Earlier today, this really neat graphic came across my timeline:
How many times each final score has happened in MLB history...— Jeremy Frank (@MLBRandomStats) August 21, 2018
The 49-33 game happened on June 28, 1871. pic.twitter.com/H0CoITe83b
Unsurprisingly, the majority of Major League games played have been decided by three or fewer runs, with a 3-2 final edging out a 4-3 result as the most common outcome. The Mariners this year are no stranger to close games; although it’s taken a hit in the past six weeks or so, their one-run record was still excellent at 31-16 heading into today. And wouldn’t you know it, the pitching and defense did its job tonight! Tonight’s final score was statistically the most common in baseball history, and to a neutral observer, it was a fine game.
Unfortunately, we aren’t neutral observers here.
After it was announced about ninety minutes before game time that Mike Leake would be scratched with illness, I didn’t have high hopes about today, despite the fact that the Astros would also be emptying out their bullpen for tonight. Nick Vincent opening is fine and all, but the team just had a bullpen day on Sunday. Surely the just-recalled Ross Detwiler, he of the 5.31 FIP in Tacoma, the guy who they plucked out of the indy leagues two months ago, wouldn’t pitch most of the game?
Well, after Vincent threw two scoreless innings, none other than Detwiler took the mound. Unfortunately, he immediately ran into trouble, struggling to command both his fastball and floppy curve, and nineteen pitches later, things looked grim:
Houston blowing the game wide open felt like an inevitability, but Detwiler let just one run cross on a Carlos Correa sac fly before getting Marwin González to bounce into a double play. The exhale I made afterwards could have blown away at least a little bit of the smoke in the air.
In the bottom of the frame, it was the M’s turn to load the bases, though they were kind enough to give Houston an out in the process. After singles from Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura, Denard Span was plunked by a wayward curveball to set the stage for Kyle Seager. Kyle has struggled mightily all year, and the steep dropoff of his plate discipline skills have been the main culprit. Framber Valdez was in the midst of his big league debut, and the tightrope was starting to wobble. On a 3-2 count, a run did score! Not in the way you’d like to see, though:
What the heck was that swing, Kyle? Although he can’t be faulted for not running to first given that there were fewer than two outs, that was one of the uglier swings I’ve seen from him all season, and boy have there been plenty of them this year. Ryon Healy hit an easy grounder to Correa to end the frame, and Detwiler marched on.
I don’t care if he’ll likely be designated for assignment by the time I finish writing this: Ross Detwiler was a blast to watch all night after the third inning. While he was far from perfect, allowing a baserunner in nearly every frame and serving up the meatiest meatball to Josh Reddick...
...sequencing luck was on his side tonight, as he wormed five double plays out of Houston’s bats over six innings - the seventh was the only one where he didn’t get one due to setting down Max Stassi, Tony Kemp, and Alex Bregman in order. He made a noticeable adjustment after his bumpy start, leaning on his changeup more and more as he went deeper. This sequence to get Tyler White swinging was also delightful:
We probably won’t see Ross Detwiler in a Mariner uniform again - he was only here because emergencies forced him to be. Heck, we might not even see him in a Rainiers uniform after the season ends. To come out and toss six quality innings - however aided by sequencing they were - is nothing short of remarkable, and although he finished with a negative WPA, he gets my vote for player of the game. Hats off to you, Ross.
Unfortunately, as has been the theme lately, the bats couldn’t get it done against Valdez or Joe Smith. Things did get exciting in the bottom of the eighth, though. A Span leadoff single and another ugly Seager strikeout preceding him, Healy climbed in and battled his ass off:
Although the first two pitches were ones to obliterate - Ryon was visibly frustrated after fouling off the second one - everything else here is ideal. That take on pitch #9 for ball three was very impressive, and Stassi’s frame job made me think that Roberto Osuna (a reminder that heck the Astros) had him rung up. Instead, he blistered the very next pitch past Bregman for a hit, with Denard getting all the way to third.
After Healy was lifted for Andrew Romine, Ben Gamel poked a base hit through the right side of the infield. Armed with superior speed, Romine scampered to third base easily, and look who came out to pinch hit for Chris Herrmann!
Alas, while baseball sometimes likes to be magical, it is too often predictable. Nelson Cruz - coming in off the bench after being out of the lineup due to back spasms - went down on strikes, as did Dee Gordon. Dee’s at-bat in particular was pretty wince-inducing:
The ninth was wholly uneventful save for a sixth double play turned in the top of the inning, which set a single-game franchise record. Hoo... ray, I guess? Whatever. The fact that this game ended up being as close as it did given the circumstances is a moral victory in itself, if you’re into that sort of thing. The M’s have gone 6-3 in the nine crucial games against Oakland and Houston this month, which each loss being by a run. They’ve hung in there against their direct competition - I just worry that it will be moot come September. The A’s just can’t keep playing .750 ball like they have for the past two months to finish out the season. Regression has to be coming, right?