Tonight’s 4-2 win was a long time coming. Four days is not a long time in the framework of a season, or a semester, or a marriage, but it sure felt eternal watching Danny Valencia take another strike three down the heart of the plate with runners on. The first three games, and the first eight innings of this game, in truth, felt encapsulated by one simple graphic.
Thankfully, for what seemed like the first time all season, the Mariners decided to support their pitching staff. Mitch Haniger went 2/5 with a walk and his first home run as a Mariner. It was a 400+ foot Mitch Mash.
Haniger’s wRC+ is now 144, with a triple slash of .188/.350/.438, and those numbers are all nonsense since they come in 20 plate appearances, but wow they are more pleasant than anything was a day ago with this offense. Since the Mariners are apparently going to just be carried by all their new acquisitions and give their returning players a break this season, Jean Segura thankfully had another excellent night. He, too, went 2/5, stole a base, and continued to look like an excellent defensive shortstop.
As an aside on Segura, his faculty for dominating off-speed pitches - curveballs in particular - is one of the clear upgrades he provides, not just over Ketel Marte, but over most of the Mariners hitters last year. Houston’s pitching staff is unfortunately equipped with a fleet of hurlers who specialize in spinning tough breaking balls. While the Mariners should have put up a better fight all week, it makes sense that they struggled. Having Segura at the top of the order is a heartening bulwark against those off-speed savants.
After another frustrating inning of loading the bases to only come away with one run in the sixth, the Mariners looked headed for a second straight extra-innings showdown. At last, however, they made a stand. The afore-mentioned Valencia looked like if Hansel and Gretel were gluten-free at the plate, but deserves credit for working a walk after falling into an 0-2 hole. Carlos Ruiz appeared to forget he wasn’t the catcher until the last possible moment and made no effort to move as a slider from Ken Giles plunked him in his midsection. With pinch-runners Taylor Motter and Guillermo Heredia in the game, Jarrod Dyson hit seemingly the first line drive of the season to not be directly at an Astros’ outfielder and the M’s took the lead. Segura got a slider from Giles and smacked a sharp grounder into right field, and the lead was secured.
To this point I have harped on the offensive contribution to this game, and that is, in all honesty, doing a disservice to the real stars of this game. The offense has been the squeaky wheel in 2017, and we have all given them ample grease, but Ariel Miranda and the bullpen were excellent tonight. Miranda continued to offer a Gotta Have It-sized eff you to the gods of FIP, and allowed just two runs, both on solo homers, despite adding three walks, four K’s, and five hits in his 5.0 IP. We’ve griped a lot about some of the homers that made it out this series, but George Springer put one out of a Polo Grounds and a half with his leadoff bomb.
George Springer crushes a baseball pic.twitter.com/VIE4s3JomZ— Daren Willman (@darenw) April 7, 2017
Miranda, to his credit, was unfazed, and did just enough to keep the Mariners in the game. The defense, save for a weird Kyle Seager misplay, continued to be aces. The biggest threat of the night came in the 5th inning, with the bases loaded and nobody out. Naturally, José Altuve was up. Miranda went with his best pitch, his changeup, and got a weak grounder to third, inducing the most strenuous, razor’s edge 5-2-3 double play I’ve seen in ages. If Valencia doesn’t figure it out offensively it’s not gonna matter how good he looks in the field, but his athleticism at the end of this play was a small comfort about his upgrade in one area over last year’s platoon.
James Pazos came in and was filthy for two innings. He looked every bit like the guy Brian Cashman claimed was “untouchable” just a couple years ago, and gave a gassed Mariners bullpen the bridge they needed to their Incinerators. Dan Altavilla made Jake Mailhot look like a soothsayer, freezing Carlos Correa on a painted fastball and getting Altuve and Yulieski Gurriel swinging on sliders so dirty he should apologize to his very nice mother.
Edwin Díaz worried me as he entered, coming off two innings last night. I needn’t have. Brian McCann stuck the bat out hopefully and was rewarded with a line drive to left field, but Jarrod Dyson ranged bemusedly to his right and snatched it from the air, ruining the fun of the Fun Police. Josh Reddick tried digging for sliders and bit the dust instead. Contact king Norichika Aoki did the same. Game Over.
1-3 ain’t my cup of tea, but it’s like lemongrass with honey compared to 0-4. The Astros are a good team. They should be a playoff team, and the Mariners spent every inning of this series within striking distance. The Angels are 2-2 and their opening day starter was 34 year-old Ricky Nolasco. They are a decent team but they are not as good as the Astros. The first one is out of the way. Let’s see if they can come home next week on a winning streak.