This 8-2 loss was a different kind of frustrating. Sure, the Mariners were outplayed by the Angels. Maybe even by a substantial margin. Still, this game felt - for the lack of a better word - unlucky. The Mariners had a scoring threat end in the sixth inning after Ben Gamel beat a throw from Mike Trout to third base. Gamel’s momentum pulled him off of the bag, allowing Zack Cozart to apply the tag. Furthermore, Chris Young waved at a pitch that bounced in the opposite batters box that got by Mike Zunino with two outs. Instead of ending the inning, Young reached first safely. Four runs would come into score afterwards. It’s impossible to say what would have happened if those unlikely, unfortunate occurrences never happened. The fact that it could have been different, though, is unsettling.
The Mariners were fortunate to be down just two after the first five and two thirds innings of Felix Hernandez’ performance. The king didn’t appear to be his sharpest from the outset, surrendering two sharp lineouts on pitches that ended up in the middle of the zone.
The first two runs of the game came in the top of the second on solo shots from Zack Cozart and Chris Young. Again, these pitches missed in dangerous spots, but this time he was punished for it.
Felix was able to maintain his composure, though, and spin three scoreless frames after surrendering a pair of runs in the second. He consistently navigated out of trouble, as each of those three innings saw at least one runner in scoring position. Nonetheless, he kept his team in the game through five innings, maintaining a 2-0 deficit.
The bats, however, struggled to wake up from a sluggish start. Shohei Ohtani retired the first batter he faced in six of the seven innings he pitched, dampening the Mariners chances of creating scoring opportunities. Furthermore, the Mariners only had one runner in scoring position during the first six innings, and that came after the first two outs of the inning.
To his credit, Ohtani was excellent today. His fastball was electric and his splitter and curveball were generating whiffs. The Mariners couldn’t get to him until the seventh innings, when Ryon Healy knocked a two-run blast over the left field fence.
The Mariners continued to threaten in the seventh, putting two more on with no outs. A rare Dee Gordon double play followed by a Jean Segura ground out prevented the Mariners from doing more damage. Jean Segura also left the game after that at bat. Scott Servais said post game that it was a headache issue and he should be fine for Toronto.
I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if that wild pitch strikeout would have ended the inning. I did a little research on the origin of the “uncaught third strike” rule and came across this article. Essentially, in the mid-1800s, a rule was added that a batter was only given three chances to hit a ball. This rule was put in play to speed up the game if an incompetent batter couldn’t put the ball in play; however, instead of an automatic out, if a batter swings and misses at three pitches, the batter can run towards first and the defense has to make a play. As the game evolved and catchers started to wear protective gear and move closer to the plate, the rule changed. Just like any live ball, if the catcher is able to haul in a third strike, the batter is out. An uncaught third strike, though, was considered equal to a fair ball.
It’s interesting that the core of the rule is preventing a batter from halting the game by failing to ever put the ball in play. Fast forward a decade an a half, it feels like it doesn’t quite accomplish that. Instead of punishing a batter for swinging at a pitch that bounced in the other batters box, the inning was extended. Four more batters came to the plate, allowing four more runs to score.
When Healy’s dinger cut the Angels’ deficit to four, it was hard not to wonder “what if those four runs didn’t score after the Chris Young strikeout?” Using that same logic, though, four runs in a six run loss don’t make up enough ground. In reality, even contemplating the hypotheticals is useless. Confidence, momentum, leverage, circumstance, and even more intangibles influence baseball on a pitch to pitch basis. Simulating the possible different outcomes of a game with just one edited variable is futile. Furthermore, rules are rules, no matter how frustrating or game-affecting as they can be.
This is a hard way to lose the series, but at the end of the day, the Angels outplayed the Mariners. The Mariners bats weren’t a factor for the first two innings. Felix navigated through trouble well at times, but seven hits and four walks will catch up to a pitcher sooner or later. The Mariners will get tomorrow off as they travel to Toronto to face the Blue Jays.