Oy vey, this week has been rough. Going into the game tonight, the Mariners had lost 9 out of 11 to drop down to five games below .500. Wasn’t it just yesterday that they had finally reached .500? This depleted, tired, and injury-ravaged team had come so damn close to limping into the All-Star break with a respectable record. For it to all come crashing down so quickly felt unreal, yet all too believable.
A good friend of mine has been a lifelong Mariner fan. He’s a reactionary dude, but I think that a lot of us could get behind his frustration after Wednesday’s cataclysm of a game.
I’m not sure what “crooked innings” are, but you tell ‘em, bud! I’m actually going to this guy’s bachelor’s party next week. Should be a great time.
The Mariners ended yesterday with playoff odds of 7.7%, according to Fangraphs. With James Paxton taking the hill against a sad Athletics team (and yet, a sad Athletics team that the Mariners had just lost to yesterday), this game felt like a make-or-break. Lose, and go into the break with the hopes and dreams of the fan-base crushed, like usual. Win... and still probably go into the break with a lot of negative feelings. But, less negative!
Thankfully, James Paxton came out and was on-point from the start. His first two innings were perfect, and he struck out four of the first six batters that he faced. His command was superb with both his curveball and his fastball, and his velocity was right where it’s supposed to be. He did run into some slight trouble in the third inning, but settled down nicely and ended up giving up only two hits through 7.0 innings pitched.
All-in-all, Paxton looked as good as he’s looked since he’s come back from the Disabled List. He’s dealt with several shaky starts during that time, but it’s safe to say that he’s back as the staff ace. Whether that title actually means anything is up for discussion, but he’s certainly the best thing this team has got when it comes to reliable pitching. Especially enjoyable was the “Maple Grove,” which I guess is the Paxtonian equivalent to the King’s Court. The “eh” cards are actually hilarious, so good on them.
Paxton managed to throw a “Felix quality start” tonight. Quality starts, defined as 6.0 innings pitched with more with no more than 3 earned runs, are silly. That’s a 4.50 ERA, which isn’t good. Felix quality starts, on the other hand, defined as 7.0 innings pitched with no more than 2 earned runs, are very good.
The Mariner’s offense has been good all year, and tonight was no exception. Tonight, however, was all about Nelson Cruz. If you didn’t realize, Nelson Cruz has had quite the week. He had gone over a month without a home run before hitting one on Wednesday. More amusingly, his Instagram account has briefly hacked.
Anyway, Nelson opened up the scoring by lining a ball into left field for an RBI single in the first. Not satisfied with that, he hit another RBI single just two innings later to tie up the game at 2-2, after the A’s had tied it in the top of the frame. Two at-bats, two RBI’s.
Still, while an RBI per at-bat would be the best rate over a whole season in all of Major League history, Nelson Cruz was not satisfied. James Paxton had thrown a Felix quality start, and while those have mostly resulted in losses historically (sorry), Nelson Cruz was not going to let that happen. He came up in the bottom of the eighth with Danny Valencia and Robinson Cano on base in front of him, and took the first pitch he saw over the wall for the 300th dinger of his career.
While I wasn’t at this game, the curtain call that Nelson Cruz received was so well-deserved that it choked me up. Part of me wants to say that it should have been 46,000 fans giving him a standing ovation, not 23,000. Still, the 23,000 that were there made it good enough. I don’t know that Nelson Cruz will ever truly be able to feel just how well-appreciated he is throughout the fan-base, but this was a start. He’s a special player, a player that I’m incredibly happy to have on this team, and tonight was one of the happier moments in a less-than-spectacular season.
At a point during which many of us were ready to give up, the Mariners reminded us why we give a shit about this stupid game. Sometimes I have a hard time figuring out why, but it’s emotional. When a moment like this in a glum and gray season can provoke this type of emotional response, you know this team is special. One day, this team will stop teasing us. One day, we won’t need moments like this just to feel good about this team. For now, though, they’re enough.