There are games, and stretches of games, that make you question fandom. Not in the self-pitying why oh why am I a freaking mariners fan way, but in a why am I a fan of one particular team kind of way. I was excited about Felix Hernandez start, energized to watch my favorite team play baseball against my least favorite team. For so many seasons he was all we had to feel good about; it was Felix and you couldn’t have him. And then the game started and every dinger hit I thought to myself, Why do I feel like I just gave up that home run? Why do I feel so bad about myself? Why do I care?
In social psychology there is a concept called BIRGing, or Basking In Reflected Glory, that helps to explain fandom and why I feel so shitty when we lose. BIRGing posits that individuals will choose to associate themselves with success of others and in turn feel as if they are the ones who have succeeded. Think only wearing jerseys after the team wins. Think My Child is a B+ Student at Wherever bumper stickers. Think using self-identifying language when a team is successful (we won) and distancing when the team loses (the Mariners lost). That second part, the disassociation? That’s called Cutting Off Reflected Failure, or CORFing. As Mariners fans our lives have been more CORF than BIRG.
Well the Mariners just lost. Prepare to CORF.
THINGS TO CORF:
Felix Hernandez’s first three innings.
This is going to really CORF you up. I pointed out in the game thread what others have pointed out before me: Felix is throwing his curve more than ever and he’s throwing more first-pitch strikes than ever. I was worried for tonight, though, that having one pitch and a tendency to put it in the zone early would be trouble in a small ballpark.
Let’s check-in to see how it worked here.
It started out with two fastballs for strikes on DJ LeMahieu and it seemed like the trend would continue. Then he hit a double on a change. OK, fine. He’ll get ahead of the next hitter and then...
Luke Voit hit a dong on a first-pitch sinker at the knees.
Neither of the first inning hits look like mistakes, because they weren’t. It’s telling that Voit was geared up to swing early in the count and Felix’s 88mph sinker, even when well located, can be demolished if a hitter is looking for it.
That would be a theme throughout the first three innings. As his 2nd inning looked like this:
The hits were off of his sinker, four-seam, change, and only one of them off his curveball (pulled just down the line). It was a rough.
In total, Felix threw 15 of 23 first pitch strikes for a 65% strike rate. Below his season total, but high.
But here’s the tradeoff: when hitters made contact, they left at an average velocity of 102 mph. Two of Felix’s home runs were on first pitch strikes.
Down 6-0 in 2 innings against the Yankees. My heart hurt. For Felix, but also for me, who identifies with the Mariners and with Felix, the face of the Mariners. I could feel myself deflating, I could feel myself wondering—why do I do this? I was CORFing, trying to protect myself from the loss of self-esteem.
The Mariners un-clutchness.
I thought the game was over in the third inning. I hoped it was. As someone who was monitoring my self-esteem throughout the contest it is easier to CORF when you know there is no chance at glory. But the Mariners would let me cut them out completely.
After scoring three on a pair of home runs, the Mariners built themselves a rally in the 5th.
Edwin Encarnacion singled, Tim Beckham singled, Domino walked and Jay Bruce approached with the bases loaded. Jay Bruce who, by the way, had hit a grand slam the game before. Who also is the most likely player in all of baseball to hit the ball in the air (58% FB rate) in a ballpark that Dee Gordon had just homered in with this swing:
My confidence increased, I felt myself opening up to the possibility of increased self-worth. We’d be tied with one swing of the bat. I could allow myself to say we would be tied. I, somehow, from my one bedroom apartment in California surrounded by cats and fish and dirty dishes, would have tied the game along with the Mariners.
The tide remained unchanged (you cannot change a tide unless your name is The Literal Moon). This outcome is incredibly rare for Jay Bruce based on his performance to date. He strikes out on 30% of PA. He flies out 60% of the time on balls in play, and 20% of the time he barrels the ball. Regression was coming, we knew that, but you’d hope it would also regress his BABiP at the same time. But you shouldn’t hope. You should CORF.
In the sixth inning, they loaded the bases again. For the second time in two innings I imagined how it would feel to tie the game. I imagined too how it would feel to fail again. With one out and the bases loaded Mitch Haniger came to the plate. He’d been struggling, but Jerry Dipoto recently called him “clutch” on The Wheelhouse which means he was destined to succeed.
