Holiday traditions are not my forte. I have a hard time understanding them; not all of them, but most. I get why they happen and why they exist, but I guess I don’t really understand why people feel the need to actively participate in them all the time.
The Mariners have a holiday tradition themselves: losing on the Fourth of July. This is one of those traditions I fail to understand. Why do this Mariners? Why? Forget that tradition and extend the win streak; how about that? No? Okay...
Today, the Mariners lost a ballgame. Ready to work the Angels for what would have dropped them into a losing record had the M’s won the game, Mike Leake took to the mound with his full repertoire of pitches. He managed to start off the match with a 1-2-3 inning, forcing Kole Calhoun to groundout, Andrelton Simmons to strikeout, and Mike Trout (after a nine pitch at bat) to flyout. The M’s looked poised to win another game and tally their ninth win in a row.
When the bottom frame came along, Dee Gordon led the Mariners off with a single, but then, Jean Segura grounded into a double play and soon after, Mitch Haniger struck out on three pitches. Other than the second inning, this framework of getting on base and doing nothing about it would haunt the Mariners throughout the game.
The second inning rolled along and Mike Leake was chopping at batters, forcing Justin Upton and Albert Pujols out on three and four pitches, respectively. The Mariners seemed keen to win the way Leake was pitching, up until Shohei Ohtani came up to the plate. Leake worked him as well, alternating pitches inside and out until the count was full, after which Ohtani began to foul off everything Leake was chucking at him.
Usually, when a pitcher gets into battle with a batter, I assume that batter is going to end up on top, but not like this. After a nine-pitch at bat, Ohtani managed to reach base on a catchers interference of all things. Ohtani was then able to score after a Luis Valbuena double. Mike Leake was not having this, and managed to strike out Martín Maldonado on three pitches with two cutters and a curveball outside the zone. Things felt right at the time. It was only one run the Angels put on the board. Nothing these Mariners couldn’t handle.
And boy did they handle it. I’m not one for fireworks, but I wouldn’t mind to have seen these down in Safeco in the bottom of the second.
Kyle Seager and Ryon Healy both took fastballs in the zone and, for the first time this year, sent them out of the park for back-to-back home runs, effectively eliminating the Angels’ lead. If ever the Mariners were to win again on the Fourth of July, it would have to be this year.
But alas, this would not hold true.
Mike Leake started the fourth inning but allowing a double to Albert Pujols. (No, don’t worry, you read that correctly). Pujols lined sharply to center, and Heredia was able to handle the ball and even managed to throw to Segura, who was covering second base, but Jean’s tag juuuuust missed Pujols as he slid into the bag. Two singles later by Ohtani and Valbuena and the Angels tied up the game at two apiece. Leake was able to strikeout Maldonado once again, but after, allowed another RBI-single to Kole Calhoun, which scored Ohtani for the Angels’ lead. Leake managed to get out of the inning by forcing out Andrelton Simmons, but at that point the damage was done. In the bottom half of the inning, the Mariners couldn’t reciprocate, with both Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager stringing out on breaking balls.
And it only got worse. Leake started the fifth inning by allowing a double to Trout and then a single to Justin Upton and an RBI-single to Pujols, scoring Trout for a two-run lead. This led to Servais ending Leake’s time on the mound and bringing Nick Rumbelow in relief to face Ohtani. Luckily enough, Ohtani flew out to Ben Gamel, and in the same play, the M’s were able to make up for allowing a double to Pujols earlier in the game and were able to get him out at second after a relay throw by Chris Herrmann.
With only one out remaining to end the fifth inning, the Mariners intentionally walked Luis Valbuena in order to face Maldonado, who flew out after eight pitches. Unfortunately, the sixth inning would not be as easy for Rumbelow. He allowed a leadoff double to David Fletcher and then a home run to Kole Calhoun, which extended the Angels’ lead to four runs. After looking quite shaky, Rumbelow was able to get out of the inning by retiring the next three batters in order.
After the Angels took their four-run lead, the Mariners could not produce offensively to catch up. In the sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth innings, the Mariners were able to put their leadoff man aboard; in fact, the Mariners had the bases loaded with zero outs in the seventh, and nothing came of it. Mariners were able to get a total of ten batters on base between the sixth and ninth innings and only managed to score two runs for it (an RBI single by Cruz to score Heredia in the 6th and and RBI single by Seager to score Haniger in the eighth). It doesn’t help that the Angels also happened to score an extra run in the eighth inning, after a dropped-ball single and an error by Segura, giving them seven runs total.
I had a hard time with this game at first. Seeing the Mariners take an eight-win streak and lose in this fashion was heartbreaking, but in line with the tradition. The Mariners haven’t won on Independence Day since Brandon League was considered good and, frankly, that might just be okay. Traditions are a form of stability, something to hold onto, maybe the Mariners loss is a good thing. They had gone eight in a row and were bound to lose sometime; why not lose today and keep up with tradition?
Even with the loss, the Mariners are still 23 games above .500. When was the last time they had a record like that on the Fourth of July?