The last fleeting glimmers of the Mariners’ postseason hope were all but suffocated earlier this week in the fiery San Francisco air. Dropping two in a row to the lowly Giants both sunk Seattle’s record with the 2020 season quickly expiring and took the wind out of the team’s sails, as losing to a team as bad as San Francisco can do. Luckily, they began a three-game set with the extremely sweepable Diamondbacks on Friday night. If the Mariners were going to get serious about crashing the playoff party, they’d have to take care of business against a team with an inferior record.
With Yusei Kikuchi on the rubber – a man who went at least five innings with over six strikeouts in both of his last two outings – the Mariners had a golden cul-de-sac to turn things around, especially against a depleted Arizona lineup. The D-Backs were without both Martes they started the season with: Starling was traded at the deadline as they punted the season away, Ketel is out with a wrist injury. David Peralta, the team’s struggling mainstay, also sat out. After seeing how the Mariners handled the Angels and Rangers to entertain this playoff talk in the first place, a matchup with the molting Diamondbacks seemed ideal.
The first inning did enough to single-handedly erase most of those hopeful feelings.
Arizona white man Christian Walker smoked an opposite field triple that zoomed off his bat at 104.5 miles per hour. The ball scampered to the wall scoring the first run of the game, portending what would come next. At some point before the game, Arizona’s ground crew installed Mario Kart ramps underneath the outfield grass. This became readily apparent when Kole Calhoun reached on a two-out hit later in the same inning which made right fielder Phillip Ervin, a fairly athletic dude, look like he was made of gravy. This rocket-boosted double allowed Calhoun, a perennial hangnail on the Mariners’ little finger, to score on another base hit to right field and give Arizona a first inning three spot.
Those three Arizona runs in the first inning would match the Mariners hit total for the entire evening. D-Back starter Caleb Smith, who had not pitched since July 25 after contracting the coronavirus, absolutely skated through Seattle’s hitters with a collection of fortune-bringing elixirs he picked up somewhere in the desert. Despite only finishing with three runs and three hits, the M’s slapped 13 batted balls that StatCast classified as “hard-hit”. Two of the three hits did leave the yard, as Dylan Moore continued his scientifically inexplicable power surge and Ty France opened his home run account with Seattle. This was still not enough though, as the Mariners lost a one-run game that somehow felt out of reach the entire time.
Ervin and his Pusha T braids missed a big opportunity in the top of the seventh that seemed to tell us once and for all that a Mariners win, and their flickering playoff dreams, weren’t gonna happen. Evan White led off the frame with a walk and strolled across the plate on José Marmolejos’ RBI single. When Ervin blistered a ball down the third base line, but right to a waiting gloveman, it began a 5-4-3 double play to nullify Seattle’s final baserunner. France’s big boy home run did come in the next inning, but as is often the unfortunate downside of a solo shot, didn’t do much to start a rally.
Yusei Kikuchi pitched a game. Not a good game, not a bad game, just a game. All told, the wiggly lefthander did six innings and struck out five while passing out four earned runs on six hits. The three tallies in the first inning basically put him on a roof and the offense stole his ladder. Command will always be the name of the game for Kikuchi, and tonight he simply caught too much of the plate to be effective, even against a violently underwhelming starting nine.
We here at Lookout Landing have a saying: write the recap the game deserves. Even though this ended 4-3 and the Mariners sent Kyle Seager, Evan White, and Luis Torrens up in the ninth with chances to tie it, this game still had the energy of a trip to your worst relative’s house. It was the type of event where leaving is the best part.
The Mariners’ season is certainly not tattered, and they’re ahead of where most of us thought they’d be in the win total, but it will take some stellar performances down the stretch against the Padres, Astros, and/or Athletics to recapture the joyous optimism we were clutching to as recently as three days ago.