On the day that Yordano Ventura would have turned 26, the Miami Marlins’ Edinson Volquez threw a no-hitter with 98 pitches, Albert Pujols hit his 600th career home run, and seven different players hit seven different grand slams- an MLB record. One of the best things about sports, and writing about sports, is that they allow us to embrace actions or events that we would often dismiss as too cheesy, cliche, or predictable if they were to appear in fictionalized works. I do not wish to cheapen Ventura’s death in any way, but it seems beautiful to realize that on the anniversary of the birthday of a man who pitched with fire, enthusiasm, and incredible talent, the fickle sports world honored his memory with arguably the most fun day of baseball in 2017. The Mariners certainly did their part to contribute to this Day of Fun, with a rousing 9-2 triumph over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Two years ago I went through a phase where I had terrible insomnia. I tried all the tricks, took all the sleep aids, but nothing really worked, so I was simply left with long, unoccupied stretches of the night. Sometimes I watched mindless home improvement shows, or read, or simply stared at the backs of my eyelids and willed myself to fall sleep, but more often than not I watched old Mariners games. My criteria for these games was fairly simple: they had to be wins (preferably high-scoring ones) and they had to be relatively low-leverage situations, because I didn’t want to stimulate my brain any more than it already was. Fortunately I sleep better now, but tonight’s game would have been the perfect insomnia entertainment; it was simply fun, easy baseball watching.
The Rays only two runs of the night came from solo home runs by Corey Dickerson and Logan Morrison, off of Sam Gaviglio and a 98 MPH Edwin Díaz fastball, respectively. Beyond that, the Rays did not have more than four players bat in any inning, thanks to five innings and six strikeouts from Gaviglio, scoreless outings from James Pazos, Steve Cishek, and Marc Rzepczynski, and a mostly dominant final inning from Díaz. Until Zunino decided to hog the spotlight, this recap was going to center around Gaviglio and the not-so-young rookie still deserves major kudos for his most dominant performance to date. His biggest flaw was that the Rays forced him to throw a lot of pitches early on, but despite that he didn’t walk a single batter, and battled beautifully in a number of 3-2 counts, especially this 11 pitch odyssey against Daniel Robertson.
Gaviglio’s outing was certainly helped by the beautiful unassisted double by Danny Valencia, who seems to be doing his best to prove Kenner right. In addition to schooling us all in the joys of an athletic first baseman, Valencia continued his recent offensive streak by going 4 for 4, which brought him to seven consecutive hits between yesterday and today. Ben Gamel and Nelson Cruz both had good nights as well, each going 3 for 4. Most importantly, Nelson Cruz crushed his 13th home run of the season and also his 100th home run as a Mariner. Last year, back when Grant still regularly graced us with his brilliance, he wrote a great piece about how in September of 2016 Cruz had already far out-paced the value of his contract. We are less than a year removed from those calculations, and Cruz has simply continued to exceed expectations at every turn.
Consider this video to be your nightly reminder to appreciate that you, as an often gloomy and dejected Mariners fan, get to watch Nelson Cruz mash dingers and play for your team every single day.
Oh and yes, tonight Mike Zunino went 3 for 4 with a single, a double, and a 441 foot grand slam.
It’s going to take more than a single good game, or even a good stretch of games like he has had recently, to instill most fans with any confidence in his abilities, but for a player who particularly seems to struggle with overcoming the mental hurdles of past failures, a game like this can go a long way. Here’s to more re-watchable Mariners games this year, and to more fun baseball in this 2017 season.