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Rays use closer as starter, lose; Mariners use starter as closer, win

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A cold night at Safeco turns warm

Tampa Bay Rays v Seattle Mariners
ok just be like a little careful though?
Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

I’m writing this about fifteen minutes after the game ended, and it’s fifty-six degrees in Seattle. Remember this for later; it will be important.

Mike Leake started the game for the Mariners. Here is the good news about Mike Leake: he went seven innings and set a season high for strikeouts, with eight, while walking no one. He even showed a little bit of emotion on an inning-ending double play that saw him through his seventh inning, which is startlingly un-Mike-Leake-ish, who belongs to the Wade LeBlanc school of “laissez les comme ci çomme ça temps rouler”:

Here is the bad news about Mike Leake: he gave up two solo shots, and while the old wisdom is solo homers won’t beat you, the homers he gave up were: 1) on some pretty badly mislocated pitches, right in the heart of the plate; 2) to Carlos Gomez, known feaster on balls in the heart of the plate, and to Johnny Field (I know! but I am desensitized to silly baseball names because of J.P. Sportman) in a 1-2 count with two outs. It could be that Leake was really feeling himself what with the eight Ks and all and just got a little over-aggressive and forgot he was Mike Leake for a second, but this pushed the Rays to within a run of the Mariners, who had done all kinds of hard work early to put three runs on the board. Note that the game temperature around this time was about 65 degrees, a nice semi-warm-ish early June Seattle night. Again, remember that for later.

That doesn’t sound like that many, does it? But for the Mariners, who have been stitching together offense from the cast-aside rags outside other clubhouses and relying on their pitching staff to do the rest, three runs would have been enough to win another day. In the third, the Segura-Seager-Cruz train started chugging and with enough coal shoveled on the balky old engine, scored a run. In the fourth, Ben “you will pry this job from my cold Denard hands” Gamel led off with a triple, and biggest bro Ryon Healy singled him home. Heredia would follow with a double (with an assist from a misplay by ex-Mariner great Mallex Smith) that would have been a triple if Ryon Healy didn’t run at the speed of an 18th century tailor embroidering a gown for a persnickety empress, and then David Freitas, recently recalled from Tacoma to replace an ailing Chris Herrmann, made a productive out to get the Mariners to a 3-0 advantage. With Leake seemingly in cruise control and the back end of the bullpen looming, things felt like they might hum along as planned.

Unfortunately, come the fifth, the aforementioned unfortunate Leake dingers occurred, and the Mariners would fail to score against this succession of pitchers: Jonny Venters, who is a great inspiring story but should not be steamrolling your offense!; Wilmer Font, human waiver claim pinball; José Alvarado, whose triple-digit fastball is actually pretty terrifying and makes the club’s willingness to make Álex Colomé available more understandable, but who walked two batters nonetheless; and Chaz Roe, who held the team hitless and scoreless for 1.1 innings. Let’s check in on how Mitch and I feel about that:

But! We’ve seen the Mariners make hay with one-run leads thanks to the shutdown back of the bullpen. Colomé upheld his end, tossing a scoreless eighth, but Edwin Díaz was not sharp for the second outing in a row, walking the leadoff man, Joey Wendle (whose name my dad can’t ever remember, and just calls him McSmirky), allowing him to take second, and then giving up the game-tying hit to Matt Duffy, who disappears entirely if he turns sideways, on an 87 mph slider that landed right in the middle of the plate. Props to Díaz for being able to recover his composure and get out of the inning with no further damage done, but thiiiiiis doooooooesn’t feeeeeeel greeeeeat.

The Mariners were stymied by Alvarado at the end of regulation, so on to extras. Juan Nicasio came out again with a chip the size of one of his shoulders on his shoulder, and proceeded to mow through the top of the Rays’ lineup, collecting three strikeouts and surrendering just one hit, a broken bat bloop to C.J. Cron, who looked just as surprised to find himself standing on first base as any of the rest of us. The momentum seemed to swing in the Mariners’ favor as Nelson Cruz came up and whacked the stuffing out of a ball...that proceeded to die just short of the wall, because it’s Seattle on June first, and it’s actually cold at night.

Extremely same, Angie. Onward! Altavilla came in and got two relatively quick outs, striking out the free-swinging Wilson Ramos on some 97 mph high heat, and then getting Matt Duffy to fly out softly, jamming him with 88 after throwing him a perfectly-located 97 mph fastball that he sadly fouled off, and then struggling with his command a little before getting bailed out by Zunino’s cannon arm mowing down Daniel Robertson, who had walked, when he strayed too far from first. From there, the game was in the hands of recently-recalled Roenis Elias, who was scheduled to throw in Tacoma tonight so had all the pitches he needed.

We all know Elías for his excellent curveball, but if you’ve been watching him in Tacoma, he’s not using it as much, instead working with a fastball that sits 93-95 he moves all over the plate and a changeup. He, too, collected two quick flyouts before giving up a grounder through a hole in the infield to Johnny Field. Elías then fell behind Mallex Smith 2-0, then 3-1 as the runner stole second, before coming back to get Smith swinging on two fastballs with some nice movement. Was Roenis pumped? You bet he was:

He would come back and work another scoreless inning, again giving up a well-hit single but getting Ramos to line into a double play to end the inning.

By this time, it was in the 13th inning, and a crisp 56 degrees in the ballpark. That makes what Mitch Haniger did all the more impressive.

Haniger’s been in a bit of a little baby slump this past month; after a scorching April (188 wRC+), Haniger’s bat cooled over May to just 88 wRC+. Mitch isn’t a particularly streaky hitter, so it was a little concerning to see him chasing breaking balls in the dirt and hitting fly balls to the warning track. Every time we write about this team I feel like the specter of Canó’s absence is always there, for good or for bad; even when we wonder who the new hero will be, there’s a tacit understanding that the need for a new rotating cast of heroes is in large part because these Mariners are missing one of their captains. I was a little worried that Mitch was trying to press, getting away from the approach that had seen him to so much success in trying to do this un-doable thing, to replace what cannot be replaced. I am happy to report that I am a big dumb dummy:

It was already cold in the ballpark tonight, and Mitch probably found himself even chillier at night’s end. The warm and fuzzy feelings this team evokes, however, can bear us up against even the coldest night:

It’s early in the season, and already it seems like we’ve had so many signature wins like this one, games we will be watching back when it’s truly cold in January and February, dreaming of warm summer nights at the ballpark, forgetting the cold toes and frigid fingertips that saw us through this win, remembering only the warmth we carried in our hearts.