Well, this game was...
Fuck it, no. I usually think swears are the result of an uncreative vocabulary, but Fuck. This. Game.
Give me your weak 6-2 losses against teams who are worse than the M's. I'll take them.
Give me your blowout losses that push fans into hysteria by the seventh inning. I'll deal with those.
But do not give me this kind of weak, demoralizing performance at the start of one of the most important series of the year. No.
Up until the top of the ninth inning the game was tied, some may argue. But the game was only tied by the grace of Nelson Cruz, Robinson Canó, and Jean Segura; all of whom capitalized on their offensive production in the eighth inning. The Mariners were held scoreless by Tyler Skaggs, and that's not what a playoff team, or even a playoff hopeful team, does.
The worst part of this mess was that James Paxton left with one out in the seventh inning with what was later announced to be a pectoral strain. Could be worse. Could also be a whole lot better. Hey, I think I've found this year's slogan.
To his credit, Pax still managed to keep the M's in contention, only giving up three runs on wildly out of character homers. Casey Lawrence, inexplicable new bullpen stalwart, threw an inning and 2⁄3 of scoreless baseball, and then Díaz was brought in...
Man, where do I even begin? Let's start with the basic premise: it's a tie game, in the top of the ninth. In an ideal situation, this is when you bring your best reliever in. Nick Vincent has been the Mariners best reliever, by fWAR and by virtue of nearly every baseball fan who has seen him pitch this season. Nick Vincent is also a contact pitcher, with a 7.03 K/9, while Díaz is, ostensibly, a shut-down guy, with 12.50 K/9. In a high leverage situation such as this, I can understand why Servais would have seemingly not wanted to risk unnecessary balls in play. Unfortunately, there were other factors at work here. Díaz had been used in the last three games, Vincent had much more rest. Díaz has not been as strong in non-save situations, if you'd like to give merit to that idea. Most damningly, Díaz has been walking 4.17 batters for every nine innings pitched, and that is what we saw as his downfall tonight. There were some borderline calls that Díaz didn't get, and a particularly egregious ball 3 on Kole Calhoun that should have been a strikeout. Earlier in the game, Scott Servais pinch hit Yonder Alonso for Mike Zunino, a logical decision since he was facing a righty and that's Alonso's primary purpose on this team. Unfortunately, Alonso struck out, and Carlos Ruiz came in to replace Zunino. Another moment where the idea was sound, but the execution proved faulty.
A while back, some people noticed that Carlos Ruiz had never caught for James Paxton. Divish, in his response, intimated that this was because Paxton threw too hard/his cutter was too difficult for Ruiz to handle. We chuckled, and nodded, because it made sense that a thirty-eight-year-old backup catcher would struggle to catch 97+ MPH. The odd side of this though was that Ruiz has caught, and continues to catch, 100+ MPH throwing Edwin Díaz. I'm still somewhat skeptical of how much we should be valuing pitch framing (a story for another time), but I do believe in its value infinitely more when I watch poor Chooch try to wrangle Edwin's fastball/slider combination. Those are not the pitches of mere mortals, and Chooch is facing his own baseball mortality faster than any other player on this team. I adore the man, his calm demeanor, and his inspirational story, but he should not be catching Díaz in save, or high-leverage situations.
Chooch is not totally to blame for this Mariners loss. Díaz is not totally to blame for this Mariners loss. Nor are the offense, Scott Servais, or the home plate umpire who's name I cannot even deign to look up right now. So who are we left to be angry with? Because that's the whole point of blame, isn't it; a desperate attempt to channel our sadness and frustration into what we deem a more valid, "acceptable" emotion. But here's one of those really miserable moments where baseball has to go and imitate life all over again: there's no singular point of blame. Baseball is a delicate thing, a nine inning high-wire act where at any given moment the course of the game could be changed. Sometimes the game changes in our favor, sometimes, like tonight, it does not.