Instead, he flew out on a shallow fly to left. Which prompted the left fielder to do this:
That’s just the kind of society we live in, I guess.
All told, the Mariners (not me or you no way) left 8 men on base and could not muster a clutch base hit off the Yankees.
There was much to CORF in this game.
THINGS TO BIRG
Felix Hernandez’s last two innings
After struggling in the first two innings and giving up a couple of hard hit balls for one run in the third, Felix worked quickly through the fourth and fifth, throwing only 6 fastballs on his 19 pitches to get through both innings without allowing a hit. He leaned heavily on the breaking stuff, kept the ball out of the zone at a higher rate, and didn’t throw any sinkers in the strike zone at all.
Overall his pitch mix looked like the time I tried to race worms on a summer sidewalk and all of them but one died.
Felix adapted in the latter innings. It wasn’t pretty and I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but he essentially abandoned his fastballs completely and started throwing sliders and curveballs in and around the strike zone until the Yankees swung.
Something to BIRG on for him going forward.
Domingo Santana returns to lineup, our hearts
After struggling mightily at every aspect of the game of baseball, Domingo Santana shook off the rust of the losing streak and hit a two run bomb in the second. In the fifth he made this catch on a 105 mph line drive from Miguel Andjuar that had an expected BA of .580.
He didn’t have to run far to get it, but the route was direct, the jump well timed, and he had the confidence to haul in the catch smoothly. This was a moment I was proud to associate myself with.
Ryon Healy’s groin recovery
After sitting for the last few games with a stiff groin (fun fact: Unexpected Stiff Groin is a condition that also plagues countless middle school boys) Ryon Healy was back in the lineup. He walked, singled, and tested out his groin’s elasticity with the most hustled-out play I have ever seen at third:
I know he is likely the odd-man-out when Seager comes back (and he should be), but I will BIRG on the plays that Healy makes all the same.
Connor Sadzeck and Chasen Bradford not sucking
With the CORFable bullpen being held together by thoughts and prayers, Connor Sadzeck has emerged to allow us to BIRG on a big 98mph fastball and a tight 91 mph slider. He generated two swinging strikes in his two innings and struck out a pair of Yankees. If he can continue to control his big-time stuff he should continue to make us feel good about ourselves. Which is all we really want.
Chasen Bradford’s pitch chart:
He threw eight sliders and half of them generated swinging strikes. This is good. I can identify with this.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND THE SCIENCE OF FANDOM
We’re all fans of teams for our own reasons. Many of those are driven by nostalgia for success at impressionable ages, or else handed down to us through family. Whatever the reason, if you are reading this the Mariners are likely part of your identity. You know that the Mariners have not been good in a very long time. You know that they will likely continue to lose this year. And yet you are still here, you still identify with the team despite not being able to do what social psychology finds as one of the greatest motivators for sports watching. You have chosen to identify with something that does not bring you glory, has not brought you glory in years, without the guarantee of success in the future. Maybe this is a depressing thought, maybe it’s insanity, but I think it’s extraordinary and strange and kind of great.
Look at the Yankees. They have won more championships than any other team. They’ve been good almost the entirety of my life. It’s the main reason they have so many fans (including several of my friends): they all get to BIRG on their team. They tie their identity to something that more often than not, every year, boosts their self-esteem, builds their confidence, and allows for an excess of unearned pride. They flirt with the darker side of BIRGing—Deindividuation, or the inability to separate the accomplishments of others with their own. Deindividuation produces the unattractive and abrasive quality of believing you are socially attractive to everyone despite no evidence and having accomplished nothing.
For the longest time the Mariners only had Felix to BIRG on, and the Yankees wanted him to add to their already sky high egos. Today we have hit, while not bottom, a low point in that rivalry. I suggest that our ability to hang on to hope and identify with a team despite not getting boosts to our ego in return makes us stronger people, with more resilient self-images. We can’t root in order to boost our self-esteem, and so we adapt, we stay humble. I mean, I don’t blame you if you CORFed this game. I don’t blame you if you CORF this entire year. But I know that when we finally BIRG, we will have earned every ounce of glory.