One of the hardest things to do is see the impermanence of things. It’s a lesson most people learn relatively early, like when a pet or relative dies, or they go through a bad breakup. Those situations are most painful when the presence of something good in life had become so deeply ingrained that not having the good thing was unthinkable.
So, when you lose it, you go through a not-insignificant amount of suffering that can range from a few days of feeling a bit numb to months of dully staring at everyone around you, wondering how anybody manages to go through their daily routines when there’s so much suffering to be had. People offer you platitudes like “it won’t be like this forever,” and “let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
After a while, maybe you take them up on their offer of “anything they can do,” and temper it down to “hang out for an evening,” and at some point they crack a joke and you remember that you’re capable of laughter, and then the thought of feeling cheerful again at some point doesn’t feel so foreign. Sort of like how when the good times were rolling, there was never any indication they would stop rolling, until they did.
The problem is that we never learn. The good times roll and the bad times feel like they happened to somebody else. Something awful happens, and we wonder if life will ever be the same again.
This is also how I experience baseball innings, baseball games, and baseball seasons.
This season started pretty much as poorly as anybody expected. The Mariners spent their first five games going 1-4 and getting outscored by a combined 37-18. This was the start that they were supposed to have last season, before the team sabotaged our “realistic expectations” by starting 13-2. Everything was bad, but in kind of a funny way. The Mariners could win the Kumar Rocker sweepstakes!
The next three games swung the other way. Kyle Lewis looked invincible. J.P. Crawford and Evan White were defensive magicians. Taijuan Walker and Marco Gonzales showed glimpses of the anchors of a pitching staff we’ve imagined them as at some point. Kumar Rocker? Try a half-game out of first place!
Of course, the Mariners followed that win streak up with two of the more excruciating one-run losses I’ve seen since, well, last year. “Oh, right. This team isn’t supposed to be good. It’s about watching J.P. Crawford, Kyle Lewis, Evan White, Shed Long, and the other young dudes. At least they’re all still fun.”
And they were! After having struggled with his control in a first start that saw him give up four and four runs in three innings, Justus Sheffield had an opportunity to rebound tonight. Rebound he did.
Topping out at about 93 MPH in the first inning, Justus kept his pitches down in the zone nicely and prevented the A’s from lifting the ball too much. He fooled Mark Canha badly on a slider in the dirt to strike him out, and then retired the side in the second on just eight pitches. Though he was allowing some hard contact, his control helped him keep the ball in the park.
Justus really seemed to turn it on in the third inning. Switching it up between his sinker, his changeup, and his slider, he kept the A’s off-balance and got both Stephen Piscotty and Ramón Laureano to chase sliders in the dirt. His strikeout of Piscotty was particularly satisfying.
Justus Sheffield, Wicked 83mph Slider.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 4, 2020
Piscotty proposes. pic.twitter.com/kiIDwLnhX8
The bad news was that, for as in-control as Justus was, Frankie Montas was even better on the other side for the A’s. A Kyle Seager double down the line managed to plate a run in the third. Mallex Smith was probably robbed of an RBI triple in the fourth by virtue of having Daniel Vogelbach, slowest runner alive, start in front of him on first base. Aside from that, though, the M’s weren’t really able to put much together.
The fifth inning was where it all unraveled. A one-out walk to Khris Davis was innocuous enough, as was the single that followed it. Justus induced a weak grounder from Sean Murphy, but it was a little too weak, and Murphy reached base. Facing the top of the A’s lineup, Justus bore down and came away with a gutty full-count strikeout of Marcus Semien with another well-placed slider below the knees.
After that, Ramón Laureano hit a ground ball, and everything was okay. Right?
Except a now-tired Justus left the pitch a bit too high, Laureano’s contact was a bit too good, and the ball skipped between Shed Long and Evan White into the outfield. Two runs scored, and that was that for Justus.
Justus was clearly tired, and maybe in full-season condition he would have been able to gut it out. No matter. In case you still held the illusion that the Mariners were actually trying to win this season, Scott Servais brought Bryan Shaw in to relieve the game. Bryan Shaw, who, with his sick scorpion wrist tattoo and mournful eyes, looks like the 35-year-old guy who goes to the college bar and puts Incubus on the jukebox and wonder why none of these 22-year-olds know the lyrics by heart. Bryan Shaw might as well have been that guy, for as well as he pitched.
No, seriously. It was so, so, so, bad. Shaw faced seven batters before finally retiring one. Here’s Shed Long after, like, the fifth batter in a row reached base. We were all Shed Long.
Finally, Shaw got Semien to hit a fly ball to left field and, so desperate as he was just to leave the playing field, immediately walked toward the Mariner dugout, eyes decided fixed on the ground and away from the scoreboard that read “8-1”.
The rest of the game took about 90 minutes and it all melted away into the homogeneous, absurd fever dream that is another Mariners blowout loss in another lost season. None of it was distinct from any of the rest of it. Faceless relievers got shelled, nameless hitters struck out, and everyone cracked jokes to forget about all of it.
Like when something bad happens in “real life”, it can be more-or-less impossible on nights like tonight to see how the Mariners ever get out of this. In four at-bats, Kyle Lewis went from future stud to strikeout machine. Evan White was lost at the plate. Shed Long looks to continue a long tradition of Mariner middle infielders who struggle to maintain a .300 OBP. The future was in front of us, and it didn’t exactly look bright.
Eventually, though, the good comes back. Maybe not for very long, but the good days get more frequent. These implosions turn into close losses. The close losses turn into close wins. Before we know it, the rebuild is over, the prospects are up, and the penny-pinching ownership is purchasing reinforcements. There’s no more Bryan Shaw or Nestor Cortes. There’s no more José Marmolejos or Mallex Smith.
Any day now.