It’s games like this that make me think I have zero chance of surviving a Mariners playoff appearance. In theory, baseball is a relaxing game. You kick back, there’s conversation between pitches, and there’s time to digest each play as it happens.
Not today. From the first batter, this game was uncomfortable to watch. George Springer worked a 3-1 count on James Paxton and then launched a baseball past the bullpens to put the Mariners down 1-0. Any optimism surrounding this series with Houston was immediately tempered. The nightmares of Paxton flailing in a 3.1 inning start felt like they were coming to fruition. The game was anything but relaxing.
And this was a game in mid-April! Sure, it’s against a divisional foe, but the Mariners aren’t exactly projected to directly compete with the Astros this year. As far as games go, the leverage index on this one was relatively low. So when I try to imagine coping with this same situation in a playoff series, my chest tightens and I need to get up and walk around just to chill out. Just from imagining the situation.
It didn’t exactly help that the Astros were working 7 or 8-pitch counts against Paxton with regularity, while the Mariners seemed to be swinging at the first or second thing they saw against Dallas Keuchel. It also didn’t help that when the Mariners did take pitches, stuff like this happened.
That’s Kyle Seager’s second inning strikeout. Pitches 1, 3, and 7 are all called strikes. Robot umps now please.
It was clear that in order to have any chance against Keuchel, the Mariners were going to need to pull something out of thin air. I would say that scoring a run for no reason other than Nelson Cruz being a very strong man qualifies.
It did not look like he made good contact at all here, but Statcast says that the exit velocity was 104 MPH. Nelson Cruz is strong, and scored a run seemingly through sheer force of will.
A couple of innings later, the second run was pulled out of thin air when Dee Gordon looped a ball into right-center and George Springer straight up fell down.
Springer probably wouldn’t have had a chance at this ball any way, and even if David Freitas hadn’t managed to score on this play, he probably would have later in the inning. It was the image of Springer tripping that made this feel so funny, though. Dallas Keuchel had the Mariners on their heels all game, but the team was suddenly winning because one Mariner was very strong and then another Mariner got some BABIP luck.
Suddenly, after an entire game of feeling like a win was out of reach, a win was suddenly firmly in grasp. The cool thing about this team’s bullpen is that a one run lead in the seventh inning means that Nick Vincent, Juan Nicasio, and Edwin Diaz have the game in their hands. I’m not ready to anoint them as the second coming of Jeff Nelson, Arthur Rhodes, and Kaz Sasaki just yet, especially with Nicasio’s rocky start to the year. Still, you’d be hard pressed to find three better relievers.
And when it comes to Edwin Diaz, you’d be hard pressed to find one better reliever.
For now, gone is the wild Edwin of early 2017. This version of Edwin Diaz is what everyone was hoping he could be last year, but didn’t dare to count on this year.
This win counts just as much as the 10-8 win over the A’s on Saturday. There will be some games when the lineup just clicks and makes runs look easy. There will also be some games when the pitching collapses and makes the game pretty much unwinnable. It’ll be these games that add up and decide the fate of the season. And though the outcome of this one has no bearing on the outcome of all the one-run games to come, it feels better to see it actually happen.
The Mariners beat the Astros because they were just good enough. It’s doable, and tonight is proof.