Unfortunate belly-flop into the All-Star Break aside, the 2018 Mariners have offered us some gobsmacking, jaw-dropping fun so far in the first half of the season. From wild walk-offs to dominant pitching performances to the human GIF machine that is Dee Gordon, not to mention the thrilling #SendSegura campaign that left the thumbs of M’s fans too bruised even for the team’s signature thumbs up move, the Mariners have already collected a heap of fun moments to be replied on cold Mariner Mondays on ROOT this winter. Here are some of our favorites so far:
I will greedily snag 3 wonderful moments from the first half that particularly made me happy, non-Paxton no-hitter division. That honestly feels like the most significant event of the first half, even though I feel like it’s underrated because it happened on the road while many fans were working/commuting/making dinner. So, a very special shoutout to James Paxton for the sixth no-hitter in 41 seasons of Mariners baseball, but here are three other less historically significant moments that I consider my favorites.
Daniel Vogelbach hits it above the Hit It Here Cafe
This must be why he’s in Triple-A: the fella just can’t follow directions! The sign CLEARLY says “Hit It Here,” Daniel. Why’d you have to go and hit the ball ABOVE that? Sheesh!
All kidding aside, this is a precious and incredible moment for several reasons. For one, any time a beleaguered prospect or struggling young player does something good, the warm fuzzy feelings it produces are some of my favorite emotions that the sport of baseball elicits and it’s incredibly rewarding as a devoted fan. I also call this the “Michael Acorsi Zunino Special,” but more on him in a bit. Anyways, this massive donger of a moonshot also gave us this, which I can only assume will be the greatest reaction .gif in the history of the Seattle Mariners, do not question me.
Uh, yes, ROOT producers, you were correct in assuming that we wanted MORE OF THAT.
These people were minding their own business, living the suite-life seemingly miles above right field when Mr. Vogelbach sent them a present, and it wasn’t Rally Fries. They will never feel safe again in that suite.
I call this the “Babe Ruth Old-Timey Newsreel” angle.
Someday you’ll get a chance for some consistent playing time at DH, Vogey, but until then, we’ll always have this dinger.
Mike Zunino hates the Twins
“Won the offseason, my ass!” Mike yelled as he rounded the bases on another walk-off home run against the Minnesota Twins. When asked later by the beat reporters as to why he hates the Twins so much, Mike shrugged and said, “Twins fans and their front office have not shown Joe Mauer enough appreciation for the production he gave them during the first half of his career for basically peanuts, and then they actually pay the man, but take away the hitter-friendly stadium and they have the nerve to be mad at him for not hitting home runs anymore? Shit, if I could take walks like him, I’d stop swinging so damn hard, too!”
Jean rolls the dice
Following what will perhaps be the best put-out and defensive play by the Mariners in 2018, Jean Segura stood up after applying a no-look tag on Luis Valbuena at second following a cannon shot throw from Mitch Haniger and looked at his infield and his dugout incredulously and demonstrated his dice rolling skills. Shake ‘em up, Jean. Shake ‘em.
Dee Gordon Griffeys
According to Statcast, Barrels are a classification assigned to “batted-ball events whose comparable hit types (in terms of exit velo and launch angle) have led to a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage since Statcast was implemented in 2015.” To Barrel a ball, there must be an exit velocity of 98 MPH or greater, and any ball that hits that speed with a 26-30 degree launch angle will be automatically classified as a “Barrel.” That launch angle range extends based on every MPH above 98.
When a player records a Barrel, he hit the ball very hard and very far.
Currently there is only one qualified (minimum 150 batted balls) Major League Baseball player who has failed to record a barrel: Dee Gordon.
“But wait”, a savvy Mariners fan might say. “Dee homered this year, I’m sure of it. He must have at least one barrel?”
Gordon did indeed hit a home run this year, and on April Fool’s Day no less! In the bottom of the 7th, in a 2-2 game on a 2-2 pitch he launched a ball 370 feet into the right field stands. The exit velo was impressive - 100.2 MPH! - the launch angle evidently less so. I can’t find the exact angle [Ed. note: 34 degrees, the same as Haniger’s HR in that same game, but with a 48% hit probability, about half of Haniger’s jack], but in the clips the ball appears to be skied high into the air, likely outside the launch angle range that would have qualified him for a Barrel.
