It’s very rare that I open a recap and start to write and find I have nothing to say. Even in a loss, I usually can summon some highlights to pin to the top of my cage—a cage I built for myself, I recognize—and promise myself that it will get better. Or I can find a motif and use that as a way to make the recap its own thing, something that both is and is not of the game itself, and in that way establish some distance from it, and therefore step towards healing.
But today I have nothing clever to say. I watched the ninth inning with my heart tattooing an imprint on my chest, taking notes by hand because my hands were too shaky to type, in utter disbelief as I watched the Mariners bullpen blow a seven-run lead over the course of three innings to notch their sixth—but it feels like sixetieth—loss of the season. It was awful. It feels awful. I don’t even think I have words for how awful it feels. The team managed to show everything good it could be, and then in a second snatched that all away. I’ve been gaslit by the 2017 Mariners.
Let’s start with the good, because there was a lot of that, initially. Hisashi Iwakuma once again turned in a strong pitching performance, going six innings while only giving up one run, a solo shot by sudden offensive superstar Andrelton Simmons. He did issue three walks and only recorded two strikeouts, but his command was once again elite, and he was getting shaved pretty badly on the low strike. Carlos Ruíz is probably not Iwakuma’s ideal catcher, as he frames the low strike pretty badly. Nevertheless, Iwakuma persisted and managed to make pitches where he needed to and let his outfield catch all the fly balls. Whatever “balance” problems seemed to niggle at him during spring training seem to have been left behind in Arizona.
Initially, it looked like the Mariners would again struggle to score runs, with their first run coming off the dynamic combo of a HBP, groundout, stolen base, and balk. But in the third inning Robinson Canó did this:
And I saw a lot of tweets about “floodgates.” Well, maybe it was the floodgates for Canó, who blasted an RBI double the next time he was up to give the Mariners a 6-1 lead. It’s important to note the real hero in that inning, however, was Taylor Motter, who got the train going that inning with a walk. Motter performed some pretty impressive contortions at home plate to convince the home plate umpire he was Altuve-sized:
Taylor Motter successfully shrunk his own strike zone by squatting down and fooled the HP ump into issuing a walk pic.twitter.com/ckmi6IyMe8— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) April 9, 2017
#WhateverItTakes. Segura also reached on catcher’s interference here, and Haniger was hit by a pitch, continuing the “Mariners get baserunners in weird ways” trend. Seager would later get a sacrifice fly to bring Haniger home. Wheee, offense.
But it wasn’t all small/weird ball. Mitch Haniger continued to impress with a solo shot off Shoemaker’s replacement Mike Morin in the seventh:
Carlos Ruíz would also have an RBI double, pushing the Mariners’ lead to 9-3 entering the eighth. Those two additional Angels runs came on another shaky Nick Vincent outing, in which he gave up a single to C.J. Cron, a double to Ben Revere, and an RBI two-run single to pinch-hitter Jefry Marte. I’ve heard a respected pitching coach say he thinks Vincent looks like he doesn’t have anything left in the tank, and that might be true. Dylan Unsworth pitched a very strong debut for the Rainiers today, and might eventually be a better option than Vincent for a low-leverage long reliever if he can continue to impress in his first outings against AAA hitters.
Marc Rzepczynski came in to work the eighth, giving up a single to Yunel Escobar, who has absolutely terrorized the Mariners this series, before getting the left-handed Kole Calhoun to ground into a double play. Love that left-on-left matchup. Dan Altavilla then came in to face Trout, and while this is a decision that might get Servais into some hot water later, let’s look at why it makes sense here:
- No way is Zep (which is, apparently, his preferred nickname), who is both homer-prone and a lefty specialist, going to face the greatest hitter in baseball, who happens to be right-handed;
- Doing this kind of high-leverage work (I’m calling it high leverage not because it is, by definition, but because any time a pitcher is called in to face Mike Motherhecking Trout to get one inning-ending out, you can bet that feels high leverage to that pitcher) is good practice for the young Altavilla, who will (hopefully) perform a similar role—let’s call it the Blandrew Chiller role—over the season;
- Retire Trout here, and whoever goes up in the ninth inning only has to deal with Pujols as a major threat before getting into the bottom half of the Angels’ lineup.
- This is how it should have worked. This should have worked.
[Narrator: It did not work.]
Casey Fien: Two hits, two walks, two runs allowed, starting with a home run to “you only have to deal with him as a major threat” Albert Pujols. Fine! So you give up a solo shot. That’s fine. What you cannot do, after that, is you cannot issue a walk to Cliff Pennington, who hit barely north of the Mendoza Line last year. You cannot throw C.J. Cron an 80 mph middle-in curveball as your first pitch that he punches into center field. You cannot then walk Ben Revere on four straight pitches. Do you know what Ben Revere’s BB% was last year? 4.8%. Do you know what it was in 2014? 2.1%.
So in comes Edwin Díaz, and he maybe accidentally breathes in some of whatever Fien was breathing out, and his control also goes completely shot. I have no idea what happened to Díaz, except it was an epic meltdown. There’s always a worry with Díaz, who is still young, still unproven, that the performance won’t be consistent. This was a thousand worst case scenarios all converging on the same day. We’ve seen him start to spin out of control and right himself; we’ve seen him spin out of control and lose it close. We’ve never seen him struggle as badly as he did today. It was like watching a car crash, but the car crash is happening in your rib cage. It was—amazing for such an early game in the season—entirely heartbreaking. Baseball, it seems, never runs out of ways to break your heart.