If there’s a Mariners-style win this year, non-chaos division, it’s probably this: strong starting pitching holds the opposing team down enough for the offense to slowly stack a few runs on the board, either by scraping some runs off a starter or pouncing on the soft underbelly of another team’s bullpen, and then the bullpen comes in and closes the door. The majority of the heavy offensive lifting is done by the first three batters, who drag the rest of the lineup along behind them, with the bottom of the lineup occasionally punishing a mistake pitch for a solo homer. Tonight the Mariners flipped the script a little, spreading out the offense across the lineup and weathering a late-inning bullpen hiccup to guarantee at least a series split with the Rockies, meaning the Mariners haven’t lost a series since the Yankees came to town in early July.
The last time the Mariners faced Germán Márquez he had a perfect game going into the sixth inning, when Taylor Trammell put an end to that with a solo home run. With no Trammell in the lineup tonight it looked like Márquez might not perfecto the Mariners—Cal Raleigh worked his first ever big-league walk in the second inning to put an end to that idea early on—but a no-hitter felt very much on the table, as the Mariners’ approach of limiting Márquez from getting to a two-strike count and being able to deploy his curveball by swinging at the first pitch only resulted in quick innings for Márquez until the fourth inning, when Kyle Seager mercifully ended no-hit-watch by dunking a single into center field. Cal Raleigh followed that up with his first-ever MLB hit, but Jarred Kelenic and Dylan Moore struck out to end any threat.
Cal Raleigh had quite a night tonight on both sides of the dish—we’ll get to his offensive impact a little more later—as he helped Marco out of a little early trouble after Garrett Hampson singled three pitches into the game. Marco struck out Connor Joe, in for an injured Chris Owings, but during that at-bat Raleigh notched another first: his first MLB caught stealing.
Congratulations to Cal Raleigh on his first MLB caught stealing. This absolute seed cuts down Garrett Hampson trying to snag a free base. pic.twitter.com/mPdtQSZPA0— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) July 21, 2021
Marco walked Trevor Story but got Charlie Blackmon to ground out to end the inning for a clean first inning. Overall his stuff looked much better tonight; his misses were mostly borderline pitches instead of big misses like they’ve been, and the changeup was an especially good weapon for him tonight, generating both whiffs and weak contact.
The one speedbump Marco hit tonight was in the fifth inning; he walked the eight-hole hitter, Joshua Fuentes, on five pitches, and then made a poor pitch to Connor Joe—88 middle-middle—which Joe redirected 440 feet for a no-doubter, non-Coors-aided two-run shot. That would be Marco’s last inning of the night, and two runs over five innings isn’t going to vastly improve his ERA, but having recapped Marco’s past few starts (and been sad while doing so), I can attest it was a much better-looking outing than his previous few.
Now trailing 2-0, it looked like the game was headed down a particularly stupid path as Mitch Haniger led off the next inning with a solid base hit, but was thrown trying to stretch what was maybe a generously-sized single into a hustle double but without the necessary hustle. Seager then hit a double that would have probably scored Haniger if he hadn’t had a sudden attack of the bad decisions, and then France hit a single that DEFINITELY would have scored Mitch if he hadn’t been overtaken by the farticus brainicus. That left the scoring opportunity in the hands of tenderfooted young rookie Cal Raleigh. I believe I actually said out loud, “no pressure, Cal.”
Make that no-pressure Cal:
Jarred Kelenic grounded out for the second out of the inning, which put any chance of scoring the go-ahead run into the slender yet strong hands of one Dylan Moore. DMo has been scuffling this year, especially on hittable pitches in the zone, which is maybe why Márquez felt like he could get away with grooving a slider middle-middle to him. And true to form, DMo fouled off that very hittable pitch. But then Márquez went back to that well a second time, and this time, this time Dylan did not miss:
Middle-of-the-order production? Extra-base hits and homers? It’s not the typical formula, but we are not mad about it, no we are not. Of course because this is a Mariners win there did have to be some top-of-the-order production, which came thanks to Mr. Ty France, who saw the Mariners attempting to squander a two-on no-out opportunity and said NON.
Those two extra runs would turn out to be important because again, boldly stepping outside of the genre conventions of a 2021 Mariners win, the bullpen actually wobbled a little tonight, making the game a little more heart-stopping than it could have been.
J.T. Chargois took over for Marco in the fifth, and managed to post a clean inning but needed an assist from Shed Long, who gunned down Ryan McMahon trying to go from first to third on an Elias Díaz single. No, like, literally, as once again the infielder-as-outfielder trope gets turned on its head:
that's Shedric "Gunslinger" Long Jr. to you pic.twitter.com/GmOgTkhk3h— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) July 21, 2021
Drew Steckenrider also worked a scoreless inning, this time getting help from Cal Raleigh behind the dish:
Here's another one Connor caught: https://t.co/KG3QsuuEvY— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) July 21, 2021
Again, having endured some...questionable receiving from Torrens earlier this season, it’s fresh and fun to have a receiver as good as Cal back there. He did have a couple hiccups here and there, as is to be expected when a young catcher goes from seeing the same familiar pitches in the minors to a whole new pitching staff (including some who weren’t even with the big-league club during spring training), but overall Cal was as impressive behind the dish as he was at it.
The biggest bullpen wobble came from the man who’s been the most reliable arm out there over the past few weeks. Charlie Blackmon led off the 8th by tripling against Paul Sewald, and then C.J. Cron, who stands at the plate like a salami hanging in a butcher-shop window, ambushed a first-pitch slider that slid into the upper middle of the zone, redirecting it 465 feet into the Colorado sunset. Sewald rebounded to get McMahon to fly out on a fastball, and Díaz to pop out softly on the slider before striking out pinch-hitter Brendan Rodgers again on the slider. Sliders aren’t easy to throw in Coors Field and it did seem like Sewald had found his handle on the pitch by the end, but there was still an inning to go with the Mariners’ lead trimmed to a decidedly not Coors-proof two runs.
After Carlos Estévez, casually throwing 98-99, dismissed the top of the Mariners order in the top of the 8th (Haniger did work a walk, but Seager and France struck out to end any thoughts of insurance runs), the upset-tummy feelings became a little more pronounced when Kendall Graveman led off by walking pinch-hitter Raimel Tapia. Why stray from the genre that produced so many first-half hits, I couldn’t help but wonder. Play the old stuff! Freebird! Etc. Thankfully, Graveman—himself throwing a cool 97-98—rebounded to get Hampson chasing after his slider, followed by an easy groundout off the bat of Connor Joe, and then dismissed Trevor Story, who should be freed from the prison of the Rockies ASAP, on three pitches, ending on another nasty slider Story chased out of the zone. Maybe the occasional genre switch isn’t so bad. After all, if Ian Fleming had never given up spy novels we wouldn’t have Disneyland’s second-best ride. Here’s to having some diverse fun in the second half of the season.