Every unhappy family road trip is unhappy in its own way. The directions are bad; the formerly reliable car sputters and dies; someone sulks, someone cries. The sun is too hot and everywhere, the roadside attractions are sad and threadbare, and eventually someone gets ejected for arguing a hit by pitch. The Mariners have had many miserable road trips this season, with a record of 14-24 on the road, and while this one wasn’t the horrorshow of DC/Boston, it wasn’t great, either, as they end up 3-4. But they managed to salvage a win out of Texas today, get their first win against Darvish in Arlington, and roll back to Safeco with some hurt feelings but otherwise no lasting damage. As John said in the game thread: this is the one they probably shouldn’t have won, so they did.
Lately Mariners starters have been having a problem with giving up a basketful of runs in the first inning, immediately digging the team into an offensive hole. Today the Mariners decided to buck the trend by scoring their own bucketful of runs. The game started with Ben Gamel leading off with a single, because Ben Gamel is crazy good now, apparently. Mitch Haniger then walked, but Canó and Cruz both struck out on dastardly Darvish curveballs and things were looking grim, even as Darvish was struggling to throw strikes. But Kyle Seager had spent his time tucked in the back of the van re-reading his self-affirmation journal, and remembered that he was Kyle Seager in Arlington, and did this:
Danny Valencia, who was nice enough to loan Kyle Seager his short pants in the sweltering Texas heat because that’s what brothers do, then brought Seager home on this baseball he destroyed to center field to give the Mariners a 4-0 lead:
Christian Bergman, your cool but distant uncle who spends the road trip with his headphones on because no one else digs his music, came out as the good version of himself, working around a leadoff single to Shin-Soo Choo to get a double play and then an easy groundout to end the first. Bergman’s fastball mostly sat around 87 or 88, although in high-pressure situations he was able to crank it up to 89 and even—heaven forfend—90. He wavered some in the second, walking Rougned Odor on four straight pitches and then giving up a home run to Carlos Gomez on this pitch, an 87 mph slider:
That’s just Gómez and his nuclear-powered teetering children’s carousel of a swing. Other than that, Bergman was effective, keeping his pitch count low, eliciting tons of ground ball outs (hooray for Tyler Smith making the start at shortstop on Texas’s fast infield), and scattering just four hits over his 5.2 innings of work. Once again, Bergman looked like a totally serviceable number five starter, cough cough Yovani. His offense added another run of support on back-to-back doubles from Cruz and Seager (although we know it was really a triple, Kyle. We know.), and the road ahead stretched like the end of a car commercial, wide and open and smooth.
Something that’s particular about road trips is how quickly things can go from “singing along to the radio riding a gentle sugar high” to “thunderstorms ahead, no rest stops, traffic backed up for miles.” Your little vehicle crosses into some new territory, some new weather, and whatever it is, you’re not prepared for it, not prepared for the sudden blinking lights in your rearview and the small-town cop with the three-hundred dollar ticket that will cast a pallor over the rest of the trip. You get to the next town and they smile knowingly and say, “oh, caught in that speed trap at mile marker 30, were you?” and you didn’t even know there was a mile marker 30 but now you hate it forever. Such is the experience of watching the Mariners bullpen this year. Bergman was lifted in the sixth with two outs after giving up a single to Adrian Beltre and Marc Rzepczynski came in to weave his lefty magic, getting Odor to ground out on just two pitches, because why not, he’s just sitting there, after all, which is the same argument my mom uses about bringing her electric cooler on road trips, even though you can fit a grand total of three cans of pop in it. Anyway, that’s not the mile marker 30 of this game.
The mile marker 30 of this game occurs in the 7th inning, when after getting two quick outs, Steve Cishek lost the feel for his slider. He hit Robinson Chirinos—although Chirinos did, whatever the opposite of trying to get out of the way of the ball is—and then walked Mike Napoli. I feel sad for Steve, who is both Dad Heir Apparent and the birthday boy of today and it was whatever the baseball version of a star birthday is, 31 turns 31, but he just looked lost out there. In came James Pazos to clean up the mess and oh no
Pitch 3 there is a wild pitch, which scored a runner because Pazos had balked them over to second and third. I’m not sure if Pazos just lost his command or if he really was just hot and miserable and the ball slipped out of his hand. He looked very hot and very miserable. In comes Nick Vincent, soon to be a dad, and he couldn’t find it either, walking the first batter he faced, Elvis Andrus, on five pitches. Lefty Nomar Mazara was up next and Vincent fed him a steady diet of high cutters which Mazara dutifully fouled off, pushing the at-bat to seven pitches and Mariner fan stress levels to fourteen. After giving him nothing but high-80s cutters, Vincent dropped down to an 84 mph changeup in the bottom of the zone that is a definitely dangerous pitch to throw, but Mazara, surprised by it, was late on his swing and flew out harmlessly to center field, and the Mariners somehow escaped with just the one run scoring.
That’s the thing about bad times. They’re never as bad, looking back from the safety of time and distance; you might wonder, “how did I get through that?” or think “I never want to do that again,” but nothing feels so grueling as actually going through the thing, not knowing when it will end, or how. And at the end, you look around at the people who rallied with you--as the Mariners did, when they scored two more runs in the eighth to put the game in relatively safe-feeling territory for Edwin Diaz, who was electric, commanding his 100 mph fastball—and know that you’ve all done this thing together, even when it was hard and stupid and sweaty, and even if you never ever want to do it again. But you did it, this time. You made the trip, together.