Tonight, the Seattle Mariners lost a baseball game to the Houston Astros. James Paxton pitched exceedingly well. Chase De Jong did not. It is De Jong’s blown save and loss that will define this game for many. Jean Segura and Kyle Seager each performed admirably at the plate. Other players did not, and it was the failure of Danny Valencia, Mike Zunino, and Jarrod Dyson in the 13th inning that will be a lasting memory of tonight as well.
Such is the fickle nature of timing in baseball. I will not argue that the Mariners deserved to win this game, for they certainly did not. They were out-hit 13 to 6 by the Astros, and struck out 5 more times. That being said, the whole team didn’t suck. Going 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position is not a sustainable trend. This loss hurts all the more with a big fat zero in the win column. Despite all that, much of this game was thoroughly enjoyable and there was quite a bit to unpack.
Out of the gate, James Paxton was on his game tonight. He required a lot of pitches to get through his innings, but I attribute much of that to having to face hitters like Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. Altuve in particular had several chances to punish Paxton, and James outdid one of the best contact hitters in the league. The first inning saw Paxton walk Alex Bregman and throw a wild pitch, putting Bregman on second with Altuve at bat. Paxton responded like this:
Altuve managed to lay off of two curveballs that might have done in lesser hitters, but Paxton managed to initiate awkward contact on a slider at the bottom of the zone. Just two innings later, Paxton struck out George Springer on a nasty curveball in the dirt. The pitch hit the plate, causing Mike Zunino to miss the trap and allowing Springer to take first when the ball skipped away. Alex Bregman managed to double, putting runners on second and third with just one out, and Altuve coming up again. It was here that the game might have gotten away from Paxton.
And yet, Paxton did not give Altuve a single pitch on which to turn. The two battled for eight tense pitches, and I had forgotten just quite what it felt like to grip my glass so hard that it was at real risk of shattering. Finally, on the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Paxton threw one of the better curveballs I’ve seen in a while.
The fourth and fifth innings would go on to be perfect for Paxton. The sixth inning would have too, were it not for good old Altuve. The only reason that Altuve even reached, however, was a dropped third strike. Jose Altuve faced James Paxton three times tonight, and recorded three outs. He struck out twice. His K% last year was 9.8%. For context, the league average was 21.1%. Paxton didn’t make it look easy, but just the fact that he was able to do that against Altuve was nothing short of mesmerizing.
The hitters did not manage to do a whole lot against Charlie Morton, but with Paxton pitching, they did what could have been enough. The Mariners managed a single baserunner in each of the first four innings, but went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position in those innings. Finally, in the fifth, Leonys Martin ripped a line drive single to right field and Jean Segura followed it up with this.
The fact that this was an opposite-field shot to right field made this all the more impressive. Segura has clearly performed the best of the Mariner hitters this season, and it sure is nice to have a legitimately competent lead-off hitter. Coupled with his near defensive gem later in this game (and the fact that Ketel Marte started the season in Triple-A), I’m extremely pleased to have him on this team.
The downside of Paxton’s high pitch count was that he had to exit the game after just six innings. Evan Scribner came in and promptly gave up two straight hits (one of them off of rather weak contact). He was then pulled for Mark Rzepczynski, who managed to record an out. Scott Servais gave Scrabble a quick pull, and brought in Dan Altavilla. Despite Altavilla projecting as one of the team’s better relievers this year, he couldn’t get it done. Marwin Gonzalez and George Springer recorded two straight hits to tie up the game. It felt like a minor miracle that Altavilla managed to retire Bregman and Altuve to keep the game tied, but the damage was done.
After tying up the game, the Astros brought in Chris Devenski, who was absolutely unhittable. Today, the Mariners managed to get base-runners in every inning aside from the 9th, 10th, and 11th. Devenski threw each of those innings, and didn’t give anybody much of a chance for the four innings he was in. He recorded seven strikeouts and zero hits against just one walk. Good outings from James Pazos, Edwin Diaz, Casey Fien, and Nick Vincent just didn’t matter much with Devenski throwing four nearly perfect innings in the later part of the game. If you feel like torturing yourself, you can see some examples of just how good Devenski was.
Despite all that, it felt like the Mariners had a chance. When the game went to the bottom of the 12th, and Carlos Correa smacked a single with one out, we inhaled. When Danny Valencia made us forget his hitting woes for a second with this gem, we exhaled.
Maybe this was the alcohol, but the 13th inning felt Kafkaesque in its absurdism. For some reason, many of the Astros fans decided to imitate a blessing of narwhals and drive crazy anybody still watching the game. Dave Sims hesitated for a moment, then said “just for the record, I have no idea why the fans are making these sounds.” It became hilarious when Astros reliever Jandel Gustave walked three straight Mariners to open the inning, and more hilarious still when Brad Peacock walked a fourth to finally score a run. It felt a whole lot less funny when Danny Valencia, Mike Zunino, and Jarrod Dyson each failed to do anything at the plate, and the Mariners were left with just a one-run lead.
The only reliever left for the Mariners going into the 13th was Chase De Jong. Chase De Jong made his major league debut tonight. He recorded a weak ground out and a pop out before giving up a hit and the walk-off home run that sent us all to bed. By the way, here’s a note about that dinger.
George Springer's 13th-inning home run was calculated at 353 feet. It would not have been a home run at any other MLB park— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 6, 2017
This sucks, and I’m not here to convince anyone otherwise. Going 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position does not win games. Sending in relievers to make their major league debuts against All-Stars does not win games. Much of the team played poorly today, and has played poorly for three straight days.
The aspect of this team about which I was most concerned was the starting pitching, which is the only part of this team that has looked halfway decent. The Mariners have completed 1.85% of the regular season. Maybe the other 98.15% is doomed. Probably not.