I like to think of September baseball like indie art: consumed by few, understood by even less, but adored by a specific subset of people.
Once Labor Day comes and goes, the mainstream sports attention tends to shift toward the gridiron. Even with baseball technically operating under its highest regular-season stakes – and football doing the opposite – America still sides with the NFL’s Avengers over MLB’s arthouse flick.
What these people fail to understand is that beneath the hipster veneer and sanctimonious explanations there is actually a lot of objective greatness in September baseball. Take tonight’s Mariners vs. Astros game. On paper, the Mariners stood no chance. Facing maybe the most complete team of this decade, who still have their foot on the gas pedal, Seattle could be forgiven for laying this one down. Considering the hitters had to face Gerrit Cole at the absolute height of his powers, and the pitchers had to tussle Springer, Altuve, Bregman & Sons, you’d understand if they went quietly into the early-autumn drizzle.
But like with most indie productions, a sparkly-eyed, relatively unknown youth commanded the attention. Just two days beyond his 24th birthday, Mariners’ right-hander Justin Dunn summited the mound for his first true test as an MLB employee. Here’s a fun look at the initial five hitters that Dunn was tasked with defeating.
George Springer: .292/.378/.592, 38 HR, 94 RBI, 149 OPS+, 154 wRC+
José Altuve: .300/.357/.552, 30 HR, 70 RBI, 133 OPS+, 140 wRC+
Michael Brantley: .315/.377/.504, 21 HR, 86 RBI, 129 OPS+, 135 wRC+
Alex Bregman: .293/.419/.585, 39 HR, 108 RBI, 160 OPS+, 165 wRC+
Yuli Gurriel: .305/.350/.550, 30 HR, 102 RBI, 131 OPS+, 136 wRC+
The Astros could only muster an Altuve single against Dunn and his blonded ‘fro. After getting Gurriel to pop out meekly on the infield, Dunn completed his Tuesday night masterpiece. Sharing the screen like characters in Euphoria, Dunn and Tucker went toe-to-toe in a battle of young hotshots, resulting in a memorable scene.
By limiting him to two innings, the Mariners dropped Dunn into a classic fight or flight scenario. Six outs doesn’t seem like too much in a vacuum, but when those six outs have to come against the Monstars, the potential for disaster multiplies. Credit Dunn for rising to the occasion and gliding through the trickiest obstacle course of his young career. Knowing his surroundings, Dunn acclimated accordingly and mixed in his slider early in counts. While some of them hung terrifyingly in the top of the zone, he still kept the Astros off-balance by going to the pitch when they least expected it. In turn, Dunn elicited nothing but weak contact from the established vets, and ended by flexing all over Houston’s heralded prospect. Not bad for a guy still establishing credibility against the titans of his industry.
Back to the Astros, though. These guys are a powerhouse capable of rocking any stadium in the country. A real band’s band, if you will. The ‘Stros can wow both their peers and know-it-all insiders, but also mesmerize fans with the sheer force of their talent. As their 2019 tour hits its final dates, Bregman looks like he could hit home runs blindfolded and Cole could strike out ten guys in his sleep.
If Justin Verlander is the lead singer, Gerrit Cole is the guitarist with mystique. Everything about Cole – from his low key demeanor (close your eyes and try to imagine what his voice sounds like) to his beard and luscious curls – screams unassuming rock star. Here he is next to the Kings of Leon to really drive home the point.
Oozing with confidence and utterly fed up with these weekday gigs in empty venues, Cole showed up on time, played the hell out of his set, and left. In a seven-inning domination of the lowly M’s, Cole schooled them in every aspect of performance. His final line shows 14 strikeouts and just two hits with zero walks. This makes no mention of the fact that he set the Astros’ single-season record for strikeouts tonight, or that he logged 50 strikeouts and one walk in four starts against the 2019 Mariners. Tonight, and really all season, Cole could play it straight when need be, or crank it up to 11 when the situation called for it. To be sure, he also understands the performance art of it all and could have a little fun punking his inferiors.
Gerrit Cole, 91mph Bohemian Rhapsody Slider. ☠️— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 25, 2019
"Mama, just killed a man..." pic.twitter.com/prxcRbRsGE
The Mariners did not win tonight, and that is totally okay. They were dropped into a Battle of the Bands at the last minute with a wonky set list and they sure played like it. Justin Dunn did his job and did it well, while Tommy Milone took the next 4.1 innings and gave up three runs, more than enough for Houston to support Cole. If we’re looking for silver linings, the Mariners’ rookies had the opportunity to square up with the best, and the ones still in the minors who were here to see the show got a glimpse of how it’s supposed to be done.
Logan Gilbert, Cal Raleigh and Evan White are in the Mariners clubhouse for the rest of the season. They are not on the active roster but are here to observe and get used to the big league schedule and routine.— Jen Mueller (@JenTalksSports) September 25, 2019
Take note, kids, and come back in a few years when you’re ready to sell out T-Mobile Park and melt everybody’s faces.