Exactly one year ago today, the exact same starting pitching matchup - Marco Gonzales against Jakob Junis - squared off in this very stadium. The end result was... not great. Junis breezed through seven scoreless innings, surrendering just a lone hit and a pair of walks. Marco, on the other hand, needed a staggering 42 pitches just to get out of the first inning, and ended up allowing seven runs to score en route to a 10-0 drubbing. Woof.
Thankfully, aside from the matchup and start time, that’s where déjà vu started to end for the M’s.
Catch up on tonight’s game thread here:
After quickly setting down Mallex Smith and Domingo Santana, Junis was served a piping spoonful of Bray Juice:
Jay Bruce has nine hits on the year. Seven are home runs. This season, dude. Unfortunately, the Royals struck back immediately. Whit Merrifield led off the bottom of the frame by drilling a 3-1 fastball into the right-center gap for a triple, and came home two pitches later on an Adalberto Mondesi infield hit (side note - good Lord are all these new Royals fast). Marco was able to dig in and get Alex Gordon on a fairly routine 4-6-3 double play, though, and got Jorge Soler on a first-pitch flyout, finishing the inning with just eleven pitches thrown. Begone, déjà vu!
After an uneventful second (save a rope of a double from RyON), Bruce would add another run on an RBI groundout in the third, but once again, Kansas City grabbed it right back. Billy Hamilton led off by reaching second on an ugly dropped catch from Domingo, and scored from second on one-out sac fly from Mondesi.
I can’t even be that upset at Mallex taking a little long to get the ball back in; that’s some seriously impressive speed. Marco was able to work out of trouble once again, though, allowing a lucky double to Gordon before striking out Soler on a filthy changeup. So far, this contest looked a lot more favorable than last year’s, but Jakob Junis remained mostly uncracked.
Truth be told, Junis’s stuff was nasty tonight. His fastball - normally around 91-93 - had some extra oomph, routinely hitting 93-94, and his slider had some video game movement to it. Daniel Vogelbach and Dylan Moore both looked foolish flailing at it, each striking out twice, and Junis was able to collect six strikeouts. In short, it was the kind of matchup that one could expect even the good-hitting Mariner teams of the past few years to roll over against.
Not this team, though! Seattle’s lineup made him throw 94 pitches in just four innings of work, including a whopping 59 in his last two. Pounding out six hits and a walk in that span, seemingly every hitter put up a battle at the plate, and Dee Gordon snatched the lead with a two-run poke in the fourth:
Yeah, yeah, only one dinger is a mild bummer, but this was a truly impressive offensive showing by the Mariners tonight. Despite Junis’s slider doing some serious damage and plenty of whiffs, they stuck to their game plan, ground out at-bats, and grabbed a quartet of runs from a guy whose stuff was playing up. That’s a big win in my book. They would grab another pair of runs in the seventh off of something called Glenn Sparkman, one on a Healy sacrifice fly that gave us this beautiful image...
...and another on a Dylan Moore flare into right field. Yay insurance!
Marco also held up his end of the bargain, looking mostly sharp in his six-plus innings of work. I noticed him flopping in a ton of curveballs his third time through the Royals’ order, and he used a generous dash of high fastballs to great success. Alas, he would depart the seventh with runners on the corners and nobody out, leaving Rule 5 guy and possibly best reliever Brandon Brennan to stop any bleeding. Brennan served up a sac fly to Hamilton, but was able to escape with just the one run crossing, largely due to Dee knocking down a line drive from Merrifield just enough to force a big second out.
Brennan was sent out for another inning of work, and was noticeably less sharp. Leading off the inning by giving up another hit to Alex Gordon on a hanging changeup, he managed to get a force before walking pinch-hitter Ryan O’Hearn (add another to the Create-A-Player name pile). Dee worked his magic again, flipping a Hunter Dozier grounder to Moore for the second out and committing highway robbery against Chris Owings:
Throw in three hits, including the eventual game-winner, and a stolen base, and this was bar none one of Dee’s best games in a Mariner uniform. Fully healthy, he has been a joy to watch once again, and while you’d of course like to see a few more walks, I’ll take a barrage of singles and swiped bags any day. Anthony Swarzak worked a scoreless ninth for the save, and all was well in Marinerland for yet another night.
So much good stuff happened, y’all. I didn’t even mention Vogey having two doubles and a single! It should come as a surprise to nobody that they aren’t going to bash multiple home runs every single game, but the approach and fight they showed at the plate tonight suggests that maybe there’s more to this offensive surge that’s real than we thought. Yusei Kikuchi goes tomorrow against another Create-A-Player in Heath Fillmyer, and I’m anxious to see the M’s control the zone and battle even more. And hey, maybe they can get Kikuchi his first big league win, huh?