylor Motter had a quiet day at the plate, with a walk in five plate appearances as his only success. It’ll take much more than that to stop Seattle’s hair metal skeleton key. A first pitch popup hung up in the air just enough for Motter, starting at first-base today, to make a defensive play few first basemen in the league have the athleticism to even approach.
Game over. Series won.
A 19-9 loss in the opening game and the M’s walk away with a series win and a positive season-long run differential of 108 for, 105 against. Two out of three on the road and the M’s are a scant 2.5 games back from a wild card spot. Houston looks like a team that will pull away and win the division as expected, but nobody is running away with the other playoff spots so far this year. Detroit is not a great team, but they’re a good team, and one that expects to be in the playoff hunt as well this year. The Mariners just took two out of three from them on the road. They have three games at Cleveland to finish April, all of which will be bears, but after a 2-8 start if you’d told me this team would have a shot at finishing the month of April at or within a couple games of .500 I would have taken it. Time to see what else they’ve got in them.