I remember the frustration Cardinals fans expressed when Mike Leake’s tenure with St. Louis came to an end. He’d signed the franchise’s richest free agent deal for a pitcher, delivered his best season by FIP and his worst by ERA, followed by another half-season of decency, leading to his availability for Rayder Ascanio (91 wRC+ at age-22 in Single-A in 2018). It was Leake’s inability to get deep into games that pushed him out of favor in St. Louis, yet in Seattle he’s been able to go deeper.
Today, amidst one of the worst 24-hour periods in Mariners’ fandom in quite some time, Mike Leake was aloof as he always appears. In a flurry of 81 mph sliders and 89 mph sinkers, he took it to another former team of his. 11 groundouts helped Leake cruise through 6.1 IP without nary a whiff of hard contact. No more vital moment came than Leake’s best sequence of the night in the top of the 5th, when he racked up both of his two strikeouts of the evening back-to-back.
First, Alen Hanson and his procedurally-generated vowels stepped up with runners on 2nd and 3rd after an error by Jean Segura (more on the defense later) and a fielder’s choice involving no small bit of athleticism from Leake himself. Leake worked a 1-2 count with a pair of swinging strikes on knuckle curves skimmed Hanson’s back heel. Then, Leake went to his best pitch, running a slider in on Hanson’s hands for a massive second out.
That brought up Andrew McCutchen. Cutch is not only the Giant with the most career plate appearances against Leake, he is the player with the most appearances total against Leake (96 PAs entering today) by more than 30 PAs over the next most-common opponent. McCutchen’s .712 OPS in his borderline-passable sample-size career against Leake seemed to favor Leake, and in the most important moment of his afternoon Leake came up huge.
That 3-2 cutter was the right pitch for the moment - a pitch that seemed too close to lay off, particularly with the opposite movement that Leake’s sinker has. Two runners were stranded by Leake’s only two K’s of the day, and while he would eventually lose credit for the Win, his start was both quality and stabilizing.
The offense was the fortunate beneficiary of that stability. Facing apparently-a-Giant Derek Holland, Seattle mustered runs in the 1st and 2nd innings, but nary a threat otherwise. Dee Gordon delivered a trick-or-treat performance with two singles and a stolen base that led to an error and a sac fly in the first, but also was picked off and carelessly threw a ball away that led to the Giants’ only runs of the night, and Leake’s early ousting.
Ryon Healy was unfazed by Holland because that’s where his favorite chocolates are from, and he was rewarded with a fastball within reach of his sweet tooth.
Daniel Vogelbach can never be demoted, because the moment he disappears is the moment Ryon relents.
Still, 2-0 could have easily been more, and yet another tepid performance against an unremarkable pitcher does nothing to quell the worries of Seattle’s upcoming schedule being a crucible they are unprepared for. When Gordon’s error in the 7th was followed by a pair of bloopers and another error by Mitch Haniger on a handcuffed hop in shallow right field, it was forgivable to gaze at the 2-2 tie and see a morning remix of last night’s embarrassment.
Mercifully, it was not to be. Guillermo Heredia drew his first walk of the month of July (!?!) and advanced to second base on a sac bunt that Gordon nearly outraced. Jean Segura singled up the middle, and visions of Scott Brosius’ ill-fated send of Kyle Seager flashed before my eyes as Heredia rounded third while CF Steven Duggar gathered the ball.
The next two images are a single frame apart:
aaaaaannd this was about seven frames later:
3-2 Mariners. A Jean Segura TOOTBLAN on what, in fairness, looked like a surefire gap single by Mitch Haniger that hung up long enough for a diving catch could not hector Edwin Díaz and his quest for revenge. Just a few pitches shy of an immaculate inning before last night’s defensive tomfoolery, Edwin made the heart of San Francisco’s order look helpless. He even made Buster Posey give up on hitting (or at least his bat) completely.
Back at 20 games over .500. Another Facebook game survived. An off-day tomorrow, with the sub-.500 Angels this weekend before a punishing stretch. Today they did enough. They’ll need more to be enough going forward.