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About last night: in praise of Edwin Encarnación

In the middle of a losing season, Edwing gave Mariners fans a piece of history

Seattle Mariners v Cleveland Indians
Edwin, you flew that parrot straight into our hearts
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Sometimes, someone comes into your life for just a brief time, but manages to make an outsize impression. The fellow wedding attendee who has also escaped dry cake and the Chicken Dance for a beer and a slice in town; the seatmate on a cross-country redeye who is the only other insomniac on board; the person who is leaving just as you’re starting a new job, and on their last day you realize the two of you would have been best office friends.

Watching Edwin Encarnacion this spring, it seemed no wonder the Mariners weren’t able to trade him. Encarnación looked every bit the aged slugger going through the motions as he grounded out weakly in at-bat after at-bat as he whiled away the first few innings of the 12 games he played in Arizona. Sure, EE had a reputation as a bit of a slow starter, but with the exception of last season, he’d always gotten his big hits in, slugging .450 or better in the spring every year since 2011. This spring, the parrot didn’t take a single ride. Maybe, then, this was it for the 36-year-old. After all, not everyone can be Nelson Cruz.

But from the instant the stage lights came up on the season, Edwing has taken flight. Always a player who’s posted strong plate discipline numbers, Encarnación has shaved almost four points off last year’s K% (still a very manageable 23%, but he’s cut that down to where his K-BB rates are rubbing elbows with each other). He’s making it clear that 2018 was the anomaly, not a trend, as his numbers have jumped back in line with what he produced in 2017, and if he stays on-track, to what he produced in his All-Star 2016 campaign. EE has already surpassed the total WAR he accumulated last year, and he’s done it while playing in the field more than in recent years. His 20 HRs lead all DHs and he’s second in ISO to teammate Daniel Vogelbach. (The two least-valuable DHs in the league? Yonder Alonso of the White Sox and—wait for it—Jake Bauers, Edwin’s replacement in Cleveland, a team theoretically in contention for a Wild Card.)

Of course, these numbers essentially guarantee Encarnación will be out the door sometime soon. Joe has been looking at some potential landing spots for EE this week, and will continue to do so. Unlike Jay Bruce, Edwin has a much easier contract to get out from under, and while he’s still a rental, he should net the Mariners something medium-nifty.

I can’t help myself from wanting that day to not come for a while, though. There is so little joy to be had on the big-league club this year, and Encarnación destroying a baseball and then taking a second to admire his handiwork is a thing that sparks joy.

Like his start to the season was a slow burn, so has Edwin slowly become one of my favorite Mariners, for the dingers, sure, but also for his very expressive face. Like the time when J.A. Happ, who had already hit Dee Gordon in the game, went high and tight on EE, and then the catcher had the nerve to check down to see if he swung. Edwin was NOT amused.

Or the time he was even less amused about playing in the rain:

But generally, Edwin always seems amused by the proceedings around him, like a wealthy dowager smirking behind an embroidered fan in a Regency drawing room.

Maybe the people I’ve appreciated the most in my life are those who have taught me not to take myself so seriously, like the hairstylist I went to in a JC Penney’s in Roanoke, Virginia during college. “Honey, you’re up here,” he told me, gesturing with a round-bristle brush to where I was sitting at the edge of the chair and imitating my tense posture. “And I need you back there.” He demonstrated relaxing his shoulders, sitting back, and letting the professional be the professional. It’s advice I’ve repeated to myself for years over the decade-plus since I heard it, whenever I’ve caught myself being up here when I should be back there. I’ll miss Edwin when he’s traded, but I’ll remember two things from his tenure as a Mariner: seeing the parrot take a ride around the bases, and the importance of not taking yourself too seriously.

Congratulations, Edwin, and thanks.