On Monday night the Mariners invited their beleaguered division rivals to hang out. The Rangers have struggled and the Mariners felt bad for them. “Hey, look. We’ve won fewer games since the All-Star Break than you have,” the Mariners texted the Rangers Sunday night. “Why don’t you come over tomorrow? We’ll play a competitively uninspiring game, and you can rebuild your confidence.” The Rangers, depleted from being swept in an important series against the Astros, responded with relief, “Yeah, that sounds amazing, can we bring anything?” “Just bring yourselves!” The Mariners responded cheerfully.
Maybe it was the stress of losing. Maybe the Rangers were just in a bad place. Whatever the reason, the night did not go as the Mariners had planned. It was evident in the top of the first inning that things would go askew. You see, the Rangers brought that friend. You know, the one who makes things awkward. Sometimes they tell a joke that just doesn’t land. Sometimes they don’t read the room well. They just have a way of making everything uncomfortable. In the top of the first inning, Hunter Pence popped up a ball foul. Kyle Seager went after it, and the Ranger’s friend thought it would be funny to reach in front of Seager’s glove and take the catch and the out away from him:
Not cool Ranger’s friend. Given another chance, Hunter Pence singles off of Marco Gonzales and drives in Elvis Andrus, who had reached on a ground-rule double. Pence effectively laughed at his friend’s bad joke, leaving the Mariners feeling a little salty. The Mariners, the empathetic team that they are, ignored it for the time being and went down 1-2-3 in their half of the first.
Emboldened, the Rangers decided to pick on the Mariners some more in the second inning. Single, single, single and suddenly Gonzalez found himself pitching with the bases loaded behind him and no outs. Suddenly, the Mariners weren’t feeling so charitable. Gonzales struck out the next batter. Then, former Mariner Shin-Soo Choo decided to taunt his former friends with a single to score a runner. Gonzales fired back with a strikeout of Danny Santana. This is when the Rangers should realized the Mariners weren’t having fun and weren’t enjoying the joking. But Elvis Andrus became a foul ball machine. He forced Gonzales to throw him twelve pitches before flying out to Domingo Santana to end the inning. When the twelfth pitch was the thrown, the count was only 2-2. Rude.
The Mariners decided empathy was wasted on their rivals and decided to establish boundaries. With one out, Omar Narvaez singled and Tim Beckham walked. Kyle Seager came to the plate and, perhaps still feeling salty over the foul ball, sarcastically hit a fly ball to left field. “See,” he muttered as he scuffled back to the dugout, “THAT’S how you hit an appropriate fly ball out.”
Austin Nola stepped up to the plate. He was fairly new to the team and he wanted to prove he was with the rest of the guys. The best way, he knew, would be an unequivocal statement to the Rangers that you don’t mess with the Mariners. He wasted no time and grabbed a hold of the first pitch he saw:
Marco Gonzales smiled gleefully as he watched his teammate round the bases. “You want to play, Rangers?,” he thought deviously. “Then, let’s play.” Gonzales would command the mound and the strike zone from that point on, sending eleven straight Rangers right back to their spot in the dugout. Roughned Odor decided to test him with a two-out single in the top of the sixth inning. Kyle Seager fired back with an incredible play on an Asdrubal Cabrera ground ball:
Gonzales would pitch a full seven innings and leave with a pitch count of 111, staggering considering the way the Rangers “joked around” with him the first couple innings. Now the Rangers know, you can only push Marco for so long before he pushes back.
The Mariner offense added two more runs in the bottom of the fourth inning. Tim Beckham led off with a double and Seager followed with a walk. After a Nola pop out, Dylan Moore contributed a single to load the bases. Mallex Smith got in on the fun by singling home Beckham and Seager. The Mariners added another run in the bottom of the sixth when J.P. Crawford singled home Nola.
The Mariners would add their last home run in the bottom of the eighth inning when Kyle Seager decided to he wanted to issue a gentle reminder of ownership to the Rangers:
On the pitching side, Anthony Bass came on to relieve Gonzales, pitching an uneventful eighth inning. Cory Gearrin followed him and decided to try out a few jokes of his own. I get it, the bullpen is isolated from the rest of the players. It’s easy to feel left out, and he must have thought that a few quips would let him feel like part of the fun. Unfortunately, he didn’t read the room well. He allowed a lead off home run to Odor. He tried to make up for it with two quick outs, but followed those with a walk and a hit by pitch. Roenis Elias came in from the bullpen to smooth things over. One pitch later, the game was over.
The Mariners and Rangers eyed each other resentfully. An evening they thought would be a pleasant gathering took a turn as those types of evenings often do when you’re mired in frustration. There will be an awkward text exchange in the morning, and things will eventually be worked out between the teams.
For tonight, the Mariners are proud they didn’t let the Rangers take advantage of them. “We set a boundary and we stuck to it!” they nod happily. Something to grow on. A skill to draw upon over the coming months when it will be easy to sit back and let teams run over them.