As a generality, I’m usually very pro-Wade LeBlanc-style pitchers. As a person who studied at the Jamie Moyer School of Pitching, I have a gaping soft spot for the slow-tossing, hit the corners type of pitcher that looks like they should get obliterated on every pitch. As a shrimpy child, I made my bones in Little League by wrapping my entire hand around the ball, and keeping hitters off-balance with essentially an accidental changeup.
When a pitcher of LeBlanc and Moyer’s ilk is dealing, it’s a hilarious joy to watch. Their opponents are quite literally the best in the world at what they do, and can be reduced to flailing, reaching swings and infield popups by well-placed cutters at 83 MPH. While the Syndergaards and Severinos of the world blow shit up with homemade dynamite, Wade LeBlanc is there carving away with a plastic spoon. As long as the job gets done, it doesn’t totally matter how you do it.
While LeBlanc’s game can be sort of vapid and lifeless, Dee Gordon’s is an exactly perfect opposite. Dee made a spectacular entrance, re-introducing himself with a leadoff triple. Jogging home seconds later on a sac fly was a necessary reminder of just how much he changes this offense. Speaking of changing this offense…
This mutilation of a baseball seems like an important thing to remember. We had seen Cruz in the depths of a depressing slump, all of us dying to see him unload again. A 5-for-37 stretch in the middle of the month with 12 strikeouts invited creeping suspicions about him not being fully healthy. Those have dissipated for me in the last three games, during which Cruz has gone 7-for-12. As small and insignificant as 7-for-12 may seem over an entire season, sometimes it just takes seven good at-bats to feel the good feelings again. In spotting LeBlanc a 3-0 lead, the Mariners’ DH may have also migrated back toward his regular habitat. It’s a place of comfort and familiarity for him, and pain and misery for all pitchers (and baseballs) who dare enter.
Texas made its only hay on a Nomar Mazara blast in the fourth inning. Upon returning to the mound in the fifth – just one after his only troublesome inning of the night – LeBlanc dismissed the Rangers’ top of the order in 1-2-3 fashion. A measly groundball, can of corn fly to center, and wackadoo route from Denard Span got him settled again. 13 pitches (none faster than 87 MPH) were all it took to make me believe that the M’s had this in the bag.
Optimism was rewarded in Seattle’s half of the fifth. Mike Minor has not been a full-time MLB starting pitcher since 2014, and the Mariners treated him appropriately. The bottom of the fifth was like when you’d have a substitute teacher in school. They’d skate through the beginning of the day with minor damage here and there, but then eventually it would all unravel. Things start happening that aren’t supposed to happen.
Mike Zunino and his 4.7 BB% worked a walk. Dee Gordon did something uncharacteristically uncool. A line drive bounced off somebody’s head. This was all relatively new, and after a run scored on a throwing error, teetering on the brink of chaos. The substitute teacher calmed things down with a good ol’ fashion compromise.
“I let Nelson Cruz hit a fly ball, I get an out, but you get a run.”
Minor’s evil plan retired Nellie with minimal destruction, and one batter later the final bell came in the form of Kyle Seager’s ground out. The substitute teacher was free. He was losing 5-1, but at least he didn’t have to deal with those unruly kids anymore. Had Dee Gordon not flubbed a bunt attempt, or Cruz had gotten more of the barrel on his ball, things could have been even uglier.
The rest of the game was an easy ride in the right direction. Scoreless, no nonsense outings from Pazos and Nicasio blended perfectly with the easygoing nature of the middle infield.
When your older sibling just picked on you so you pick on your little sibling pic.twitter.com/wIP9qg9Pmz— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) June 1, 2018
From there it was even smoother sailing, as the M’s tacked on another run and Chasen Bradford used an eighth-inning double play to shorten his workload. Seattle thunders into its weekend series against another beatable team, not having used Álex Colomé or Edwin Díaz tonight.
I started writing this recap thinking I’d have no GIFs, no pictures, no funny memes or screenshots to pull from. It smelled like a matter-of-fact baseball game with five innings of Wade LeBlanc, and a “let’s win this so we don’t lose a home series to the Rangers” type of vibe. The Cruz home run pointed the needle away from matter-of-fact and into fun territory. When the levee broke around Mike Minor, it looked as though the players could feel it too. The Mariners laughed, shook hands, and walked away with a victory in tow.
They move forward with an energized Dee Gordon, red-hot Jean Segura, and fully blossoming Guillermo Heredia. The team has won or split five of its last six series, and six of its last seven if you include the one-off against Minnesota on May 14. I am going to bed now, and will do so happily knowing that the sky is not falling, and the Mariners play three more baseball games in the next three days.