This wasn’t necessarily going to be an easy matchup, Wade LeBlanc vs. Jake Odorizzi, but with Twins ace Jose Berrios taking the mound against Mike Leake tomorrow, in order to secure a much-needed series win and continue stocking their nuclear fallout shelter with wins before June, the Mariners needed this game.
In case you went to bed before the twelfth inning, let me spoil the ending for you: they got it. They got it at a cost, but they got it.
Let’s roll it back, because this is one of those games where it’s hard to remember how it started compared with where it ended. Wade LeBlanc was great again tonight—not good, great. LeBlanc had all his pitches working and was able to spot his fastball, cutter, changeup and curve all over the plate. His changeup was especially wicked, and he used it to record eight of his outs, including some swinging strikes. HP ump Tom Woodring was not giving the high strike to either pitcher tonight, which admittedly damaged Odorizzi a little more than it did LeBlanc, but both matched almost perfectly evenly through the first six or so innings, although LeBlanc outlasted Odorizzi on the day. Let me say that again: Wade LeBlanc went toe-to-toe with pricy, draft-pick-costing pitcher Jake Odorizzi, and emerged with the better performance.
LeBlanc admittedly got some help from excellent defensive play, most notably this catch from Ben “you’ll pry my playing time out of my cold dead fingers” Gamel:
The Ben Gamel cap may be new, but those great diving catches sure aren't. pic.twitter.com/rbsArk4A3m— Mariners (@Mariners) May 27, 2018
Wade LeBlanc’s face as he tried to process it wasn’t Aoki out there in left anymore was also pretty classic:
LeBlanc would give up two runs on the third trip through the order when the Twins began to awaken from their bayou-induced slumber and started getting after LeBlanc’s changeup and curve, but rebounded to finish off the sixth. Ryan Cook came on to work a clean seventh, and then...well, things get weird after that. But let’s cover the Mariners’ sixth, first.
Jean Segura has seen a loss in leadership with Canó out. He has seen the loss of a sparkplug with Dee out. He and Guillermo pretty clearly got together and made a pact to be as fun and good as they could. Earlier today, Jean fulfilled the fun part of his promise, with his photobomb dance on the Mariners’ Instagram story:
Love to see Jean fully embracing Dee’s role, including dancing photobombs pic.twitter.com/968W5teMlh— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) May 27, 2018
Today he also fulfilled the “good” part, getting the Mariners on the board with this surprisingly authoritative dinger off a splitter Odorizzi left in the middle of the plate:
That's why they call it Edgar's Home Run Porch. pic.twitter.com/E3zXCy6CvX— Mariners (@Mariners) May 27, 2018
Then Nelson Cruz saw that and thought, hmm, looks like fun, and gave one of Odorizzi’s slider’s a ride to right center for a two-run shot. If you want to make #HittingTwitter crazy, talk about “hits with launch angle.” All hits have launch angles. The launch angle of this one was a mere 22 degrees, but Cruz was smart—unlike some of his teammates trying to wallop balls to dead center on a brisk Seattle spring night—and lasered it right over the wall.
So the Mariners had a 3-2 lead, which could have been 4-2 if Heredia hadn’t been thrown out trying to advance on a passed ball, which turns out to be important, but also would have led to much less drama. (The 2018 Seattle Mariners: messy benches who love drama, and I’m here for it.)
So in the eighth Nick Vincent game in, and everything was going along just swimmingly for the Spin Wizard and his Ghost Ball, and then all of a sudden Vincent called for the trainer, pointing ominously at his groin. Which is a funny sentence to type in other scenarios, but maybe not here. Meanwhile, shortly thereafter Altavilla was lifted from the mound in Tacoma before he even threw a pitch. On the broadcast, Sims seemed to indicate it was a leg injury, and it was the trainer who lifted him, but there’s no other report to confirm that, and it sure seems like Quadzilla is en route to Seattle. Anyway, back in this game, James Pazos entered and ran into a string of bad luck combined with a little bit of shaky command that resulted in him surrendering the tying run. But wait! This game was not done being stupid, as Jean Segura got spiked in the head while sliding on a Haniger double play:
So in comes Díaz to work a scoreless ninth, letting the heavy hitters in the order of Cruz, Seager, and Healy try to win the game. Narrator: they did not win the game. Juan Nicasio came out for the extras and pitched two innings of brilliant relief, looking more like the pitcher the Mariners gave a cool 17 million to this off-season. He gave up no runs and struck out five of the six batters he faced, with a fastball that started at 93 and ended at 96 by the end of his first inning of work. He continued to breathe fire in his next inning of work, striking out the side. Here he is just blowing it by Dozier in the top of the tenth:
In a postgame interview, Nicasio said, “I’m working with Bryan [DeLunas, the bullpen coach]...I’m working every day with him on my extension, mechanics. I watched a lot of video with him and he told me I’m not using my legs enough, so I’m starting to use my legs more.” Tonight, the payoff was pretty evident. (All hail Bryan DeLunas!)
me, addressing my haters after I squeeze every avocado at Fred Meyer to find the best one pic.twitter.com/OtqpBNAGPq— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) May 27, 2018
Chasen Bradford also provided a scoreless inning of work after the Mariners failed to score in the bottom of the 11th, and the game went so long we have to start using digits for the innings numbers. Fun fact: Chasen Bradford also vultured himself another win tonight, and is now 4-0 on the season.
Mike Zunino had been having himself a tough night. Mired in a slump that’s seen him slashing .174/.174/.304 over the past week, Z had three strikeouts, and avoided the dreaded golden sombrero by grounding out his last time up before he stepped to the plate in the 12th. Ryon Healy had gone down on a flyout to center, where baseballs go to die, and Ben Gamel had grounded out, making two quick outs. Scott Servais is fond of saying there’s a different hero every night for this ballclub, and while that’s true, it hasn’t felt like Mike has really gotten as much of a chance to wear the hero crown as some of his brethren. In a postgame interview, Z said he was trying to “hit smart, one time,” meaning to pull a ball in his power alley instead of the baseball graveyard in center. It took approximately .000004 seconds to know that Mike hit this ball very smartly:
Could the adjustments be this simple? Be the energetic leader the dugout needs, off the field and on it. Use my legs more. Hit the ball where the cold wind doesn’t blow. Find an opportunity, and make the most of it. Get a little better, every day. If the Mariners can continue this, if every guy can find a way to get a little better every day, they are truly a force to be reckoned with. Lorrie Moore wrote that a halo is a happy accident of light and dust; we’re told that what we mistake for talent is often a combination of hard work and luck. There’s been a lot of talk about how lucky or unlucky the Mariners are, and they are, somehow, both those things, simultaneously, a catastrophe and a happy accident. But they are also talented, and hard-working, and good.
Maybe we’re the lucky ones.