But, of course, Gordon’s lack of Barrels isn’t what made this moment memorable…
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) April 1, 2018
He *was* working out with Junior, we heard. pic.twitter.com/bORFmleZmx
No Barrels, so what? Beat it, nerds.
Wade LeBlanc’s the Red Sox
Call it Stockholm Syndrome, I love watching pitchers like Wade LeBlanc. Edwin Díaz is my favorite pitcher in baseball to watch, so don’t mistake this as a “He just knows how to pitch” cane-waggle. There is nothing justifiable about LeBlanc being even an average pitcher. That impossibility makes his success delightful, and he has had no greater start than the masterpiece he wove against the Boston Red Sox at Safeco Field on June 16th.
That same night my home was hosting a going-away party, as our lease was up in two weeks and one my roommates was returning home to Houston. The game was propped up on my laptop, sitting on the porch while folks drank, chatted, and played various iterations of drinking games nearby. I kept one eye trained on the fast-paced contest, catching bits and pieces of the commentary: It’s already the 5th? Did they say that was his 6th strikeout? Would it kill the offense to score another run?
Another run would hardly be necessary. After season highs of 7.2 IP, 98 pitches, 9 Ks, and 0 BBs, Wade LeBlanc exited to a thunderous ovation both in the stadium and at our now-raptly attentive party. The first pitch from Álex Colomé was the first to exceed 89 mph from either team that evening. Three strikeouts swinging from Díaz, embarrassing Brock Holt, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mookie Betts, throwing fastballs and sliders that must’ve looked upwards of 115 mph following Wade, and it was done. Dominance, from the Mariners’ rotation’s simple savior.
Cinco de Walk-Off
Being from Spokane, I don’t get to make it over for quite as many games as some of my more fortunate fellow staff members here, but I was lucky enough to be in attendance for what’s now firmly entrenched as the sweetest victory I’ve ever known. In addition to just being a nerve-racking back-and-forth game that resulted in the Mariners becoming the first team in 15 years to surrender runs in the 9th, 10th, and 11th innings and still somehow win, the fact that it came against a team that I’ve come to loathe more than any other thing in this world (besides perhaps Mike Scioscia himself) makes it all the sweeter. This game drew a line in the sand for me and how I fan the Mariners. This was when, for the first time in a long time, I learned to never count this team out. As cliche as it is, this 2018 Mariners team truly has each other’s backs and believes in one another. They never give up, and now I know never to give up on them.
The obvious answer for me is Denard Span’s double against the Red Sox. It was a spectacular moment, but it wasn’t just a spectacular moment. It was a conglomeration of about ten different catharses rolled into one emotional Friday night.
First of all, even though the Mariners entered the series against the Red Sox coming off of a sweep of the Angels, this series was the first of the “gauntlet” that was supposed to take the Mariners down: a 10-game stretch against the Yankees and Red Sox. The Mariners came out lackluster in the first game, losing 2-1 to Boston in a total snoozer. And after taking a 3-0 lead in the second game, they committed about 4 errors in succession, spoiling a James Paxton start and going down 6-3. It really looked like they were folding against strong competition. It looked like the doubters might be right.
And then they rallied. They clawed back into it, getting back to a 6-5 deficit, before Denard Span came up in the eighth inning with two runners on. This was the at-bat that made me fall in love with Denard Span. It’s not just that he hit a double. That helped, of course, but it was more how he approached the at bat. He took pitches. He fouled a couple off. He waited for his pitch, and he capitalized on it. It’s an approach that has been so rare in Seattle, even amongst the better hitters we’ve had here. It was a breath of fresh air, and when the hit found empty grass and dribbled into the corner, and as everyone in Safeco Field rose to their feet and screamed, it really started to feel like things might be different now.
Of course, they might not be. Things look a bit grim at the moment (and there’ll be plenty of hand-wringing on that in the days to come). But that was the moment I bought in, and I haven’t cashed out yet.
