Baseball can be an infinitely rewarding game. It’s the game I fell in love with, the sport that I stuck with for over a decade no matter how low my slugging percentage dropped, the lifeblood of my summer nights and the fuel of my dreams.
Today, the Mariners did not play that game.
For six-plus innings today, the Seattle Mariners looked like a real, live, competent baseball team. We had some delicious power, courtesy of Nelson Cruz:
Nelson Cruz strikes again.— Mariners (@Mariners) August 12, 2017
Full clip: https://t.co/4oIuT8kEfp #GoMariners pic.twitter.com/S3HYytfT6N
And in the 5th inning, Mike “Mike Zunino” Zunino hit a light-tower shot to the upper deck in left. It seemed almost like a routine fly ball until the camera pans and reveals just where that ball is going to end up.
But things started to unravel in the seventh. Marco Gonzales was solid through 4.1 innings today, but Scott Servais’ quick hook meant the bullpen would have to work its magic once again. This is becoming too much of a tradition: in the Mariners’ 10 games in August, their starting pitchers have recorded an out in the sixth inning just three times — twice from James Paxton and once from Ariel Miranda.
Given that level of fatigue, it was no secret that the ‘pen was due to crack. What was surprising, however, was Servais’ decision to pull Emilio Pagan after just 0.2 IP and turn it over to Andrew Moore, who had seven total bullpen appearances in three years of pro ball entering the game.
Moore made it through the 6th despite a leadoff single to Albert Pujols, but he allowed FIVE straight baserunners in the 7th with two outs. The quick hook that Servais showed with Gonzales and Pagan was nowhere to be found, and the inconsistency cost the Mariners at least a few of the four runs the Halos scored to tie it up at 5.
After that showing, it seemed like only a matter of time before the Mariners gave up another run. Sure, the M’s have earned goodwill this season with comebacks. Sure, this team has scored runs when previous iterations would certainly have rolled over. But on this night? It sure seemed like destiny.
So when Jean Segura booted what could have been an inning-ending double play ball in the 9th, allowing Mike Trout to score from second base, I can’t say I was surprised. I can’t say I was surprised when the Mariners went down 1-2-3 in the 9th, failing to get a ball in fair territory. In my first year of Mariners fandom, we won 116 games and made the ALCS. Since then, it’s been bleak to say the least. And after yesterday’s loss, combined with the James Paxton injury and the rotation’s continued struggles, it was hard for me to keep up the faith tonight.
Hey, miracles happen! For all their faults and warts, your Seattle Mariners still sit just a half-game back of the second wild-card spot. Once rosters expand on Sept. 1, getting through games like this will be much easier, and the stress on the bullpen will decrease. If Nelson Cruz can keep obliterating baseballs, combined with some Robbie Cano doubles and a couple randomly good performances by the starting rotation, maybe the M’s can stay afloat.
But on a night celebrating Edgar Martinez, arguably the greatest hitter in Mariners history, there was magic afoot. There was electricity in the air before the game, and that excited Aaron Goldsmith growl during Zunino’s homer only reinforces that energy. It’s a shame the M’s squandered that, and with Erasmo on the bump tomorrow followed by Ariel Miranda on Sunday, a sweep is starting to look terrifyingly possible.
I love finding the optimism in baseball, finding the romance and the passion and the silver lining. Finding the next sliver of hope to latch onto. But in two days, the Mariners have gone from a full game up in the Wild Card standings with their ace on the mound to a rudderless, ace-less, demoralized squad staring up at the Twins.
My silver lining? Tomorrow is Edgar Day. Tomorrow, before the game, we forget about our gripes with the bullpen and the rotation and the strikeouts, and we focus on the greatest hitter in Mariners history. We celebrate him.
Until then, however, there is no joy in Mudville.