It’s hard to put into words just how wild, weird, and fun these first eight games have been. I mean, 7-1? Seven and one? At least one homer in every single game? A different guy notching the save in four straight games? I can confidently say that not even the wildest optimists would have seen this start coming.
Catch up on tonight’s game thread here:
What was most bizarre of all about tonight, though, was how much of the game was set to cruise control. Marco Gonzales, making his third start of the year on April 2nd (hey there’s some more of that weird for ya), was nothing short of dazzling. Facing a defanged Angels lineup composed of eight righties and one Kole, he leaned heavily on his cutter and changeup, flopping in a slow curve every now and then. Omar Narváez’s framing looked improved tonight, too, and he helped steal a called third strike on Albert Pujols to close out the first:
The lone hiccup was in the second inning, with Jonathan Lucroy barreling a hanging curve for a leadoff double and coming around to score on consecutive groundouts from Calhoun and Kevan Smith. Ugh. What an obnoxiously Angels way to take the lead. Fortunately, a harmless flyout from David Fletcher stopped any more damage, and the perpetually okay Trevor Cahill was the opposing pitcher. With the way the bats had been bashing everything in sight this homestand, it felt like only a matter of time before the M’s were back on top.
Except, frustratingly, it took a little while. Cahill’s sinker and cutter kept Seattle off balance through the first five innings, a Daniel Vogelbach double the only squared up ball. Tim Beckham, Ryon Healy, and Jay Bruce each had an ugly strikeout dealt to them, and although Marco was still dealing, a tough-luck loss was starting to get written on the margins of tonight.
Only in the sixth did the bats begin to awaken. Dee poked a one-out double just inside the first base line, and while Mallex Smith bounced out, a wild pitch brought the tying run to third. Mitch Haniger climbed in, the weight of two subpar plate appearances on his back. Mitch quickly fell into a hole, a cringey swing on a cutter bringing him to 0-2. Ever our good boy, though, he watched three different pitches all dive out of the zone, and smacked a hanging changeup into the left-field corner for the tie:
In the top of the seventh with two outs, Lucroy struck again, sending a good 1-1 changeup into center field for a single. This is noteworthy solely because it broke Marco’s string of Angels turned away at seventeen (!). That’s enough for At Bat to send out a perfect game notification! Despite striking out just three and only getting two (!!) swinging strikes all night, he was in complete control, with the cutter and change especially worming heaps of soft contact out of Anaheim’s bats.
Alas, as the game flew by (seriously, it went by in such a jiff tonight), the score remained tied. Not for much longer, though - after a warning track shot by Healy opened the eighth, our Large Adult Son made us all proud:
Hot damn. I remain unconvinced that his bat didn’t break on that swing, and its launch angle was just 20 degrees. Safe to say that this may be the wildest dinger of the season so far. Vogelbach was a late addition to tonight’s lineup due to Edwin Encarnación’s aching hand, and with those two and Bruce all hitting well so far, it appears we once again have a logjam at 1B/DH - the only difference being that this time all the players there are good.
Despite Mallex poking a single the other way, no more runs crossed, and Scott Servais made the correct decision to bring Marco back out for the ninth. Zack Cozart was put away by a routine flyout, and Gonzales unintentionally intentionally walked Mike Trout - a completely defensible move. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to put away Andrelton Simmons, who laced a 3-2 changeup past a diving Beckham to send Trout to third. Servais again made the right call to pull him, and gave the keys to the save tonight to... Anthony Swarzak? The guy who came off the injured list literally six hours ago? Who missed all of spring training? Alright.
Swarzak, however, assuaged my fears admirably, making Pujols look silly on a swinging strikeout for the second out and coaxing a grounder from Lucroy, although credit here mostly goes to Dee:
I can’t stop thinking the phrase “seven and one”. No other Mariners team has opened a year like this. And yes, it’s weird, unsustainable, and nerve-wracking, but it has been the opposite of boring. The infield defense and bullpen looked much better tonight, and while this torrid pace will undoubtedly slow in the coming weeks and months, I’m savoring every second I can snatch. After an off-day tomorrow, Yusei Kikuchi squares off against Reynaldo López in Chicago. Hope each of you can make it to breakfast baseball.