It’s sometimes baffling how much overlap there is between the things that bring us joy and strife. What’s even more baffling is that the choice that we make to commune with those things is usually a conscious one. Especially when you can’t predict when or where the joy or strife will take you.
These choices range from life-alteringly significant to so minor as to be unconscious. On the larger end of the spectrum, we have careers, relationships, and goals for which we push ourselves. On the smaller end might be a lactose-intolerant person eating some ill-advised soft cheese, or staying up about 30 minutes later than you should and risking spoiling the entirety of the next day.
Mariners fandom lies somewhere in the middle. To which end of the spectrum it leans depends on how little sanity you have left.
The moment we’ve tuned into Opening Day on each of the past 20 years, we’ve signed a contract. We knew that it was likelier than not that the season would end in anguish, and we did it anyway. On some level, we did it because, though it didn’t work out, there was always some chance that one of the past 20 years might finally be the one that brought joy.
There’s no way to know. One day, one year, everything will dissolve into inscrutable chaos. And any given day, the universe may lurch a little more quickly than usual into the roiling void.
Today did not seem like one of those days. Today seemed like a day where the socks would stay folded, the placemats would be set neatly on the table, an unexciting dinner would be politely gummed into cud, and the Mariners would lose. After all, the very existence of life is proof that chaos, while inevitable, is usually kept under wraps on the timescale of our lives.
Marco Gonzales, who (bless him) is a very folded-socks type of pitcher, opened the game with a walk. That he topped out at 87 MPH in that first at bat ended up being a portent that something was amiss. He was able to gas it up to 88 or 89 to get a strikeout and an inning-ending double play, but his first pitch of the second inning was over the plate and back down to 87 MPH. Evan Longoria took it straight over the wall.
Marco, capable as he is, walks a fine line each time he steps on the mound. He uses command, rather than raw stuff. The lower his velocity, the greater his command must be to compensate. Tonight, he had neither. Our king of FIP had his least FIP-friendly game in quite some time, giving up three dingers and three walks over the course of six bumpy innings.
It was to Marco’s credit that he stayed in the game and gave the Mariners 99 gutty pitches, but when he exited down five, the effort seemed purely symbolic.
Kevin Gausman, then playing the role of thin-lipped, tightly dressed executive, did his part to squash any thoughts the Mariners might have of insurrection. Any blip of resistance was summarily met with a show of force that may not have been overwhelming, but was whelming enough for a young Mariners team missing one of their best hitters in Kyle Lewis. Gausman was perfect through 3.2 innings before Kyle Seager finally doubled in the third, and it was only in the seventh that a Dylan Moore sacrifice fly cut the Giants lead to four.
Sometimes I think about how weird business clothing is, and about how futile newly-developed urban districts are. It seems such a toothless attempt to contain the inexorable march of entropy. Every suit will fray, and every body contained within will collapse. Every gentrified street corner will eventually be re-consumed, whether by culture or (later) by weeds.
It was tonight, in T-Mobile Park, that this chaos manifested, albeit in a more accelerated and abrupt fashion than we’re normally used to.
With the deficit again at five runs thanks to an uncharacteristically airmailed throw by J.P. Crawford, it was J.P. himself that led off the bottom of the eighth inning with a walk. Umpire Jeff Nelson had been squeezing the top of the zone all night, and J.P. watched two pitches kiss the top of the zone and get called for balls.
Mitch Haniger worked his way out of an 0-2 count before tapping a grounder into left field, and Ty France dropped a looping liner into center. With the score 6-2, the game still felt out of reach. The Giants pulled the struggling Matt Wisler for someone who would prove to be even less competent.
Jarlin García threw six balls outside the zone to Kyle Seager, who didn’t swing at any of them. Nelson, who was as generous tonight with the lefty strike as he was stingy at the top of the zone, made things tough for Seager, but Kyle ultimately got the walk, bringing up Evan White for his first high-leverage at bat with fans in the stands.
To his credit, Evan worked a full count before being fooled badly by a slider that ended up at his knees. In came Taylor Trammell to the same situation. If the Mariners were going to win this game, they would have to grow up in real time.
Trammell took the first three pitches and fouled off the fourth, bringing the count to 2-2. Representing the tying run, it’s hard to imagine what might have been going through Trammell’s mind. He’d never recorded a Major League hit. This was just his fourth ever plate appearance in the Bigs. Nobody could blame him for being antsy, eager, anxious.
García gave him the same trailing slider, which cut away from the zone. Trammell looked at it, and leaned towards it as if to hack. The ball slammed into Buster Posey’s glove, and Trammell’s bat remained firmly on his shoulder. He fouled off two more sliders before taking ball four well off the plate, walking in a run to bring the Mariners within three.
It was there, Scott Servais said after the game, that the momentum shifted. It was there, looking back, that the floodgates holding back chaos broke, and into T-Mobile Park spilled countless frothy wisps of nonsense.
After the Giants brought in Taylor Rogers to relieve the ailing García, The camera barely had time to cut to Dylan Moore as he laced a double down the first base line, bringing the M’s to within one. Rogers plunked Jake Fraley with a mercifully slow 72 MPH curveball before Scott Servais enlisted the services of José Marmolejos to pinch hit for Tom Murphy.
Marmo put the ball in play. In this game’s upside-down world, it was enough. A weak grounder to first was scooped up by Brandon Belt, who threw it to second to try to start an inning-ending double play. The throw sailed past shortstop Brandon Crawford and into left field. Both Trammell and Moore scored. The Mariners were up.
They probably should have been up by more than one. J.P. Crawford bunted a ball straight into the air before Mitch Haniger got way under his third pop fly of the game, setting the stage for Rafael Montero’s Mariners debut.
What a debut it was. Montero’s fourth pitch was obliterated by Alex Dickerson, who sent a no-doubter over the right field fence. Another pitch was sharply hit by Mike Yastrzemski to J.P. Crawford, who ranged over to the ball and sailed a throw wide of first base. I don’t know if any first baseman other than Evan White could have stayed on the base while catching the ball. But Evan White did. And Montero struck out the next two.
After an uneventful bottom of the ninth, Anthony Misiewicz managed to induce two ground balls to open the tenth inning and keep the starting second-base-runner from scoring. A flyout later, it was the Mariners’ turn.
I don’t know if the Mariners put something in poor José Álvarez’s water, or what. The veteran reliever couldn’t find the strike zone to save his life. Over the course of three batters, Álvarez threw 16 pitches. The Mariners swung at two of them. First, Taylor Trammell walked. Then Dylan Moore. Finally, ball four felt like more of a formality than anything, Jake Fraley took ball four. Evan White jogged home, touched the plate, and the Mariners were winners.
On some level, it’s experiences like these that are why we make those baffling, conscious choices. Most days might be filled with homogeneity, demarcated by frantic rituals designed to keep at bay the chaos that we all know lurks waiting. On a few heart-wrenching days, the unpredictability swings in the wrong direction, leaving us exposed, silly before an emptiness more vast and staring than we could hope to fathom.
Some days, though, we get today. And today is plenty enough to keep me rolling the dice.