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Regressed Bullpen Regresses Further, Mariners Drop Heartbreaker to Dodgers

Kikuchi sets career best with 11 K’s, Haniger ascends home run leaderboard with a two-blast night, Mariners lose

Seattle Mariners v Los Angeles Dodgers
rude, frankly
Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

October 27, 2021

Dodger Stadium

FOX Crew: “Justin, there was a point this season where many felt that your team was collapsing, that you didn’t have what it took to be repeat champions. Obviously, they were wrong, but what was the turning point for you guys?”

Turner: “You know, it was tough, watching our record fall like it did, in, you know, late April, early May, but then we just kept winning. I think we won, what, 20 straight? And it was all this guy— Gavin, come here!”

FOX Crew: “Gavin Lux, it’s great talking to you, man, congratulations,”

Lux: “Thank you, I appreciate it.”

Turner: “When he hit that shot out to center against Seattle back in May, you know, coming off that rough second road trip, it all just clicked. Just the energy in the stands, man, the electricity here after we’d been down all game, something just changed for us. It lit a fire, we needed that kind of comeback win, especially in front of all our fans.”

Lux: “Yeah, and that energy just stuck with us. I think we carried that fire through all those wins before the All Star Game, and then coming down the stretch…”

FOX Crew: “I mean we all had our doubts early on, but you guys made us look silly for questioning you”

Turner: “It was no 116 wins like all you talking heads wanted, but you know what, we made it work, and now here we are.”

Lux: “Here we are.”

I don’t know if the Dodgers will win the World Series this year, or if this game really ends up a turning point in the arc of their season, but it’s not a stretch to say it could. I get the sense from the Dodgers’ post-game interviews that despite the sky-high strikeout numbers, their nine hits and successful rally may be enough to set them back on course, mentally, at the least. If that’s the case, very well.

But this game was so, so close to not stoking that flame. It had all the right ingredients to join the pile-on in the Dodger’s woeful stretch of close losses. The headlines wrote themselves:

“Kikuchi Fans Eleven As Dodgers Fall to .500,”

“Turner Faces His First Sombrero, Dodgers’ Offensive Woes Grow”

“Mariners Hit Three Bombs Off Buehler In Yet Another One-Run Loss”

By the time I pulled up FanGraphs’ win probability chart with two out in the top of the ninth, all but resigned to the L, it was still stuck in the bottom of the eighth, when the Mariners clung tenuously to their 4-3 lead. It hadn’t heard about the two-out single to Taylor, or the 0-2 pitch that just barely clipped Matt Beaty, or the fate-sealing blast off the bat of Gavin Lux.

A one run lead is nothing, of course, but as Aaron Goldsmith noted, the Dodgers’ downturn of late has been largely in their inability to win the close games. Maybe that could give Mariners’ fans some hope as White, Haggerty, and Crawford went down in order following the bases loaded nightmare the team had somehow escaped with the lead intact.

The story of the night should be about Kikuchi, his continued dominance, the ecstatic yell he gave when he struck out Neuse to set his personal record, and the elite pitch arsenal he’s built, justifying Yusei truthers everywhere.

It should be about how Mitch Haniger slugged his way onto the MLB home run leaderboard, joining Ohtani, Ramírez, and J.D. Martinez, all of them one below Acuña’s 11.

Instead, it’s about Gavin Lux’s tight pants (seriously, what is it with the Dodgers and tight pants) and his electric bat drop as his no-doubter flew off to the moon. That’s the world we live in.

The headline is slightly misleading: Kikuchi’s stellar start wasn’t without its struggles, and Mariners hitters not named Haniger, Seager, or Lewis going 0-for-18 and striking out 8 times is not a recipe for success.

Traffic on the bases in the second inning threatened to make this another ugly outing from a Mariners starter, but a web gem by Haniger ensured that the single from Smith and the walk to plate discipline god Max Muncy did no harm.

The confidence boost from Seager’s two-run shot in the top of the fourth was short lived, as Muncy crushed a solo homer of his own in the next frame to narrow the gap. Kikuchi looked like he may have lost his touch a second time, giving up a triple to old frenemy Chris Taylor in the very next at bat. And yet, he slipped out of that jam too, eliciting a foul tip from Neuse to add to his mounting K total.

Other than a double to Mookie Betts, Kikuchi remained sharp in the fifth, and the three run lead was restored on Mitch’s second homer of the night in the top of the sixth. Two more K’s in the following frame tied Kikuchi’s strikeout record, and the single from Taylor in the seventh didn’t seem like much more than evidence that the former Mariner owns our franchise.

It was Neuse’s swinging strikeout immediately afterward that seemed to prove Servais right in bringing Kikuchi back out to face the bottom half of the order, epitomized by the roar the pitcher let out, but a swinging bunt from Lux that beat the shift was enough to end his night.

Misiewicz, now a far cry from his dominance earlier in the season, didn’t look sharp at all, walking Pollock to load the bases for Mookie Betts. Out of sixteen pitches, he elicited only three swinging strikes, and a called strike three to Betts that was a clear-as-day RBI ball four. Kyle’s brother made him pay for it on the very next pitch, driving in two runs on a slow-motion single that somehow plummeted to the ground before Mitch could even make a move.

Though I don’t understand deploying him as a fireman, Montero started his night off right, giving Justin Turner the honor of his first golden sombrero. He was inches away from solidifying his outing in his next frame, forcing Smith to fly out and Muncy to strike out. Once again, a Taylor single signaled impending disaster, as the two-strike HBP to pinch hitter Matt Beaty prolonged the inning, and brought Lux to the plate with two on.

No, Ryan, it was not.

It wasn’t a walkoff, but even with Haniger, Lewis, and Seager (the only Mariners to record hits tonight) due up, it felt like one.

I think we could use a spark of our own. How does Thursday sound?