One of my college courses college taught us about the uncertainty reduction theory. It basically says that people have an inherent need to acquire basic information in order to ease themselves into a new situation. Once this information is acquired, it becomes much easier to predict future behavior, which is critical in building and maintaining a relationship.
Entering the 2020 season, we had extraordinarily little familiarity with these Mariners, and several mountains of uncertainty. Not only did the pandemic flip everyone’s lives upside down and delay the season for months, but when we were finally able to see the Mariners again, we were reminded how inexperienced this group is. Seattle fields the youngest roster in all of Major League Baseball. Two players in the starting lineup were making their big-league debuts, already a daunting and terrifying ordeal, but they also had to do it against one of the best pitchers of his generation. These youngsters bravely marched into Houston tonight, uncertainty replacing the juice that normally fills Minute Maid’s bandbox.
It only took until the second inning for some of that uncertainty to get launched into the stratosphere.
A 438-foot, 111 MPH rocket off a future Hall of Famer is a great way to reduce the behavioral uncertainty that clouds the beginning of a new situation. The Mariners and Astros are occupying completely disparate ends of the baseball spectrum this year: Seattle as the congealing team trying to figure out how their pieces fit, Houston as one of the most certain juggernauts in the league. To see Kyle Lewis cast doubt aside in the form of a Pujolsian home run is what communication scholars call, fittingly, the exit stage of uncertainty. You’d be hard pressed to find a better physical manifestation of doubt removal than a home run that lands in a different area code.
If there was any player that we could count on heading into the great unknown, it was our 10-year veteran at third base. Kyle Seager has seen, done, and experienced just about everything you can on a baseball field.* While a game against the Astros without the traditional sounds of trash can percussion was probably jarring at first, Seager seemed to settle in by his fourth inning plate appearance against Verlander.
*Please spare me your playoff jokes. I am so very tired.
This was Seager’s 199th career long ball, over 100 more than the rest of his teammates have combined. The sweet sounds of a Seager bomb were welcome music to our ears at a time when new wave is en vogue. Of course, the power of nostalgia can only take you so far before reality crushes you like a defenseless trash can against a powerful bat.
With each passing inning, uncertainty vanished and logic took hold. The Mariners are not a good team. The Astros are. As such, the Astros pulled away as the Mariners kicked the ball around, failed to get anything close to a rally going, and trotted out anonymous reliever after anonymous reliever.
Things got out of hand in the fifth inning. A potential double play become a zero play when Kyle Seager made an errant throw to second, setting up back-to-back singles on two more makeable plays that the Mariners bungled. José Altuve tied the game on an infield single that, with better decision-making, should have led to a play at the plate. Instead, J.P. Crawford made a throw to first that, in fairness, almost got Altuve, but did nothing to address the runner barreling toward home. The next batter, Alex Bregman, hit a ball to right field that managed to land several millimeters to the left of Mallex Smith’s glove, plating what would go on to be the winning run. For good measure, Houston added five more. Gotta get rid of that uncertainty, you see.
At the end of the day, things went about as planned for the 2020 Mariners. Marco Gonzales was solid if not great, Kyle Lewis flashed the enormous talent we’ve all salivated over, and the bullpen was flattened by wildebeests. Get used to it while we’re still hiding under low expectations.
Aside from the Kyles taking Justin Verlander to the woodshed, there were some other micro-positives buried deep in the muck. Seattle had four players make their Major League debuts. Evan White and José Marmolejos were part of the starting nine, while relievers Anthony Misiewicz and Yohan Ramirez entered in the back half of the game.
And now Yohan Ramirez is in, making it 4 @MLB debuts tonight. The last team to have 4 players make their MLB debuts on Opening Day: the 1957 Chicago Cubs (Dick Drott, Cal Newman, Bob Will and Casey Wise). https://t.co/EpPooHkHJL— Ian Kraft (@Krafty_3) July 25, 2020
Both pitchers even recorded their first strikeouts! Misiewicz dusted Altuve with a nasty pitch in the dirt, while Ramirez, who pitches in caps lock, fanned Martín Maldonado on a lightning bolt up in the zone. For those looking to adopt a new cult hero on the 2020 Mariners, look toward the curly-haired Ramirez and his absolutely unpredictable pitch locations. The rookie also got Alex Bregman swinging to end the eighth inning, giving him two strikeouts to go with two walks on his first day of work.
To handle our uncertainty about this club for the rest of the season, academics recommend two courses of action. The first is proactive uncertainty reduction. This, in baseball terms, is the act of making predictions about what will happen prior to interacting with the team. People will often attempt to predict what another party wants to hear (in our case, the sounds of victory), based on what they’ve acquired from previous observations (the sounds of getting hit by a semi-truck). In this situation, obviously, we should predict losses more often than wins. This will protect ourselves from being blindsided by the things we should realistically know are coming all along.
The second move is retroactive uncertainty reduction, which can only come after the fact. This allows us to explain the Mariners’ behavior by interpreting the meaning of their actions. For instance, they got steamrolled today by a superior team, which means the same thing will likely happen when they play other dominant teams. Nevertheless, we’ll persist, just as Mariner fans always do. I hope the cold comfort of a Mariner loss hit you in all the right places, taking the uncertainty of the pandemic down a notch while we reinforce our certainty about one thing.
Even in the terrors of 2020, the Mariners will still be there to do what they always do best.