There have been more impressive wins by the Mariners this year. There have been games in which they scored more runs, tougher opponents they have felled, games where the win expectancy hovered more solidly on their side, for longer. But there has not been a game I have enjoyed more this year, edging out narrowly the comeback win against the A’s in Marco’s last start. This game was different than that game in a significant way: against Oakland, Marco struggled, fighting through command issues and a lack of crispness, later saying he recognized he didn’t have his best stuff and was grateful to his offense for picking him up.
That wasn’t the case tonight.
“Marco came in the clubhouse ornery today,” said Scott Servais postgame.
It started off with a 1-2-3 inning that almost wasn’t, but Tim Lopes in RF > Tim Lopes in LF.
(Truthfully, it could be argued occasionally on Tim’s watch, but that doesn’t tweet as well, I get it.)
It wasn’t always easy for Marco, who had traffic on the bases in the second, third, fourth, sixth, and eighth inning, but each time, he worked his way out of trouble. The Astros left eight men on base tonight, and against Marco, only advanced a runner to second four times over eight innings, and never to third.
Lance McCullers and his dastardly curveball kept the Mariners batters down for over half the game, no-hitting them into the sixth inning. I will admit, when Dylan Moore scalded a ball down the left field line in the fourth only to be hoovered up by Bregman and thrown out, a little voice in my head said that’s the kind of play that makes a no-hitter. Thankfully, Timmy Two-Bags Lopes once again was Johnny-on-the-spot to make sure that didn’t happen, clobbering a double to deep center. I am a little annoyed there is no footage of this because, even though the Mariners didn’t score that inning, getting that first hit off McCullers started the Mariners offense going; they might have even gotten a score that inning if Dylan Moore had put about ten extra degrees of launch angle on the lineout he sent in the direction of Carlos Correa.
McCullers wasn’t sharp, exactly—at one point he and Marco had thrown about the same number of pitches (80) but Marco had thrown an inning more, and had thrown almost 60 of his for strikes while McCullers only had around 40 strikes—but he was effective enough to suppress the Mariners’ offense until the seventh inning. Kyle Lewis, your AL Rookie of the Year if there is any degree of justice in the world, started off with a four-pitch walk, and then Altuve booted a potential double-play ball from Kyle Seager to instead put runners at first and second. In Altuve’s defense, the ball was hit off Seagers’s bat at 103.2 mph, and also, Seager has engaged the magical powers of the slump-buster, changing his walkup music from whatever country song it was to “Antidote” by Travis Scott (thanks Twitter friend @smirnovillirik for the song title), which feels like it was definitely suggested by one of his teammates and not Kyle Seager. Hello, fellow kids!
Ty France had tonight’s honor of being the one to break the ice:
Have I mentioned yet how much I enjoy watching Ty France at the plate?
Almost as much as I enjoy watching this, featuring that rarest of birds, an EVAN WHITE BATFLIP:
A cinematic masterpiece starring Evan White. pic.twitter.com/oE0OittHo0— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) September 22, 2020
I didn’t even know Evan White knew how to flip his bat! I have watched pretty much every homer Evan White has hit as a pro and never seen him flip a bat with this much intention, which kind of tells you how fired up he was. Kyle Lewis x Evan White, that’s a best friendship collab we can enjoy watching for years:
That blast knocked McCullers out of the game, but the Mariners would add on in the eighth against a flop-sweat-drenched Brandon Bielak, who I don’t care about being mean to because he HIT DYLAN MOORE IN THE HEAD and I don’t know who we need to talk to about getting this to stop but it really needs to stop immediately. At least it was only 93 and not 99, DMo joked, and he stayed in the game and ran the bases, but sheeeeesh. I can only post the picture of him in his Frozen pajamas on Twitter so many times without going insensate with rage, come on now.
Marco was a little shaky in his final inning, missing his spot on a pitch to Myles Straw who luckily kept it in the yard because Myles Straw, in a fit of nominative determinism, is not a particularly powerful hitter, and Joey Gerber replaced him in the ninth, surrendering the first Astros run of the day but limiting the damage other than that. Maybe Marco really wanted his complete game shutout and that’s why he was stone-faced and a little sullen-seeming in the post-game presser, insisting to reporters there was “nothing special about today” and, when pressed if there was anything different about what he did today, doubling down and saying “I don’t know if I have an answer for that.”
But there was something different this game. Tonight was the first game Marco had ever lasted longer than 5.1 innings against the Astros, and his first career win against Houston. That’s pretty significant for someone who is one of the longest-tenured Mariners, who has faced these Astros over and over again without a win, who has seen his teammates struggle against their hitting, and who has been outspoken about his disapproval about the way that franchise has conducted themselves. Marco is a dyed-in-the-wool competitor whose intensity has never been incompatible with his belief in honest competition and playing fair. He might have come in ornery, but he hadn’t laid that mantle down before taking the podium.
Maybe it would have been different if there were fans in the building, screaming for Marco and the Mariners, booing the Astros at every turn. Maybe it was too painful for Marco to acknowledge this milestone without the fans at his back, shouting down the heavens and filling T-Mobile up with sound, celebrating the kind of win that can keep one warm for a while, stoking the fires of competition over a long off-season.
But none of that takes away any of this feeling; a feeling that the tides are turning, finally, as the Astros suffer their lost draft pick punishment, see players potentially depart in free agency, lose others to injury. The behemoth fire-breathed bullies of the AL West are vulnerable now, assailable, and the salty, scrappy Mariners are unfurling their sails and preparing to take flight. Marco might not have felt anything was different, but the stat sheet tells a different story.
“I came to win,” Gonzales repeated several times in his post-game interview. You did, Marco, you always do. But now you come to a crumbling temple armed with a crew—young, healthy, and hungry—that’s building to do exactly that.