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Mariners walk a tightrope, give fans fright, hope

It wasn’t pretty, but it still counts

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Nobody woke up on August 7th, 1974 expecting anything special to happen. It was a normal Wednesday, and the people of Lower Manhattan woke up and groggily began to go about their days as usual. At least, until a couple of people happened to glance toward the sky and see something extraordinary.

They glanced up and then probably squinted good and hard. That couldn’t possibly be right. But no matter how many times they squinted, the sight persisted. There was a man walking in the sky between the Twin Towers. His name was Philippe Petit.

Just the thought of it makes you queasy. It’s not just that there’s so much at stake: that’s scary, but not uncommon. There’s a lot you can do in life where the stakes are high. It’s the thought of the razor-thin margin for error. My thoughts are drawn to playing on the playground when I was a kid, trying to balance on one of those low walls between the sidewalk and the wood chips. After a couple of seconds, the smallest stumble would send me down. And that was on a six-inch-wide wall. For Petit, on a tightrope, the smallest stumble meant death. There was, quite literally, almost zero margin for error.

When the Mariners began this season, the playoffs were within the realm of possibility, but far from a foregone conclusion. Lookout Landing might be considered optimistic as far as Mariners coverage goes, but just eight of the staff members could be bothered to choose the Mariners to make the playoffs this year. The team might not have been walking a tightrope, but they were certainly walking that wall between the sidewalk and the wood chips. There wasn’t a lot of room for missteps.

Even though it seemed like the team had exhausted the world’s supply of shitty luck last year, this season has given last year’s a run for its money. First it was Ben Gamel hurting himself in Spring Training, and then Félix Hernández getting nailed in the arm by a comebacker, and then Mike Zunino injuring his oblique. Then it was Nelson Cruz hurting himself in the second game of the season tripping down the clubhouse stairs. And then Ryon Healy sprained his ankle. Then, just when it seemed like everyone might come back and the team might actually be healthy, Robinson Canó broke his hand, and then was suspended for 80 games. A pitch hit Nelson Cruz’s foot and nearly broke it. Mitch Haniger got hit in the elbow, and Jean Segura hurt his shoulder last night sliding into home.

The gospel going into this season was that nothing could go wrong. Everything has gone wrong. But it turns out, it wasn’t that things couldn’t go wrong. It’s just that the margin for error has become so small that it’s approaching the Planck length. The Mariners have been forced into Philippe Petit’s position up on the high wire, except they didn’t prepare nearly as well.

The Mariners had no business doing much of anything tonight, except they did. They did because the few starters they have left did what they had to do to walk the wire.

I don’t know if Marco Gonzales has paid any attention to Tyler O’Neill’s hot season, but he sure looked like he was trying to prove somebody wrong tonight. Marco was on his game from the beginning. Here’s a particularly juice strikeout of Chad Pinder in the sixth inning.

Marco starts with three curveballs, all down and inside. It was all Pinder could do to foul the third one off. He then throw a changeup outside, and Pinder was again forced to foul it off. Finally, Marco came in with the 87 MPH “heat” at the top of the zone to force a whiff. 87 isn’t huge, but when you’ve seen three 77 MPH curveballs, it looks like a lot.

It looked like a lot to most of the A’s hitters, actually. It wasn’t just one pitch. It was the mixture of pitches, and good command on all of them. Credit to Marco for the command, and partial credit to Mike Zunino for having the rapport with Marco to call for such an effective variance of pitches.

As good as Marco was, he was only ever going to be one side of the tightrope. The offense was starting a hurting Jean Segura, a visibly hobbling Nelson Cruz, a still-struggling Kyle Seager, the actually-good Guillermo Heredia, and then a veritable host of wild cards and Merry Men. They were probably going to need a little bit of help. And help, they got.

Thank you, Marcus Semien, for being one of the worst defensive shortstops in Major League Baseball. The run would put Marco in position for a win. Still, just one run wasn’t much of a margin of error. The team needed contributions across the board, and they got one of their most important tonight from an unlikely source.

27-year-old John Andreoli made his Major League debut tonight. He managed to get a hit, but it was this play that really counted. With a recently-shaky Juan Nicasio on the mound to protect a one run lead, a leadoff double could have spelled disaster. Who knows when or if the Mariners would have been able to produce a second run. They might even still be playing were it not for this marvelous catch from Andreoli. He saved his first Major League game for his team, and he’ll probably never forget it.

Finally, where would this team be without Edwin Díaz? He’s had a couple of rough games this year, but has been immaculate for the most part. Tonight was no different.

Tonight really was a tightrope. As the offense faltered on one end, the pitching compensated on the other. As the pitching threatened to give way, the defense picked up the slack. The balance was there, as it inexplicably has been all season.

That’s the thing. You might say that this success is unsustainable. That the Mariners have been lucky, and to insist otherwise is folly. But each of these wins that the team manages to steal still counts. As the margin for error has been compressed into nothing, each of these wins adds a cushion. Come September, each of these wins will count every bit as much as the ones that came with a full lineup. And with the struggles of the Mariners’ American League competition, it’s easy to see each one mattering.

You must not force yourself to stay steady. You must move forward. - Philippe Petit

Go M’s.