Today, looking to add some spice to an otherwise ho-hum game between two bad teams, I decided to watch the Mariners-Blue Jays game on the visiting broadcast. SportsNet, the flagship sports network of Canada, has one of my favorite scoreboard and graphic aesthetics of any telecast in the league as well as some of the best announcers, which is an actual thing that I devote brain storage to.
As the 2019 season stumbles to an end, there’s only so many ways to find interest in the Mariners. Something that I’m often curious about is how our beloved franchise is perceived by the rest of the country, and in this case, the country immediately above us. This led me to the AWAY link on the trusty MLB Reddit thread for Sunday’s game. Not only did I want a different perspective than Dave Sims’ and Mike Blowers’, but I also have a bit of pleasant comfortability with the SportsNet family thanks to years of streaming the Bautista-Encarnación Blue Jays and Lowry-DeRozan Raptors.
From 2014-2017, the Blue Jays were one of my favorite teams to watch, both because of their fun mix of players and a wonderful team of commentators. Today, Dan Shulman fielded play-by-play duties while Pat Tabler handled color commentary. Apart from the basic things like voice, cadence, and timbre, the duo is insightful about the game and shows genuine enthusiasm for a team that’s 31.5 games out of the AL East lead. They also had some Mariner takes that vary from the ones we’re perennially subject to. For instance, they noted that Kyle Seager is hard to defend because he hits the ball to all fields (objectively not true of the 24.7% career opposite field hitter), and gushed about the “exciting outfield prospects” in the Mariners system (something most of us know about, but likely doesn’t get much attention outside the Northwest).
In addition to being a dynamite game-calling duo, Shulman and Tabler also shared some interesting anecdotes throughout Sunday’s matinee:
· They are absolutely fed up with seeing the Seager brothers. Kyle entered today with a .368/.455/.842 line in five games against Toronto and added an RBI double in the fourth inning. Corey hit four doubles in a recent three-game set with the Jays, including one that tied the game in the bottom of the ninth.
· Both men raved about the city of Seattle and poked fun at their ignorant Eastern Canada-based colleagues who reduce Seattle to the land of incessant rain. Pat Tabler even went as far as saying “Every time I’m here, it’s sunny.” It’s possible that Pat Tabler is in the pocket of Big Seattle.
· In a fun twist on the Toronto fan invasion, both Shulman and Tabler marveled at a report they heard that border crossing stations on Saturday morning had wait times as long as six (!!!) hours. Each man also wondered aloud why central Canadian residents don’t just save their energy and mobilize to Minnesota every year rather than Seattle. Thank you so much for being brave enough to put this idea into the world, Dave and Pat. Mariner fans owe you a Molson.
There was of course some weirdness to watching a game without the rhythms of Root Sports. The SportsNet experience includes the live strike zone overlaid on to the screen, which I prefer less than the tracer flashing after each pitch. You also get multiple hours of professional broadcasters not thinking twice about Clay Buchholz pitching an MLB game, which was strange because if you had told me this morning that Clay Buchholz was in the Mexican league I would have totally believed you.
The Blue Jays’ visual experience also showed the hitters’ actual name when they were in the box, rather than Root Sports’ insistence on displaying their Players’ Weekend name. While fun, harmless silliness is sort of the entire point of this weekend, it was nice not having to decipher who MR. SEEDS or B DRU were.
As far as the actual game, Seattle was buoyed by a prototypical Marco Gonzales outing. He fooled the Blue Jays’ young and overzealous hitters with cheeky pitch sequencing, disguising his darting changeups as hittable fastballs while behind in the count. Seeing Gonzales, who has quietly been one of the American League’s best pitchers for two years, carve through an inexperienced lineup was quite encouraging.
Of the countless clichés that sports fans consume, one that I actually buy into is the true mettle of a team/player coming out against bad opponents. Struggling with a punchless team, whether because of poor execution, lack of focus, or not taking the task at hand seriously, can be wildly troubling. Just ask the Phillies, who would be in much better shape if not for a losing record against the Marlins. In shutting down an offense that ranks 21st in runs, Marco Gonzales proved his effectiveness and avoided the trap of playing down to a weak team.
Gonzales breezed through seven innings, throwing 67 of his 99 pitches for strikes and notching five K’s. The most important moment of the afternoon came one inning later, when the Jays put runners on second and third with two outs, squeezing Sam Tuivailala into a tough spot. With the tying run 180 feet away, Tui fed Rowdy Tellez a steady diet of balls up in the zone, then retired him on a savvy pitch at the knees.
Matt Magill grabbed the baton from Tui and aggressively pointed the Blue Jays caravan back to Canada. The Mariners’ latest closer danced around a one-out double to earn his fourth save, eliciting incredulous queries from Shulman and Tabler about how a guy with a 96 MPH fastball and pinpoint control could be acquired so easily.
Now keep telling your viewers how nice Minnesota summers are, please and thank you.