The pervasive thought rattling around all of our heads this year, no matter how egregiously terrible or just slightly inconvenienced your life became, was some version of “I can’t wait for this to be over”. Fittingly, that is exactly how the Mariners and A’s played the first part of Friday night’s game. Seattle and Oakland soared through the first seven innings at warp speed as if they were trying to banish them to the repressed memory part of the brain.
This wholly unremarkable game gave us our last chance to watch Yusei Kikuchi this year, a year he’ll finish with the same amount of starts in which he allowed five earned runs as he did two or fewer. I still can’t quite get a read on Kikuchi. He’s the band that has two or three great songs on each album but still doesn’t have a great album. The command is still Shakira hips-level shaky, and Kikuchi’s tendency to get into high pitch counts early in the game is a continued source of frustration. Still, as the broadcast mentioned tonight, there are very few left-handed pitchers on the planet with stuff as good as his.
The numbers from Kikuchi’s final start of the season (six innings, five strikeouts, no runs, three walks, four hits) look great on paper, but the eye test was much more stressful than that. While I am certainly not a pitching coach, Kikuchi’s history with the Mariners points to simplification as a means for improvement. He famously came to Spring Training this year with a smoothed-out delivery and increased velocity but still couldn’t get his ERA under five. Again, I’m not ready to give up on him, I’m more confused by him. This final start of the year will surely leave a nice taste in his mouth as he decompresses before revving up again for 2021, and I am fascinated to see what year three looks like in terms of tangible changes.
For Oakland, starting pitcher Chris Bassitt methodically picked the Mariners apart like they were a rotisserie chicken. Featuring a fastball in the mid-90s and a nice curveball that went all the way down to 69 MPH, he fooled the hell out of Seattle’s lineup all night. Tonight’s offensive performance was yet another reminder of what the combination of inexperience in your best players and lack of everyday talent in your worst players can look like. The harsh truth of the situation is that players like Tim Lopes, Braden Bishop, Joseph Odom, and more than likely, José Marmolejos, are placeholders, and the whole point of having them in the lineup right now is so they don’t have to be in two years. Tonight is not in two years though, tonight is tonight, and having four placeholders in the lineup was a big reason for the team consistently Abe Simpson-ing their way from the dugout to the batter’s box and back.
The Mariners did not plate their first run until the 10th inning, when the Manfred runner gave them a tremendous head start. Scott Servais inserted Dee Strange-Gordon as the courtesy runner on second base, and minutes later he glided home on a wild pitch as though he was trying to sprint clear out of 2020 altogether. Although he was only on second base because of a Looney Tunes rule, the sac fly that moved him to third and the wild pitch that scored him still counted all the same. Despite being completely devoid of life for multiple hours, the Mariners held a 1-0 lead over arguably the best team in the American League. Their erratic starting pitcher held it together just long enough. Their young relievers were given chances to pitch out of high-leverage situations, and the trio of Yohan Ramirez, Anthony Misiewicz, and Erik Swanson did just that, combining for three innings of scoreless relief as the M’s headed to the bottom of the tenth with the slimmest of leads.
And then, the worst thing that could have possibly happened decided to happen. I’m not even talking in terms of baseball, I’m talking straight up one of the worst occurrences in human history. This was an act so vile, so disgusting, that merely describing it with words has placed me on several government watch lists.
[gulps, cries, screams with terror, punches hole through TV, disables my phone, WiFi, and brain stem so he can’t hurt me anymore]
Mark Canha hit a walk off home run.
There, I said it. I don’t feel good about it. In fact, I feel downright grotesque. This is not how this night was supposed to end. If anything, this could have been the last flicker of good for the Mariners before they packed it in for the winter. Had they won this game, at least they’d have a final high note if they got stomped on Saturday and Sunday. But no, in classic “guy who looks like Mark Canha fashion”, Mark Canha made everything infinitely worse.
Mark Canha, the Berkeley grad with a food Instagram, is what happens when the Bon Appetit test kitchen becomes sentient. He is gentrification come to life. He is the big gust of wind and the Mariners are the kid proudly holding a balloon.
He is all of the worst things, and if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the worst things can and will happen.