There’s something to be said for meaningless baseball.
It’s an opportunity for a club to debut new players, to test out new strategies. It’s an opportunity for fans to speculate about the future of the team, to peek behind the curtain of the offseason and into the promise of next year.
It’s also an opportunity for everyone to stop worrying and just have fun.
The Mariners were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention yesterday, but it feels like they’ve been on life support for much longer than that. Eliminated in all but name, they’ve been forced to stagger along for much of the year in zombie-esque fashion with a broken and beleaguered pitching staff and an aging core, grasping for any semblance of hope in this godforsaken unicorn-blood-tainted curse of a season.
Today, however, for the first time all year, the pressure was finally off. It’s amazing what a little meaningless baseball can do.
Their opponent, the Oakland Athletics, know something about meaningless baseball. They were technically eliminated from playoff contention on Friday, but had been effectively out of the postseason hunt since July, electing to trade established stars Yonder Alonso and Sonny Gray for prospects in hope of smoother sailing ahead.
Yet somehow they’ve made the most of it.
The A’s entered today as one of the hottest teams in baseball, having won 7 games in a row, and 14 of their last 17. In that span they had swept the Tigers, Rangers, and yes—the Astros. On the season, they’ve quietly posted an impressive home record of 45-33 behind the 5th best wRC+ in all of baseball.
Today’s starter, Daniel Gossett, has contributed a respectable rookie season. And he almost had a respectable game.
If of course it wasn’t for this grooved fastball:
And this hanging breaking ball:
And this meaty curveball:
And this toothsome slider:
Like I said. Almost respectable.
By the end of the 5th inning, Gossett was out of the game, and the Mariners had accumulated a 7 runs. You know how many runs the A’s had accumulated in that time? 0. You know why?
Félix freaking Hernández.
Tonight the King was back with a vengeance, needing only 70 pitches to spin 6 masterful innings, in which he surrendered just 2 hits and 2 walks. He allowed his only run with 2 outs in the 6th on a solo homer to Marcus Semien. But by then it was far too little and far too late.
Andrew Albers took things from there, contributing 3 scoreless innings to close out the game, earning his first career save in the process. And that was that. A decisive 7-1 victory.
It was thrilling to see Zunino yet again barrel one up, to use the parlance of Mike Blowers, hammering his 24th home run—setting a new career-high for RBIs in the process.
Yonder Alonso hasn’t exactly been what the consummate righty masher that the Mariners were hoping for when they traded for him back in August, but he clearly felt right at home in the Coliseum tonight, adding 2 hits including a homer of his own.
And Mitch Haniger earned himself Swelmet honors, one-upping them both with a pair of authoritative dingers that are sure to bolster his already monstrous 157 wRC+ in the month of September.
With the pressure finally off tonight, the swings were free, and the living was easy. But despite the M’s offensive outpouring, tonight was all about the King.
Félix Hernández is no stranger to meaningless baseball. He’s spent the majority of his Hall-of-Fame career on a gaggle of subpar teams, dominating day in and day out—whether or not his team deigned to grant him run support—for the better part of 13 playoff-less seasons. It’s been a privilege to watch him pitch through these otherwise fallow years, enrapturing this hapless fanbase with his singular brand of magic.
Félix is the master of making meaning out of the meaningless.
In the locker room after the game, Félix announced that this was his final start of the year. After tallying his 2,500th career inning in tonight’s performance, perhaps his best of the season, it’s hard to pick a better way to put the lid on 2017.
And if the revitalization of Mike Zunino and the emergence of Mitch Haniger are any indication, this team is equipped with a strong core that you better believe will be ready to dive back into meaningful baseball come 2018.
Beyond that, though, it’s anyone’s guess.
DOES MITCH HANIGER EVEN CARE ABOUT WHAT IMPACT PLAYER THIS FRANCHISE CAN HAVE COME 2023?— Editor Joe Veyera (@JoeVeyera) September 26, 2017