The Wild Card game is the playoffs. It’s been debated if it truly counts, but much like spumoni ice cream is still ice cream, whether you like it or not, it counts. While Seattle’s win last night drew them within just 3.0 GB of Houston for the AL West lead, with two months to go it’s likely a race for the Wild Card game. With 7.0 dominant innings from James Paxton Seattle swept aside the reigning World Champs thanks to a few timely hits off Cy Young candidate Gerrit Cole and a nearly impeccable pitching performance start to finish. It was Seattle’s dream framework for a potential Wild Card game. Moreover, it demonstrated how insurmountable Seattle can be when their pitching is given the slightest chance.
It begins with Paxton - The Lefty from
Ladish Ladner looked to all the world like the ace he’d been early in the season. Coming off a stiff back that held him out of the rotation for a couple turns, Pax reminded Seattle why his starts had felt, for much of the year, like a pencilled in W. 93-98 on the fastball, biting cutters, curveballs disappearing into puffs of smoke and reappearing in the catcher’s mitt behind a helpless flail of the bat.
Seattle eked across two runs with two well struck balls and good speed on the basepaths. It was a two-run lead destined for Edwin Díaz, and he would set the Astros down 1-2-3 in time. Before Edwin took the ball, however, Álex Colomé pitched an 8th inning that was both remarkable and Rodney-esque.
Facing pinch-hitter and natural-born goblin ally Josh Reddick, Colomé gave Reddick every angle of his repertoire, including three consecutive competitive pitches on a 3-2 count, before pitch 10 of the at-bat elicited a fly out to Denard Span. The next pitch was laced into center field by Max Stassi, but Colomé, who struggled early in the season to locate his cutter, returned to his best pitch and put Tony Kemp on a poster, if they made posters for hitters who got their days ruined.
Back to the top of the order, the threat was as real as it would get. George Springer had been rung up twice courtesy of the Big Maple and was likely thrilled to get a different look. He got, well, a real close look, as two of Colomé’s best fastballs ran dangerously up and in, but despite taking an 0-2 edge, Colomé lost Springer to a walk. He did not, however, give in.
Colomé is an odd bird - his pitches typically only are separated by 5-7 mph, and most of his offerings are over 90 mph. It’s an incredibly laborious style of pitching, and it is exhausting to watch as a fan. Yesterday I wrote about how the Mariners’ rotation, among other things, has managed to avoid high-stress situations better than most pitchers in the league. Inversely, Colomé is 7th in all of MLB in highest average leverage while pitching, and the first non-closer to appear on that list. He’s a self-propelled stress machine, but the next plate appearance against All-Star Alex Bregman showed what has made him worth the trouble.
Not a single pitch under 90 mph, and the stuff to make both fans and Bregman uncomfortable. Another 3-2 count had the entire stadium on edge. With a crowd of 35,000 cheering him on nervously, Colomé showed what makes his cutter one of the closest doppelgängers of Edwin Díaz’s unholy slider.
This pitch was a called strike had Bregman not waved longingly in its direction. Díaz mopped up the 9th inning on just seven pitches and in a blink the Mariners snuck away with a victory. If the Mariners find themselves in the Wild Card game this October they will be a deserved underdog against the AL East’s silver medalist. They may not be able to line up Paxton for the start, but a night like tonight is a reminder of how Seattle has every opportunity to ruin one of the juggernauts’ best-laid plans.