Baseball can be hard to follow intently as it drags through the dog days of summer. At least, that’s my experience as a Mariners fan. I’m sure fans of the Astros and the Yankees just adore every little bit of the season. They, however, are not given the equivalent of the world’s most difficult Where’s Waldo book: trying to find the joy in a Matt Wisler-into-Wade LeBlanc one-two punch.
Yesterday signaled the end of the dog days. We got a true downpour. Most Starbucks location now have the-drink-that-shall-not-be-named. We suddenly find ourselves staring down Labor Day weekend. With the end of the dog days comes the beginning of fall, and with the beginning of fall comes fall baseball.
Like dog day baseball, fall baseball is fun for the fans of a select few teams. The rest of us are left to find joy in the nuances of the game; we are left to try to love baseball for what it is, rather than what it could be. With the 57-78 Mariners set to play the 65-70 Rangers tonight, we were going to need a lot of help.
Fortunately, the Mariners had their best starter going tonight in Marco Gonzales. If it’s seemed to you like Marco has had an underwhelming season, it’s partially because he isn’t a dazzler. And as a control-focused, pitch-to-contact type of pitcher, he’d quietly put up 3.5 fWAR leading up to tonight. Last year’s breakout saw him put up 3.4 fWAR, and he’s already surpassed that.
Things seemed to go alright for Marco at first. He got a run of support in the top of the first when Mallex Smith and J.P. Crawford each got on base and Smith scored on an Austin Nola GIDP. With that run in his pocket, Marco induced weak contact three straight times in the bottom of the first.
In the second inning, however, Marco’s trademark command began to waver. The first warning sign was a leadoff double given up to Nick Solak. The second warning sign was the hard RBI double given up to Rougned Odor. Tom Murphy calls for a 1-0 sinker middle-outside.
The pitch does not end up middle-outside.
To his credit, Marco managed to settle down and might have gotten through the third, fourth, and fifth innings unscathed were it not for errors from J.P. Crawford and Kyle Seager. Kyle’s in particular led to an emotional outburst that seemed characteristic of the frustrations this team has experienced all season.
When the dust settled, Marco had given up three runs, though perhaps only one should have scored. Unfortunately, it was in the sixth that his wheels came off entirely. Marco missed a spot and Danny Santana obliterated the ball over the fence to make it 4-2.
Seemingly having lost the last of his command, Marco gave up another two walks and a double to make it 6-2, and Scott Servais had seen enough. He clearly wasn’t happy, because why would he be? When Marco has his command, he’s really good. When he doesn’t, he’s vulnerable. He’s usually good, but he wasn’t tonight. It happens.
Meanwhile, the bats were mostly quiet. The only Mariner who was able to do much of anything was Mallex Smith, who put up a 3-for-5 night highlighted by this inside-the-park “home run”.
It’s listed officially as a triple, which seems a bit generous. The ball would have been caught by a better fielder. The video is officially labelled as “Smith’s little league home run,” which feels like enough of a slight to cancel out the dubious triple ruling. These are how checks and balances are supposed to work, folks.
The Mariners never came back, but the other major highlight of the night was Erik Swanson. Swanson has worked entirely out of the bullpen since being recalled from Tacoma in July, and he’s looked like a changed man. He had an 8.10 ERA when he was called up. Since then, he’s dominated to the tune of a 3.06 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 17.2 innings pitched. It remains to be seen if he can transition this progress to the starter’s role, but his progress has been encouraging.
At the end, the Mariners were left with a typical August game, bereft of joy but for a few quirks and glimpses of hope. I suppose they’ve improved their draft position, but these are the games that make this part of the season feel like a drag. One month from now, though, the season will be over, and I’ll be right back to missing even the boring games like this.