Nobody likes going through a hard time, but there’s something particularly difficult about watching someone that we love go through a hard time. Maybe it’s the feeling of relative helplessness. When a friend has to deal with something bad, those that care about them can often wish that they could take on their loved one’s sorrows. If only I could bear the burden, we might think. I could just deal with it and then everything would be fine again.
I guess that the main reason we might think this is that action feels good. Words of support and encouragement can genuinely help (depending on the situation), but they can feel impotent. When we are unable to take action, and feel forced to watch our friends suffer, it’s easy to put their problems on our shoulders. I know that I’m guilty of this. It’s an easy trap to fall into, getting too caught up in that which we cannot control.
It’s safe to say that one of the most beloved members of the Mariners in team history is Felix Hernandez. I know that not everyone feels this way, but a prevalent feeling in the community is wanting a Mariners playoff appearance for Felix more than for ourselves. Because Felix, who has seemingly given his blood, sweat, and soul for this team, deserves it. So many years have gone by in which virtually the entire team was a steaming dumpster fire, save Felix.
So to watch Felix struggle the last two or three years has been panic-inducing. What if the recent offensive resurgence has come too late? What if Felix becomes genuinely below-average in his early thirties, and even if the team wins with him, his spot feels empty and unearned? Some of these fears are irrational - of course Felix’s spot on a winning Mariners team would have been earned. But we want Felix to feel just as good about the team’s success as the rest of the team does. If Felix does poorly and the Mariners make the playoffs, is Felix as satisfied as he would have been six years ago? Maybe he would be, but I’m guessing he holds himself to a higher standard than anyone.
Today was a back-and-forth for Felix. He struggled early, giving up a lead-off home run to Melky Cabrera. It was easy to panic a little. Were we about to see another agonizingly early exit for The King? Fortunately, he settled down. He even managed to strike out 3 in the first 2 innings, all on that phenomenal changeup of his.
The King’s velocity will never be what it once was, but his movement tonight looked like that of the Felix of old. He didn’t walk anybody, but needed 93 pitches to gut through 5 laborious innings. That would have gone much more smoothly had it not been for some atrocious receiving on the part of Carlos Ruiz, as well as errors by Jean Segura and Felix himself.
Felix has been the friend that we’ve all watched struggle, but tonight he came out and reassured us. He reminded us that he’s a grown adult, and that he can handle it. We as fans can’t do much to help him, but he’s still wholly capable of helping himself. It was as encouraging as anything to see the bite on his pitches, to know that The King isn’t done yet.
The other difference is that the team does not need Felix to be his Cy Young-caliber self. (Mostly) gone are the days of 2-1 losses that end in Felix hanging a towel over his head. Here are the days of Jean Segura, hitting .352 at the top of the lineup and going 2-for-4 more nights than not. The heart of the lineup is as capable as any. Robinson Cano went deep last night, and Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager did the job tonight.
With Seager struggling, Mitch Haniger coming back down to Earth (and possibly missing a few days), and Mike Zunino consistently inconsistent, the lineup doesn’t look to be the top-to-bottom powerhouse that it did a few weeks ago.
That’s okay, though. A few weeks ago, the lineup might have scored 6 or 7 runs, but the bullpen might have given up 2 or 3. As the team’s strongest group goes through a slight slump, the team’s weakest component suddenly looks like a strength. Since the All-Star break, this bullpen has thrown seven innings, five of which have been perfect. Nick Vincent and Tony Zych look borderline-unhittable, and Edwin Diaz has been quite good since the break. Diaz did struggle a bit tonight, but a lot of that was due to a combination of Ruiz’s shoddy receiving and Vic Carapazza’s shoddy strike zone:
Still, just watching this trio work is enthralling, an exercise in dominance that reminds us of why baseball can be so much fun to watch when your team is good.
If the offence can remain above-average and the bullpen can continue this recent run of success, this team could actually do something with the second half of their season. Of course, the Mariners will still need the starting pitching to improve. It’s their biggest question mark, and the ‘pen can’t be asked to work 3 or 4 innings every single night. Still, if you were looking for encouragement for the rest of the season, tonight couldn’t have been much better.
I believe this team is good. Felix is on a good team. Can they make the playoffs? Maybe, but it’s a lot of fun watching them try. It would be a lot of fun watching Felix be rewarded for giving a shit these last 12 years. Tonight, the old Mariners and the new Mariners combined to show us how they could make it happen.