Tonight the Mariners proved again that no matter what, they are a better team than the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, USA. Tonight also I am reminded again of what a Pyrrhic victory is, and how of all the various gods I know, the baseball ones seem to especially delight in mischief and monkey-paws.
At the beginning of the season, with low expectations for the team and crushed at losing out on Ohtani, I told myself that I’d be satisfied if this team looked like it was laying the foundation for next year, if they could just beat—or even hold serve with—the Angels in their matchups. I wasn’t even expecting the Mariners would finish ahead of the Angels, widely proclaimed as winners of the off-season; I just wanted them to play well against them. Fast forward through the remainder of the cold winter months, the muddied roads of spring, and a scorching run from the Mariners over the first few months of summer, and suddenly the Mariners were the towering giants of the division. The Mariners haven’t played well since those early months of summer—really, since the apocalyptic smoke rolled in, because the universe has given up being subtle in its imagery lately—but they are going to honor that monkey paw promise, dangit.
It’s hard to find joy in what are essentially meaningless games, but there’s also a certain freedom in being able to watch games without stress, just for what they are. Roenis Elias, arguing for a place with the team next year, started off with two of the sharpest innings I’ve seen him pitch all season, if not in his career. Over 3.2 innings Elías surrendered just one hit and no runs, starting out with four strikeouts in his first two innings, three of them consecutive. He was able to work around a leadoff double in the third where Jose Fernandez swung out of his shoes and laced a ball into left, and a walk to Kangaroo Cholera that really should have been his fifth strikeout. Servais lifted Elías at just 58 pitches, but his fastball was still sitting 94-95 at that point, having topped out at 96. Most encouragingly, the curveball—which has been largely without bite since returning from being shipped off to Boston—looked good and nasty tonight, and equally effective to both lefties and righties, as Elías retired both Trout and Ohtani with the pitch. With his improved changeup (thanks, Boston!), if the curveball stays consistent and the velocity bump can be sustained—plus an interesting arm slot wrinkle—Elías has the potential to beef up a thin rotation.
Also from the Department of Joy tonight: Dee Gordon’s first-ever home run robbery. Off Mike Trout. Because of course it was.
Dee, ever-modest, on the catch: “That was lucky. I don’t know what I’m doing out there.”
Dee Gordon is something else, man. pic.twitter.com/SmzhI8u7wD— Fabian Ardaya (@FabianArdaya) September 15, 2018
(I’m just listening to the radio call now and haha, Rizzs was so fooled. “And...it’s gone.” Rizzs had reason to be fooled, though, from Dee’s reaction, sliding to the dirt.)
Dee would also have a two-run RBI off a 98 mph Hansel Robles single that essentially salted the game away, so go ahead Dee, have your moment.
When your first splash play in CF is robbing Trout of a HR, you get to celebrate pic.twitter.com/wtOaYfMMfM— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) September 15, 2018
The Mariners would get their other three runs off Matt Shoemaker in the fourth, after being held to just one hit over the first three innings. Mitch Haniger did Mitch Haniger things to get on base, then advanced to second on a pickoff error. Segura and Canó followed up with back-to-back singles, and then Ryon Healy contributed a clutch two-out single that scored both runners. It was also a multi-hit night for Mike Zunino, and Ryon Healy walked, and Seager got a hit, so all that last-minute cramming is paying off. I mean, not in the way that will get us to the playoffs or anything, but maybe enough to scrape a passing grade on the season. The bullpen also slunk into some study carrels, with Warren, Armstrong, Vincent, Duke, and Cook all contributing scoreless innings. Cook’s inning, even staked to a 5-0 lead, was the only particularly wobbly one, and Armstrong was again impressive, going 1-2-3 against Fletcher-Trout-Ohtani with a strikeout of Trout, who was held hitless tonight.
There was a gentleman on the broadcast tonight, coming through loud and clear over the dim fog of duck calls from the obscenely red promotional giveaways handed out at the ballpark tonight. He offered encouragement to the Angels players, even—especially—the ones whose names I didn’t recognize, like pinch-hitter Francisco Arcia. “Come on, Cisco,” he cajoled. “See ball, hit ball.” “You’re right back in it,” he called when reliever Robles finally found the strike zone. As I excitedly made notes about Armstong’s inning, I felt an odd sense of connection with this stranger, versed as he was in the parade of Angels fringe-minor-leaguers, each of us pulling hard for our guys to come through; doing so over a meaningless game, sure, but pulling hard, nonetheless.