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Justin Dunn improves, Mariners bullpen implodes, fans imbibe

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that was not fun, but like a new kind of not fun

Seattle Mariners v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

From the start it looked like this was going to be another Stupid Little Game at Minute Maid Park Against the Astros. We’ve seen enough of them to know how these go: the Mariners roll up at MMP to spend the next series getting rototilled into the ground by the Astros, who seem to delight in nothing more than squashing the hapless Mariners down and reminding them who the big bullies in the AL West are. A Kyle Seager double in the first inning, assuring the Mariners wouldn’t be no-hit or perfecto’d by Greinke, felt like the most we could ask for.

Despite a strong first inning from Dunn—nine pitches, eight strikes, with a strikeout of Brantley—the second inning looked like it would provide all the offense the Astros needed. Dunn started the second inning with a four-pitch walk to Kyle Tucker, who promptly stole second and scored on a Chas McCormick single with two outs. McCormick would then be brought around on a Myles Straw base hit up the middle, giving the Astros a 2-0 lead early. It should be noted, as well, that Dunn had some terrible calls go against him, in that inning specifically, including a clear strike to Straw that was ruled a ball, so working his way back to limit the damage at two runs was actually a win. Dunn bounced back with a 1-2-3 inning in the third, now working with a run on the board thanks to a solo shot from Luis Torrens in the top half of the inning:

Also, if you had “Justin Dunn shows better command than Zack Greinke” on your bingo card, well no you didn’t.

Dunn’s misses:

Greinke’s misses:

The Mariners eventually took advantage of Greinke’s shaky command in the fourth, with back-to-back two-out walks from Jose Marmolejos and Taylor Trammell. Then, it was once again Torrens Time. Torrens—who apparently took the Mariners claiming catcher Jacob Nottingham earlier in the day personally—rifled a double down the left field line, scoring Marmo easily and Trammell, on an aggressive send from Manny Acta, less-easily. Then, continuing the unlikely offensive onslaught, J.P. Crawford went down and got a Greinke...fastball? I guess? whatever it was, it was 89 MPH, and vapor-waved that pitch (102 MPH EV!) down the right field line to score Torrens and give the Mariners a 4-2 lead.

Hooray! Offense!

Justin Dunn came out in the bottom of the fourth and did exactly what you should do when your offense hands you a lead: had a shutdown inning. Dunn only needed eight pitches (six strikes) to put down Tucker-Gurriel-Correa in order, striking out Tucker and getting flyouts from Gurriel and Correa. Kyle Lewis rewarded Dunn for his hard work by going out and hitting a homer off Brandon Bielak, out in relief of Greinke, to kick off the fifth.

Dunn was a little less efficient in the fifth, falling behind Chas McCormick 3-1 before getting him to fly out, giving up a single to Myles Straw and walking Martin Maldonado. Dunn got himself out of the jam, however, by tempting Altuve into fishing on a perfectly-located slider for an easy flyout, and getting Brantley to ground out easily to Evan White. Weirdly, Dunn seemed to struggle more with the bottom part of the Astros lineup; Altuve, Brantley, Bregman, and Tucker all finished their nights 0-for against him, and Gurriel only got to him as the last batter of his outing (and maybe with Mitch Haniger in the outfield instead of Marmolejos, that isn’t even a double).

If this is where you would like to stop reading the recap, you can. I will not fault you. Because after this things start to go downhill, and quickly. Dunn was relieved by Sadler after giving up that double to Gurriel despite being at only 84 pitches, and Sadler gave up an RBI ground ball single, bringing the game to a slightly less comfortable 5-3. The decision to lift Dunn is one that looks rough given the way this game turns out, but at the time, it made sense: Dunn was becoming less effective with his pitches, falling behind batters after working ahead all game (he ended with 12 of 23 first pitch strikes, which is a much improved mark from 2020), and this allowed him to end his outing on a high note, putting him in line for the win.

Unfortunately, the bullpen would not be able to bring across that win. Keynan Middleton didn’t allow a run, but he did hit Myles Straw, who then stole second, because a theme of this series has been the Astros running on the Mariners whenever and wherever they feel like it. With two outs and the runner on third, Montero came in to get the final out of the inning, which he did, but not without some serious help from Kyle Seager:

Montero came out to work the eighth, and things...did not go well. Montero did get Bregman to ground out to open the inning, but he was in a full count and Bregman’s groundout came off the bat at 105 MPH, with an xBA of .480, and would have gone up the middle for a base hit if it hadn’t hit Montero in the calf first. Ouch. Montero started off well against Kyle Tucker, in an 0-2 count, but again wasn’t able to put him away, pushing the count to 2-2 and eventually putting a changeup off the plate but reachable for the long-levered Tucker to dribble into center field for a single. That brought up Yuli Gurriel, who took the second pitch he saw from Montero, a changeup in the middle of the plate, and grounded it through the hole into left field. Carlos Correa was up next, and again, Montero, in a 2-2 count, left a pitch in the middle of the plate—this time a 97 mph fastball—which Correa scalded at 104 mph to Evan White, who made a highly uncharacteristic throwing error, airmailing the throw past J.P. Crawford and allowing a run to score. It wasn’t going to be a double play anyway—Correa is too fast—but it was definitely a costly error by White, whose sole value right now is with his glove, making it look all the worse.

White’s error didn’t help, but Montero made things harder on himself from there, falling behind pinch-hitter Aledmys Diaz 2-1 and again leaving a pitch in the middle of the plate for Diaz to deposit into left field (only a 75 MPH exit velo, one of the lowest of the game, but a .940 xBA), scoring the tying run. Montero then walked Myles Straw, loading the bases and ending his evening. Of 34 pitches, Montero only threw 18 for strikes, and his pitches didn’t look to deceive the Astros hitters at all; he got no swinging strikes on any of his pitches.

Nor, unfortunately, did Will Vest, who has been solid for the Mariners but inherited a big mess from Montero and didn’t do much to clean it up. Vest might have been amped up—pitching in a big spot in his hometown with friends and family in attendance—but he was uncharacteristically off, walking the first batter he saw to walk in a run, and having that batter be Jason Castro! of all people. Yuck, Will. A sacrifice fly from Altuve pushed the Astros lead to 7-5, and that’s all they would need to take a game the Mariners, by all rights, should have won. It’s a new and frustrating way to lose a game, and Justin Dunn deserved better. In the light of day it might not sting so badly—I would rather have good Justin Dunn for a season than a single win against the Astros—but in the endlessly applicable words of the El Paso commercial, Why Not Both?