There’s lots of talk about baseball games being too long, but games like today’s are a strong counterargument against changing anything. Let those who like half-hour sitcoms and reading cereal box backs stay with their time-limited games; baseball is is for the big readers, and it’s over when it’s over, when it’s done telling you the story of the day. Today’s story had several twists and turns, but ultimately resolved happily for the Mariners, sandwiching a series split against the Troutless Angels despite a terrible two games serving as the filling.
If you pulled me aside after the second inning and told me Logan Gilbert would end up winning his first ever MLB game while striking out seven and giving up just one run on two hits, I would have gently tried to coax you into the nearest facility for Delusional Baseball Fans and asked for the Deluxe package. The Mariners gave Gilbert some run support early, manufacturing a run in the first on a sacrifice fly from Seager after J.P. Crawford walked and Ty France singled. However, Gilbert gave that run right back on a first-pitch home run to Justin Upton. The Angels were obviously sitting on Gilbert’s fastball right away, as Rendon and Lagares also swung at the first pitch they saw from Gilbert, both flying out harmlessly; Gilbert tried to adjust to that by moving his fastball location, but he simply didn’t have a good feel for it, walking both Ohtani and Walsh. Juan Lagares flew out and José Iglesias grounded out to quell the threat, but it came at a cost of an inflated pitch count for Gilbert following a night when the bullpen was taxed heavily after Kikuchi’s inning.
Gilbert had to labor in the second inning, as well, when J.P. Crawford sailed the throw on what should have been an easy first out, followed by an eight-pitch battle with Kurt Suzuki that ended in Suzuki getting hit. Fletcher sacrificed the runners over to second and third to put early pressure on the young pitcher. It was a constant struggle to get pitches in the zone for Gilbert, even as he flashed 96-97 on the fastball; not only did he struggle to command it, but the curveball continued to misbehave, stubbornly landing a ninety degree left turn from where Gilbert released it. Gilbert actually worked in his changeup some today and while it tunnels excellently with his slider—to the point where both the broadcast booth and Gameday seemed baffled as to which one he was throwing—he had trouble locating that, as well. The pitch that served him most faithfully today was his slider, and Gilbert leaned on it like a life preserver, fighting his way out of that second-inning jam by striking out Upton on the slider before Rendon, again sitting first-pitch fastball, grounded out on 96 in the middle of the plate and down. It felt like a narrow escape, and it was.
In the top of the third, Gilbert got some offensive help from his Arkansas Traveler teammate Donovan Walton, who took advantage of Angel Stadium’s right field wall by jumping on a first-pitch fastball for his second big-league homer.
Donnie Dingers, we call him. J.P. Crawford then took advantage of a blown strike three call to double over the head of Taylor Ward, and Haniger dunked a base hit to put runners on the corners for Ty France with no outs. France was aggressive, chasing a changeup off the plate in an 0-2 count to line out harmlessly, but Seager got it done, lining the first pitch he saw—a high and inside fastball—into center field to give the Mariners a 3-1 advantage.
Armed with a lead and a sense of safety in his slider, Gilbert had his first 1-2-3 inning on the day, striking out Jared Walsh on four pitches, although he did get into an eight-pitch battle with José Iglesias. Long battles have been an issue for Gilbert throughout the minors, something he fought against in Modesto and Arkansas, and it shows how important it is that Gilbert is able to develop the changeup into a swing-and-miss weapon in addition to landing his curveball with regularity. Gilbert started off the fourth quickly, using the slider to strike out Taylor Ward and Kurt Suzuki, but after he fell behind David Fletcher 2-0 with some shoddy fastball command, eventually allowing a double on a cookie middle-middle fastball, and walked Upton when he couldn’t trick the veteran into mistaking a series of low fastballs for the slider, tension was mounting as Ohtani stepped to the plate. Gilbert started Ohtani with the curve and the changeup, neither of which landed anywhere close to the zone, and then didn’t get the call on a well-placed fastball at the bottom of the zone. But Gilbert was able to get back into the count with two fastballs, one of which wasn’t tasty enough to tempt Ohtani in a 3-0 count and one just a bit further away in the zone that resulted in a foul, before pulling out his old friend the slider:
That escape act earned Gilbert a fifth inning of work, still protecting a 3-1 lead, and he rewarded his skipper’s faith with a 1-2-3 inning, once again getting Rendon to make an out on his fastball and then battling for 10 pitches (another battle) against Jared Walsh, eventually winning on a 97 mph fastball on his 101st pitch of the game that Walsh swung through. He then put Juan Lagares away on just four pitches, getting ahead 0-2 and then finishing him with the slider to put the cherry on top of his day.
He even wound up on the leaderboard for today for swing-and-misses:
And yes, that is Angels starter Patrick Sandoval at the top, who took advantage of the bottom half of the Mariners lineup to register a career-high 10 strikeouts en route to 14 strikeouts overall by Mariners hitters. However, once Sandoval was out of the game, the Mariners started pulling ahead; the neo-Bash Brothers Donovan Walton and J.P. Crawford (who struck out a combined total of ZERO times today) hit back-to-back doubles to notch another run, and then in the ninth, Mariners hitters beat up a pair of former Mariners pitchers in Hunter Strickland and Steve Cishek when four straight Mariners batters reached base; there were no big blows, just walks and singles, but by the time the inning ended the Mariners had batted around (no matter how you define it) and held a 9-2 lead.
The bullpen gave some of that back when Keynan Middleton came out after a long layoff and couldn’t find his rhythm, but Drew Steckenrider, the Hunter Strickland we were promised but never received, came out and slammed the door with two strikeouts, giving the Angels batters 11 Ks of their own on the day. The Mariners will enjoy an off-day tomorrow as they make their way from the sunny shores of Orange County to the Motor City to try to avenge their dreadful performance against the Detroit Tigers.