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Mariners thrill thousands of cardboard cutouts in home opener win

Lewis, Walker excel as cutouts gaze lifelessly forward

Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

I didn’t really feel it until tonight. Going into tonight, the Mariners had already played six games in empty stadiums. Minute Maid Park and Angels Stadium felt a bit eerie (despite the obscene amount of noise the Angels were pumping in), but it was relatively easy to get used to.

Tonight, though. Save your stupid jokes about how the empty stadium felt like any other Mariners game. The meticulously placed cardboard cutouts, perfectly aligned in the outfield like board game pieces, gave the stadium an uncharacteristically robotic feel.

In front of the cutouts, the Mariners ran out Taijuan Walker to go up against the Athletics’ Sean Mannea, in what was a matchup of pitchers trying to get their careers back on track after injuries. Despite a seemingly poor first start numbers-wise last week against the Astros, Taijuan actually pitched okay. A couple of his five earned runs shouldn’t have been earned, and he was regularly touching 94 MPH.

He continued in the same vein tonight, except with a good deal more control. He needed just 12 pitches to retire the side in the first inning, including two strikeouts that immediately doubled his total from last week.

Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Unfortunately, Mannea matched him pitch-for-pitch and needed just 11 pitches to record three outs and two strikeouts of his own in the bottom of the frame. The game continued in the same vein for the next two and a half innings, with neither pitcher allowing a hit until Ramón Laureano doubled off Taijuan to lead off the fourth. The one-hit rally didn’t last, as the next three A’s were retired in quick succession.

Hopefully you weren’t late to turn this one on, because at this point in the game it was just about 7:15 PM, meaning the A’s and M’s were on pace to play nine innings in less than two hours. Worry not: the Mariners began to give the fans their money’s worth in the next frame.

J.P. Crawford started the inning by working a seven-pitch at bat before knocking a grounder into left for a single. Two batters later, Kyle Lewis laced a ball into left field, giving him a hit in every game so far this year, and setting the stage for Kyle Seager to do this:

An Austin Nola infielder single and an error by “gold glover” Matt Chapman later, and the Mariners found themselves with a 3-0 lead for a nigh-unhittable Taijuan Walker. Galvanised by the cushion, Taijuan proceeded to weed-whack the Athletics and strike out the side in the fifth.

Kyle Lewis, who has undoubtedly been one of the main stories of the Mariners so far, was not be outdone. He’d already extended his hitting streak to start the season to eight games, but anybody can get a hitting streak. People get them all the time! No, he needed something more.

With this laser to left-center, Lewis extended his multi-hit streak to six games. Guys get hot, and there’s all the time in the world for Lewis to come back down to earth. Maybe pitchers will adjust, and then Lewis himself will have to adjust. For now, though? He looks as good as anyone could have hoped for, and it’s hard not to feel giddy just watching him.

Taijuan, meanwhile, continued his locked-in play for two more innings before his pitch count caught up with him. He was pulled after 7.0 innings and 94 pitches, during which he recorded eight strikeouts and just a hit and two walks. If he continues the year doing anywhere near this well, there is a very slim chance that he stays with the Mariners into their contention window. Despite that, it’s hard not to feel happy for the guy who started his career with the Mariners as a fresh-faced kid out of high school.

Of course, lest we all forget that this team isn’t actually attempting to win, one unit will always force us to remember. I’ve always heard that you don’t want to get stuck in the past or in the future. Get stuck in the past, and you’ll poison yourself with nostalgia and regret. Get stuck in the future, and you’ll miss what’s right in front of you. So stick in the present.

Well, there’s one unit that has no past with the Mariners, and certainly no future with the Mariners: the bullpen. Scott Servais sent Bryan Shaw out to pitch the eighth and it... did not go well. Shaw allowed a quick single, walk, triple, and sacrifice fly to give the Athletics three runs, pulling them to within two. He somehow managed to get out of the inning with the lead intact, but wow, he really should not be getting innings.

Shaw’s near implosion did have a small silver lining: it set the stage for Taylor Williams to get a save opportunity. Williams, a Camas, WA native, jogged to the mound to Welcome to the Jungle. In what must have been a surreal experience for the youngster, he easily retired the Athletics and recorded his second Major League save.

Just like that, the Mariners found themselves leap-frogging the A’s into second place in the AL West, hitting a .500 record, and owning a three-game winning streak.

Things look pretty good! The Mariners might not be contenders for Kumar Rocker in the 2021 draft, but Kyle Lewis and J.P. Crawford look excellent. Evan White recorded the team’s hardest-hit ball today. Taijuan Walker looks rejuvinated. Suddenly, the season looks a whole lot brighter.