It’s a Friday night and I’m a regular person with a firm brain not significantly mangled by decades of Mariners-watching, so I did a normal Friday night thing and I watched this movie the kids have been talking about. It’s a movie called Professional Conference, or something like that I think.
The movie’s about this baseball team that isn’t supposed to be very good. In fact, the higher-ups have put together a team expected to produce a losing season. Like a butterfly, though, this team will emerge down the road as a much better version of itself - maybe as a team in Miami (this would not actually be better at all), or maybe as a legitimately competitive team. It’s been a long night that grows longer still. The specifics are slipping away.
Everything good had been taken away from this team - their elite closer, their sluggers, their ace - and those spots had been filled with a mismatched bunch of placeholders, trade bait and the old and/or washed. Funny things can happen, though, when you tell a group of professional athletes that nobody expects much from them. Sometimes they just want to prove everyone wrong. That was the case with our Mariners. In that movie that I’ve been talking about, where the Mariners play against their division rivals, the 2017 World Series Champion Houston Astros.
The Mariners, heading into the game with a franchise-best record of 13-2 to start the season, had a lot to prove. The teams they’d beaten so far had largely been losing teams, everyone’s been making a point to say. That same everyone wants to ignore the fact that, only a couple weeks into the season, those teams have losing records basically because they’ve played the Mariners. However, the Astros, with their bullpen full of starting pitchers and their stacked lineup, were obviously a bigger challenge.
This was not a matchup of aces - instead it was between two over-30 lefties named Wade, both coming off of pretty good years. Wade Miley, now for the Astros, started 16 games for the Brewers in 2018, posting an ERA of 2.57 (a huge improvement over previous years) and a WAR of 1.5. Wade LeBlanc started 27 games for the Mariners, posting an ERA of 3.72 and a WAR of 2.3.
Here are some synonyms for “wade:” wallow, slop, squelch, trudge, plod.
And the game did trudge. The Mariners’ offense forced Miley to throw 41 pitches in the first inning, with Mitch Haniger scoring on Tim Beckham’s bases-loaded single. The Mariners would add two more in the second inning when Haniger and Mallex Smith scored on a single from Domingo Santana. Wade Miley was pulled after four innings, having thrown 82 pitches.
LeBlanc looked pretty good, and was especially impressive in the first inning, coaxing a strikeout from George Springer rather than his usual leadoff home run. Springer would homer off LeBlanc in third inning, though, decreasing the Mariners’ lead to 3-2. With all the talk about Miley’s pitch count, LeBlanc’s pitch count was quietly pretty high as well, and after suffering an oblique strain he would leave the game in the fifth inning, having thrown 92 pitches. LeBlanc left runners on second and third, but reliever Shawn Armstrong, fresh off the IL with an oblique strain himself, got Tyler White to ground out to end the threat.
With the Wading Game over, things sped up but got weird. Armstrong loaded the bases in the 6th inning and gave up a grand slam to Jose Altuve, who really loves to hit home runs lately and has hit five in his last four games.
Ruben Alaniz made his major league debut pitching for the Mariners in the 7th inning. He gave up singles to Yuli Gurriel and Tyler White, but recorded his first strikeout (Robinson Chirinos) and got out of the inning unscathed. In the bottom half of the 7th, the Mariners still down 6-3, Dee Gordon singled and stole second, and scored on a wild pitch that hit home plate umpire Adam Hamari, knocking Hamari to the ground until the umpire realized a call needed to be made and pulled himself up in time to call Gordon safe. Smith would steal second, and then third after a failed pickoff attempt, and would score on a fielder’s choice to bring the score to 6-5. It was at this point I was 100% certain the Mariners would come back. That’s what the 2019 Mariners do.
Alaniz struggled in the 8th inning, loading the bases, but was left in. He gave up a grand slam to Yuli Gurriel and the score was 10-5. This isn’t how I want a pitcher’s debut to conclude - he shouldn’t have been left out to dry. Our bullpen, though, nightmare that it is, evidently doesn’t allow for the delicate treatment of a new pitcher. I’ll be looking forward to seeing more from him.
In the bottom of the 9th inning Tom Murphy led off with a home run to keep the streak alive, the Mariners having now hit at least one home run in all 16 games this season. It was at this point I was 100% certain the Mariners would come back. That’s what the 2019 Mariners do.
But cinema is nothing if not realistic, and not even the 2019 Mariners can win every day, especially against the Houston Astros and all those grand slams they’re always hitting. However, there will be other chances. There will be like 146 sequels. Mariners games are basically Disney movies in that way.