Watching sports, and especially baseball, can be a lot of stressful waiting for a few instances of sweet relief. You take time out of your day, dedicate several hours to what is essentially competitive theater, only to be rewarded with sparse moments of joy.
Sweet relief in baseball often comes from a late-inning rally or walk-off home run. Those tiny seconds of true, unfiltered happiness sometimes emerge from games that you’re sure the team is going to lose. It can also, like today, start on a re-assuring note early in the ballgame.
Charlie Blackmon yoked a home run less than two minutes in, for narrative purposes I’m sure, setting up the M’s to charge ahead. These are, after all, the Mariners that are 6.5 games clear of a playoff spot. The merry band of weirdos with the best winning percentage since the 2001 team. A roster with at least six guys worthy of All-Star consideration. Surely they’d come together to take one game from the bumbling Colorado Rockies.
In the bottom of the first, looking a bit upset with themselves, the Mariners righted the ship. A tip of the cap to Antonio Senzatela for making the scoring possible by gifting a few base runners. Plunking Mitch Haniger and walking Nelson Cruz filled the bases for Kyle Seager, who tied things up on a sac fly. Ryon Healy followed with a ringing double, and the Mariners had quickly reinforced their position as the superior team.
Early as it was, re-possessing the lead felt like one of those liberating moments of relief, a comforting reminder that these Mariners are good. The relief of renewed optimism tastes especially sweet.
Senzatela labored through that first inning, elevating his pitch count and the Mariners’ good vibes. Wade LeBlanc rode those vibes through hitless second and third innings to slice through the bottom half of Colorado’s order. He stole a pair of first-pitch outs to begin both frames, including an ominous Gerardo Parra warning track shot that fell safely into Denard Span’s glove.
Good feeling achieved. LeBlanc retired 10 consecutive Rockies after Blackmon’s big fly, ending when a ghost tripped Seager as he fielded a ground ball. Seager fell to the ground, allowing Trevor Story to reach and allowing me to laugh about him looking like a drunk toddler. The laughter turned maniacal when Span whacked a leadoff triple in the bottom of the fourth. Turning that into a big inning would have been the moment of intense relief we’ve needed all weekend, but instead Healy, Heredia, and Freitas went down in order.
In hindsight, that might have been the universe telling us to trigger the pessimism again. Span’s triple oddly unlocked Senzatela’s skills. As Colorado’s starter painted the zone, LeBlanc had a couple brush strokes go astray. Carlos Gonzalez and Story flicked home runs to put the Rockies in front 4-3 and set up Senzatela for his second straight win. The purple-clad pitcher tore through the next six hitters following Span’s triple. He would not falter again until losing Cruz on a seven-pitch walk to start the sixth inning.
Aside from those moments of relief I mentioned, another thing I generally ask from sports-watching is a sense of connection. I want to feel connected to the other people who are watching alongside me, in real life, cyberspace, or my imagination. Seeing Cruz buckle down and earn that walk made me feel like we were on the same wavelength of “do whatever it takes not to lose this game”. If only briefly, the base on balls put Senzatela back in a troubling spot.
Pitching with runners on base for the first time in two innings, Senzatela failed to keep them there. Cruz’s walk preceded a weak single through the shift by Seager. We can all thank modern scouting reports and data for that one, as the Rockies positioned themselves right out of a double play. Rather than Seager’s bleeder resulting in two outs and no one on, it flipped things to two on and no one out. Optimism flowers bloomed in my head thinking that the Mariners were bringing more of that craved relief.
It would experience a brief delay as Span looped lazy flyout to left field. Up strode Ryon Healy, in a high-leverage spot, carrying two secrets. The first was that he was about to blast a baseball into the farthest reaches of the solar system.
The second secret, and the most heartwarming, was the equipment responsible for liftoff. After triumphantly circling the bases, Healy skipped to the dugout and revealed the tool of success.
Ball game! Edi strikes out the side in the ninth for his 35th save and Ryon Healy drives in five -- including three on a homer hit with Mitch Haniger's bat -- to lead the @Mariners to a 6-4 win over Colorado.— 710 ESPN Seattle (@710ESPNSeattle) July 8, 2018
Postgame show: https://t.co/aYdBbdWFAI pic.twitter.com/LwVKDMU6kr
In the post-game interview with Jen Mueller, Healy said that his bats were in time out for the day. Healy’s punished bats watched from time out as their owner had fun without them, like when you’re mad at your dog not reciprocating your love so you show extra emotion toward someone else’s. The missile to left field locked up five RBI for Ryon, and his 18th bomb of 2018. He also burst through the wall of the Bat Flip Awards and demanded to be considered for this performance.
Seems rude to abuse a co-workers stuff like that, but maybe the Mariners’ office rules are chiller than mine. For instance, I would be politely asked to change clothes if I showed up to my job wearing a crooked baseball hat. Álex Colomé has a much cooler job than mine, one that allows him to live his dream while making millions and expressing himself via headwear. The flame-throwing reliever expressed himself today with a dominant display on the mound. K’ing the tricky trio of Raimel Tapia, DJ LeMahieu, and Charlie Blackmon in succession was my ultimate sweet relief of the day.
It coursed through my veins as Edwin Díaz shut the door with three K’s of his own. His league-leading save total improved, Díaz has a chance to challenge some big-time closer records, and could take the ball for the All-Star Game’s final inning.
Mueller fulfilled my desire for sports connection when she also hit on the relief motif. The always-excellent ROOT Sports reporter’s first question for Healy after the game asked if he felt a sense of relief from the win. Healy expertly switched into media mode, opting for “It was awesome to get a win”, but his underlying chuckle and goofy smile throughout the conversation suggested unbinding relief.
The shackles of pessimism fell to smithereens as soon as the final out was recorded. As I submit this recap and prepare to step outside into a superb Seattle afternoon, I do so with the relief that the Mariners have banked 57 wins a week before the All-Star break.