Make no mistake: I was pretty bummed out about last night’s game. It’s a relief the M’s weren’t no-hit, but having not one, but two highly anticipated debuts spoiled by offensive ineptitude stung. We all love mythical debuts; it’s why Ken Griffey, Jr.’s home debut from thirty-two years ago is still talked about. It’s why the baseball world stopped to stare at Stephen Strasburg’s electric first start in D.C. back in 2010. Highly touted prospects appearing on the biggest stage for the first time is theatrical, the promise of the future finally in full view in the present. So no, I don’t blame folks for being sad about last night.
What I feel like was forgotten, though, is the debut is only the first chapter.
Yeah, Jarred Kelenic led off for the second straight day, only to strike out on a checked swing to open the offense after Chris Flexen tossed an easy 1-2-3 top of the first. He undoubtedly went around on the 2-2 splitter from Aaron Civale, and to his credit, his frustration was limited to himself rather than towards Angel Hernández (although let’s be very clear, he deserved plenty of bile his way tonight) or Ted Barrett. At least Kyle Seager provided some early joy.
Chris Flexen saw this one-run lead and ran with it, too, facing the minimum once again in the second. He could have had another 1-2-3 frame, but Angel gonna Angel on a 2-2 count to Franmil Reyes, who cashed in that gift for a walk two pitches later.
May we all one day have the job security of a mediocre at best Major League umpire. Thankfully, Josh Naylor hit into an easy 6-3 double play, and Flexen was able to work around a jam in the third, in part due to José Marmolejos channeling the energy of Evan White into snaring a 108 MPH line drive off the bat of Jake Bauers.
Of course, we all know the tone of the game, game thread, and evening changed dramatically in the bottom of the third. Sam Haggerty led off the frame with an infield hit that only an elite runner like himself could have beaten out, and two pitches later, Jarred Kelenic saw a low and away splitter and did this to it:
Congratulations to Jarred Kelenic on his first big league base hit and FIRST BIG LEAGUE HOMER pic.twitter.com/i6LPQM2x7E— Joe Doyle (@JoeDoyleMiLB) May 15, 2021
There are multiple eye-popping factors here. First, that was well-located 1-0 splitter that would have been a called strike any day of the week. Second, Jarred recognized it and visibly locked in mid-flight. Third, that was a low and away pitch that he pulled at 109 MPH into the right-center power alley. Truly, that is some shit right out of the Roy Hobbs playbook. He even earned the first curtain call from a Mariner since Félix’s emotional final game, and just like that, the vibes switched to cruise control. Yeah, Flexen gave up a run in the fifth on back-to-back singles from Naylor and Jordan Luplow, with a wild pitch that sailed all the way to the backstop sandwiched in between them. Who cares? Truly, who cares that he only got three swinging strikes without a single punchout (we all know he should have had one)? A Mike Leake-esque nine groundouts over 5.2 innings will play every day of the week, and although his lack of swing-and-miss over his last three starts may be concerning, tonight was a strong bounceback for him as far as run prevention goes. Kendall Graveman came in to a runner on with two outs in the sixth, and one pitch later was walking back to the dugout thanks to Marmo sticking with a tough ground ball for the third out. Are we sure he isn’t using Evan’s glove? They both throw left-handed, you know. Oh, and Jarred added a hustle double in the fifth that he singlehandedly willed into extra bases. Yeah, he’s here to stay,
Graveman also worked a scoreless seventh, holding Cleveland to a piddly Naylor single, and once again, the Mariner offense came alive. Dylan Moore led off the bottom of the frame with his first of two doubles on the night, swiped third with ease, and came home on a sac fly from Luis Torrens.
Sam Haggerty harnessed the power of Ham Swaggerty with a gapper into right-center, and it was Kelenic’s turn once again to blow some minds.
I mean... what??? Haggerty scoring there was no surprise, to be clear, but a second straight hustle double from Kelenic? That we all seemed to know in our hearts would happen? It’s hard to believe that he is right here in front of us, but make no mistake, he’s here to stay as ours for the well-foreseeable future. Revel in that for as long as you’d like.
Of course, the young phenom alone can’t power a team to victory, no matter how big a spark they bring. You need some help from veteran players, and Kyle Seager did his part earlier. Does Mitch Haniger taking the American League lead in home runs count? Experts say it does!
Erik Swanson continued building his case for being an option out of the bullpen that doesn’t elicit groans with a scoreless eighth, including grabbing the first strikeout from the pitching staff on a pretty 1-2 slider to Austin Hedges, but J.T. Chargeois made things unnecessarily interesting in the ninth. Opening the frame by taking out Eddie Rosario on a hit-by-pitch, he was able to get the always dangerous Franmil to fly out, but new enemy Josh Naylor tagged him for a two-run homer, and Jordan Luplow followed with a solid double. Whatever, though, right? Chargeois set down Bauers with ease, and wormed a ground ball to shortstop off the bat of Harold Ramírez.
Alas, Crawford couldn’t get a handle on it at first. The recovery was beautiful and he fired a seed to first, but Marmo couldn’t quite glove it, the ball squirted out, and everybody was safe. Chargeois’s night was perhaps unfairly done, and I don’t doubt that folks were shaking in their boots a bit to see Rafael Montero come in. Thankfully, César Hernández hit a much easier ground ball right to first to close out the game, and hey, Montero earned the save and another point towards an arbitration raise. Hooray for paying players!
So many good vibes flowed from this team tonight. Every single hitter aside from Torrens reached base safely, and he made up for it with the sac fly and a couple of nice blocks behind the plate; a much-welcomed sight after the last week or so. Yes, it’s only chapter two in the Jarred Kelenic era. There’s a chance that chapter three will be a similar bummer as chapter one. For now, though, this chapter was incredible, and allowed us to collectively dream of what could be. We know the intensity, the pure drive that emanates from Jarred, so much so that he’s sometimes pre-emptively labeled as a heel or cocky. To me, though, he’s always struck me as the heel with a heart of gold. Consider how he stuck to his word for a little girl at her first minor league game:
The picturet had been lost to time, but Kelenic changed his number in the minors, and let a little girl, who I think was at her first game choose the number he would some day wear in the bigs— Darren Gossler (@Goose1701) February 24, 2021
The #Mariners have him listed with #10 in spring camp. pic.twitter.com/hsg6Mf913y
Look at how genuinely, emphatically hyped he was to score on Haniger’s homer:
And to close the night, take a moment to appreciate this genuine, beaming smile of him postgame, clutching the ball he drove for the first of many Major League home runs, and choking up when talking about his parents being the first thing on his mind after that swing.
Sometimes your first day doesn’t go the way you want, but Jarred Kelenic has arrived, and he’s here to stay. That alone makes a compelling case to see where this season goes.