The Lefty from Ladner Deals in Silence
We live in a quiet-averse culture where silence is considered awkward. We surround ourselves with noise, filling up the air around us so we can avoid the introspection silence demands.
I watched the entirety of James Paxton’s no-hitter in complete silence. My wife was feeling rather crummy that afternoon and asked me to watch the game with the sound off so she could take a nap on the couch. Gone were the familiar trappings of a television broadcast. No Goldsmith grinder. None of Blowers’s sharp analysis. No crowd noise. Just James Paxton on the screen, a silent movie in an era of noisy blockbusters.
By the fifth inning, I realized what was happening in Toronto. Each pitch brought Paxton closer to that promised land. And my attention never wavered. I sat in silence with him, sitting on the edge of my seat, a mess of nerves and excitement. With each out, a silent fist pump or a slow exhalation. When he got Josh Donaldson to ground out to Kyle Seager, my arms shot up in the air, a silent mirror of Paxton on the mound.
I let out a loud whoop and woke up my wife. We watched the team celebrate on the field and Paxton’s post-game interview. The sound was on.
BEAT. IT. NERDS.
Marco goes the distance
I don’t know if there’s any Mariners whose success means more to the team, and to me personally, than Marco Gonzales. The Tyler O’Neill trade was a huge, risky move, and although I was cautiously optimistic about the return, a control/command lefty doesn’t bring the juice a big bat like O’Neill’s does. Things got off to a slow start for Marco last year as a Mariner, when he struggled to a 5.06 FIP in a dozen-ish appearances, never making it past five innings. This spring, we heard about the cutter and saw Marco’s improved repertoire in spring games, but there was always that question: would this success translate to the regular season? Was Marco for real? After an early-season blowout at the hands of the Royals (yikes) and some shaky performances, some worried Marco’s strong spring was fool’s gold. Meanwhile, Tyler O’Neill was hitting all the home runs in the world for the Cardinals, every single one. But Marco righted the ship, built up his innings, and on June 29, against those same Kansas City Royals (okay, same-ish), pitched his first-ever complete game in MLB. He struck out seven. He walked no one. It was Marco in his highest form, but also a testament to the scouting and vision of the front office that rolled the dice on a trade that could have been a career-ruiner instead of an extension-granter. I don’t know where the 2018 Mariners are without Marco Gonzales, owner of a 2.2 bWAR that’s good for third-highest on the team, just behind the tandem of Hanigura, another trade success. But more importantly, it’s given us deliciously nerdy moments like this from our adopted Seattle son. Yay sports!
Post-Canó, the team goes on
The initial news of Robinson Canó’s suspension devastated me in a way baseball hadn’t in a long time. While I personally don’t care too much about PEDs, the revelation that he couldn’t even be in the clubhouse and that he wouldn’t be eligible for the postseason was too much. For as low as I felt, I couldn’t imagine how the team was taking it. AND they had a game to play that night? Jeez.
But they didn’t crumble. Instead, they immediately jumped all over Mike Minor, knocking him out in the fourth inning. Nelson Cruz would leave the game after getting hit on the top of his foot by a pitch, and for a few minutes, the fanbase was spiraling even further. X-rays ended up being negative, though, and Neli missed minimal time.
The game itself was a wild back-and-forth: Texas battled back to bring a 7-6 lead into the bottom of the eighth, but GUILLERMOOOOOOOOOOOO, a bunt from Gordon Beckham that couldn’t be fielded cleanly, and a Jean Segura groundout had the M’s back on top.
It wouldn’t be that easy, though. Edwin Díaz blew the save on an RBI groundout from Joey Gallo and some very heads-up baserunning from Jurickson Profar. We were also treated to a Scott Servais ejection, featuring the most tepid ejection motion I have ever seen:
Dearly departed Erik Goeddel gutted through two innings of work, and in the bottom of the eleventh, the stage was set for Guillermo, and he pulled through.
Every single one of us needed that. It kicked off six weeks of overall fantastic, thrilling play, and although the M’s stumbled over the last couple weeks into the break, they wouldn’t be even close to the position they are now without that run. This team has shown incredible resolve, and it all started with this game.