As we all know, baseball has a collection of idiosyncrasies that make the game especially delightful in its own weird, charming sort of way. I’ve always loved the fact that coaches have to wear the same uniform as the players, or that a no doubt home run in some stadiums is just a dead quail to the warning track at others. But another one of my favorite random baseball things reared its head in tonight’s Mariners game: a starting pitcher having a lead before they even throw a single pitch. Like a quarterback taking the field with a 7-0 lead after their defense houses a fumble return, a pitcher having the luxury of an early lead does wonders for their game plan, psyche, and overall demeanor.
That luxury was afforded to Marco Gonzales when José Marmolejos smashed this atrocious Dylan Bundy pitch to the back walls of Angel Stadium.
NO. DOUBT.— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) July 31, 2020
José Marmolejos checks in with his first big league home run! pic.twitter.com/KODrbznUSQ
Not only was this the first home run of Marmolejos’ career, it was also something that I [clears throat, buys trophy, pours eight beers into it, drinks it like I’ve just won some sort of self-serving championship] PREDICTED ONE HOUR BEFORE THE GAME. This is the luxury of being incredibly smart. The townspeople sang my praises far and wide as our preferred baseball team took a 3-0 lead during the first .05% of the game.
Seattle had another major luxury on their side tonight, as Angels’ superstar Mike Trout missed the game to welcome a newborn alevin. A luxury that Marco Gonzales does not have, unfortunately, is being able to miss over the middle of the plate. Though his cutter-curveball-changeup repertoire can be extremely effective when dotting the corners, none of those pitches play very well if they end up in the fat part of the strike zone. While breezing through the first four innings, Gonzales was throwing dimes to first-time battery mate Joe Hudson. When he did gamble over the heart of the plate, he typically did so early in the count when hitters are prone to taking, as he did in this three-pitch destruction of Shohei Ohtani.
When Hudson set up in one spot for an entire at-bat, Gonzales was also up to the challenge. This steady diet of inside cutters to Justin Upton, while surely assisted by the umpire, is a pristine example of how Gonzales can be a nightmare for right-handed hitters.
Unfortunately, being a control pitcher without swing-and-miss stuff means Gonzales is more reliant on his defense than pitchers that come equipped with a Formula 1 engine. With two outs in the fifth inning, Gonzales induced a spinning jam shot from someone named Taylor Ward. As the ball spun like a Beyblade toward second base, Shed Long Jr. got in position to make the play, approaching the ball as though he would nab it in the air. Instead, the ball appeared to take a left turn on him and evaded his glove, giving the Angels a necessary baserunner and Long Jr. his first error of the season. What happened next can only be described with a shrug, deep sigh, and a resigned “That’s baseball”.
That'll play, Max... That'll play. pic.twitter.com/mtV9FS57cc— Los Angeles Angels (@Angels) July 31, 2020
This was Max Stassi, a lifetime backup catcher with a career wRC+ of 75. The absurd opposite field home run that stayed fair by a fingernail prompted a fantastic reaction from Gonzales.
Stassi’s pole dance turned a thoroughly boring 3-0 game into a somewhat less boring 3-2 game. For whatever reason the Mariners forgot how to hit following Marmolejos’ first inning shot, and the game took on the pace of an auction where nobody wanted to buy anything. Obviously the upside down nature of this season has created a lot of unusual factors, most of which I hope will be retired when they play 162 again, but I absolutely do not hate a game being in the fifth inning before 8:00. If the Mariners want to bring something from this bizarro world into the future, it should definitely be the 6:40 start time.
The scoreboard continued to read 3-2 as the sun went down on the Angels’ cookie cutter stadium surrounded by 19 miles of parking lot. Until, that is, a sudden jolt lit up the Orange County sky like a malfunctioning Juul pod. The source? Shedric Bernard Long Jr., who played the role of Derek Zoolander to the Angels’ Hansel Robles.
Robles and the Angels followed this up with the always questionable “two straight walks” maneuver, leading Joe Hudson to advance both runners with a picturesque sacrifice bunt. I am not joking at all when I say this will probably be my lasting memory of Joe Hudson, Actual Seattle Mariner. J.P. Crawford cashed in with a fortuitous two-RBI blooper, and just like that, the Mariners had some necessary insurance runs. They’d quickly pile on three more runs to secure a series win against their tomato-colored foes, delayed only by Shohei Ohtani somehow hitting a low and in pitch over the wall in left center field. The tomatoes, by the way, famously have Ohtani and Trout, added Anthony Rendon and Joe Maddon, but still don’t have a single good pitcher on the roster. That seems like a bad idea. I’m sure they’ll get things straightened out though. It’s not like they had extra time to prepare for this season and assess their bullpen.
Joe Maddon: “You really can’t go anywhere without a substantial bullpen.”— Fabian Ardaya (@FabianArdaya) July 31, 2020
Said he’s going to meet with pitching coach Mickey Callaway and bullpen coach Matt Wise to address things.
When the dust cleared on the Disney mascot burial ground, the Mariners had taken two of three from the team that I enjoy watching them beat the most. What a luxury.