Yovani Gallardo tried.
The 31-going-on-68 year-old righty put together a line that is unremarkable in the box score and was only slightly more credible to watch live, but he tried. It may seem silly to herald a guy who walked six and struck out five, but dammit he tried. For 5.1 innings he kept a terrifying offense guessing and out of the air by working determinedly low and lower. Then he dug even deeper, for 112 pitches in total.
The result was seven groundouts and just a single flyout, as well as allowing just two extra-base hits, both doubles on grounders. Unfortunately, it also meant with the bases loaded, a curveball in the dirt in the pouring rain skipped off Mike Zunino and allowed a run to score. Two batters later, a Dan Altavilla fastball that had no business being anything but narrowly ball one instead bent the rim of Zunino’s glove and skimmed to the backstop for the second time in the inning.
3-0, Red Sox in the bottom of the 5th. 3-0, Red Sox, it would remain.
It’s silly to focus on Gallardo in this game when he was far from the issue, but watching him today was especially tough. I have pitched this game many times, and seen teammates pitch it as well. Pitching a game knowing the offense does not have your back is more demoralizing than pitching with a shaky defense will ever be, and I have plenty of experience with both. Pitching with a shaky defense is a game-long certainty. It can be freeing, in a way. But pitching with an offense that looks lost makes every moment stressful, and tonight I stressed for Yovani Gallardo. He nibbled. He worked backwards. He lived low and away. He reared back and found a 96 mph fastball at one point, proof that the velocity woes of 2016 are certainly long behind him.
But it wasn’t enough, and none of it mattered, because the offense didn’t have his back. A good, mostly healthy offense that is missing only Mitch Haniger. Even if I would usually bristle at Mitch Haniger being described as an “only,” this was the most unsatisfying Mariners game of the season to watch for me. Part of it was the swath of exciting games going on around the league, and part of it was the ineptitude of actors outside of the Mariners control. The home plate umpire, Ryan Blakley, was as erratic as a thunderstorm aiming for a rodent. His zone wandered more than Wotan. Ben Gamel, Nelson Cruz, Danny Valencia, and Guillermo Heredia were all victims of balls that dreamed so big they were adopted into the fold of strikehood thanks to Blakley’s phantasms and Christian Vázquez’s framing. Neither team would be proud of their offensive display, in truth, with the Mariners goind 0-for-6 w/RISP to the Red Sox 0-for-9. This was a winnable game, however, because the pitchers did their job. Dan Altavilla looked the best he has since his first outing of the season, with 1.2 innings of demolition, and Steve Cishek worked a shutout inning as well.
The game was there, and the offense was not. The players are getting healthier. James Paxton pitched well in rehab tonight and should return next week. Mitch Haniger hit today and should be back soon. Félix throws a bullpen tomorrow. The team that is on the field right now has to perform now so that it matters when they return, and tonight they swung the bats like they knew it. A team-wide 41 wRC+ in the past week dropped tonight, and whether its from pressing or bad luck or injury the result is the same. The pitching can sometimes be this good, but the offense has to be better regardless. Tomorrow they face a AAA pitcher, and may have the better pitcher on the mound for the first time in weeks, with Rob Whalen making his Mariners debut. Hopefully the bats (other than Jean Segura) make their debut on this road trip as well.