Some of you probably opted out of watching this game when you heard it was Shohei Ohtani vs. the Mariners’ bullpen. That’s a totally fair choice to make. The Angels are blessed with not one but two generational talents, and it’s okay to be annoyed by that, and it’s okay to wonder where the Mariners’ next generational talent is, or if they used up all their Sodo Mojo back before the current generation of fans was even born. I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately—having a year slip by while you’re inside the house during a global pandemic will do that to you—and it’s frustrating to feel like the Mariners are standing still, have been standing still, while around them different teams have surged and fallen and made big signings and had major breakouts. It’s frustrating to feel like the Mariners are constantly a corner team in the shadows while other teams tower above them in prominence and star power. It is fair to wonder where the Mariners’ next great “Junior” will come from in an age of them (Tatís, Acuña, Guerrero), when they’ll have a moderate free agency signing turn into a superstar, when they’ll have players whose faces are featured regularly in MLB’s promotional materials. It is especially fair to wonder this when facing the team that employs Mike Trout, on a night when Shohei Ohtani is both the starting pitcher and batting in the two-hole, and you already can see the headlines on MLB’s main page or the teaser on Quick Pitch, and the Mariners are starting Robert Dugger and their second baseman in the nine-hole.
Ironically, though, it was the Mariners’ bottom of the order who gave the team the best chance to win tonight. It was feast or famine for the Mariners hitters, some of whom seemed able to square Ohtani up, and others who couldn’t solve him—Haniger, Seager, Fraley, and Murphy all struck out twice against Ohtani, and looked bad doing it. Haniger, in particular, had some really ugly swings as he struggled to pick up the splitter. Ohtani’s fifteen swing-and-misses ranked fifth in baseball tonight, and it’s honestly surprising it wasn’t higher. The batters who did square Ohtani up might surprise you, starting with a loud noise on the second pitch of the game:
105 MPH exit velocity and 434 feet on that! We love it. J.P. had some solid contact off Ohtani tonight, with his other contact being a sac fly that scored the Mariners’ only other run of the game, and a scorched lineout that cane off the bat at 109 MPH but unfortunately was aimed directly at the right fielder. Also squaring Ohtani up: Ty France, who did account for one of Ohtani’s TEN strikeouts but also had the hardest-hit ball off of him by a batter not named J.P. tonight, a 103 mph double. Taylor Trammell also doubled off Ohtani, and in his other at-bat, grounded out, showing a better plan against Ohtani than many of his more seasoned teammates. And honestly, with a solid night from Trammell where he looked comfortable and happy once again, and a delightful performance from J.P., I could have thrown my hands up, said Oh well, it’s Ohtani, the protagonist of baseball, what are you going to do, and been satisfied with the loss.
Except. This was a winnable game. Ohtani was good, yes, the splitter was deadly as always, but the Mariners did work two runs off of him with J.P.’s home run and a manufactured run after Trammell’s leadoff double (featuring Donovan Walton laying down a great bunt, bunting is dead, long live bunting, and the aforementioned J.P. sac fly). Robert Dugger got Fletchered on a base hit and then gave up a two-run shot to Upton, and Hector Santiago made a terrible pitch to José Rojas, who was batting below the Mendoza Line, to give the Angels the lead, but that was all the damage the Mariners bullpen allowed, thanks to this incredible play by Will Vest, who made up for a throwing error that allowed Juan Lagares to reach on a bunt with this incredible play:
Cowboy Will was fired up:
The bottom of the order then, maybe catching some Cowboy Will fever, had another chance to inflict damage when Taylor Trammell hit his second double of the night off Mike Mayers to lead off the eighth, and Walton again used his Magic Bunting Abilities to not only move Trammell to third but also reach himself when Mayers wiped out trying to field the bunt. I won’t embarrass him by posting it here but just imagine the absolute opposite of the athleticism shown by Vest in the above clip, and that’s about it. Mayers then walked Fearsome Power Hitter J.P. Crawford to load the bases and end his night, prompting Joe Maddon to bring in the only pitcher in the 5th-worst-in-MLB Angels bullpen that I fear: Raisel Iglesias. But the Mariners had no outs, and their Big Three coming up, right? They had to score at least one lousy little run out of that, right?
The Angels acquired Raisel Iglesias in trade, yes, but primarily were able to acquire him because Cincinnati was no longer interested in paying his $4.5M salary. The Angels like paying players, and it’s an extra bonus if those players happen to be good. Tonight the Angels win was powered by Iglesias ($4.5M), Ohtani ($3M), Upton ($22M), David Fletcher ($5M, freshly signed to a new $26M-five year deal) and José Rojas (league minimum). The Mariners’ best chance was spearheaded by J.P. Crawford ($2M), Robert Dugger (league minimum), Ty France (league minimum), Taylor Trammell (league minimum), Will Vest (league minimum) and Paul Sewald (league minimum), which is as admirable as it is frustrating. Landing a generational talent can be as much luck as it is willingness to pay them, or at least the players surrounding them. Meanwhile, tonight in Tacoma, Angels prospect Jo Adell hit one over the video board in Salt Lake’s 10-5 win over the Rainiers. Time, it will not stop marching on.