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Unlikely crew carries Mariners to 5–0 win

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Chris Flexen flexed on the Rangers while the bottom third of the lineup came in clutch

MLB: Texas Rangers at Seattle Mariners
Would you believe it if I told you it’s Nottingham who did the good thing and Kelenic doing the supporting?
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

One of the problems with a rebuilding reloading team is the motley crew of characters that fills in at the bottom of the lineup, or in the middle innings of a game.

Sure, you’ll get some exciting MLB starters — your Mitch Hanigers, your Kyle Lewises — and you’ll have a compelling prospect or two that catches your eye. But that lineup is not long enough with those guys, and once we roll around to the 7-8-9 section, things are looking dicey at best. Don’t even get me started with the 4th and 5th (or 6th) starters we see.

It’s with that mindset that I approached tonight’s game. That mindset was promptly shattered by — you guessed it — Tom Murphy, Jacob Nottingham, Jack Mayfield, and Chris Flexen.

Those four provided a night of hope in a topsy-turvy season, and it was on their backs that the M’s pulled out a 5–0 win over the similarly mediocre Texas Rangers tonight at T-Mobile Park.

But before the Mariners pulled out their bag of tricks, it was Adolis Garcia’s turn to flash the leather, robbing Mitch “John’s Favorite Player™” Haniger of a first-inning dinger.

As nice of a play as that was, just two innings later, Tom Murphy and Jacob Nottingham did their darndest to make sure nobody could rob these blasts. Although the real culprit was Kolby Allard; the 23-year-old lefty learned a dangerous lesson about how he shouldn’t miss with two-strike fastballs over the heart of the plate.

The worst part (for the Rangers)? He did the same thing in the next at-bat with third catcher-turned-emergency first baseman Jacob Nottingham:

Those two pitches marred an otherwise-decent start from Allard, who threw just four innings but also only allowed those two hits. After Allard came Taylor Hearn, who scraped through 2.1 innings though left with the bases loaded in the 7th.

It was at this point that the Mariners completed their tour through the bottom of the lineup, turning the mic over to Jack Mayfield. Now, as far as baseball players go, Mayfield is neither sprightly (he turns 31 this fall) nor much of a prospect (he originally signed with the As*ros as an undrafted free agent back in 2013). Across 54 MLB games, he boasts an OPS+ of...13. No offense, Jack, you’re better at baseball than the vast majority of the entire world, but you’re also the living embodiment of a replacement-level major leaguer.

Perhaps it was those depressed expectations that made his 2–1 swing in the 7th so much sweeter:

Never mind the fact that just a few hitters later, Mayfield was thrown out at home trying to stretch a Haniger RBI single into a two-run base hit. Jack Mayfield saw a beach ball, right over the heart of the plate at 93 miles per hour, and he did exactly what he’s been training for his entire life.

Those five runs, well, they were four more than the Mariners even needed all night. That was thanks to the fine work of Chris Flexen, who put together arguably his best start of the season. The Mets farmhand-turned-Korean star was battered in his previous appearance against the Dads, with an ugly 8 runs and 10 hits in less than two innings. He came back with a vengeance tonight.

Flexen scattered three hits and a walk across seven innings, generated 12 swings-and-misses, and made Rangers hitters look more than a little silly all night.

My favorite moment came in the 7th, after Flexen issued his only walk of the game and appeared as though he may be running out of gas. With a runner on first and ferocious home run hitter Joey Gallo up, Flexen induced three consecutive swings and three consecutive misses. He started with a changeup — who expects a changeup coming after a walk? — and followed it up with an 89 MPH cutter. The third pitch? A changeup off the plate, which Gallo waved feebly at.

Following that AB, you knew Flexen was going to emerge unscathed, and even Rafael Montero’s rocky eighth inning appearance couldn’t bother the Mariners tonight. Montero squeezed in two hits but escaped further damage thanks to a Willie Calhoun first-pitch popout and Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s groundout to second. In the ninth, Keynan Middleton — a reliever picked up after the Angels non-tendered him this offseason — pitched a scoreless frame to lower his ERA to 3.07. (Yes, yes, I know his FIP is 4.22 and his xFIP is 5.46, but let’s not dwell on those today, OK?)

The Mariners game was battling for attention all night with the NBA playoffs, as some of professional sports’ biggest stars battled for supremacy across the country. Seeing LeBron and Anthony Davis team up, or watching Nikola Jokić carve up the Blazers, can serve as a reminder of starpower, and needing to find those otherworldly pieces to build around.

But then there are games like tonight’s in SoDo, where it’s not the Mariners’ All-Stars taking center stage, nor is it their wunderkind prospect. Instead, it’s the forgettables, it’s the riffraff at the bottom of the order and the forgotten man who needed to leave the country to rebuild his arsenal. That’s who delivered a victory tonight. And what a win it was.