For so long we’ve been taught to expect the least where the Mariners are concerned. When we get our hopes up, that’s where we get crushed: Lollablueza, Deadgar Weekend, the crushing back half of 2018; these things loom large in fan memories, excitement turning to so much ash in our mouths. It’s why the particular negativity of Mariners fans has to be excused, or at least understood, even as it’s a yoke we wish we could throw off, a heritage we never asked for.
So the first draft of this recap was, understandably, very different. There were little snarky asides and Simpsons references and the kinds of jokes and humor we’ve used to keep the wolves of disappointment at bay over the years. Understandable, because despite the game starting out on a positive note, when spot-starter Darren McCaughan struck out José Altuve, things quickly took a turn for the sour after that:. McCaughan would go on to surrender six runs in the inning, two on back-to-back home runs to Kyle Tucker (a three-run doozy) and Abraham Toro (only his 6th on the season). Spotting a team like the Astros any kind of lead means tunneling down ever-deeper under the mountain one has to summit to try to beat this team, but a six-run lead in the first? I was already packing this game up to file under the “blowouts” category in looking at the Mariners’ run differential. A Martin Maldonado solo shot in the fourth, stretching the lead to 7-0, felt like the seal on the envelope.
But you eat an elephant bite by bite (do not actually do that), so the Mariners got to work against Luis García, a potential ROY candidate. When circumstances punch you in the mouth, you can quit or you can fight on. The Mariners chose to fight on bravely, and were rewarded in the fourth, when J.P. Crawford led off with a single and Kyle Seager walked to put two on with one out (Haniger struck out swinging). Ty France then tapped into what could have been an inning-ending double play, but Luis García’s throw, upon review, was found to have pulled Altuve off the bag. That loaded up the bases for Cal Raleigh, who pounced on the first fastball he saw:
I have been beating the Cal Raleigh is Underrated drum for literal years at this point, shoehorning it into conversations where it absolutely does not belong, so please allow me to feel myself for a moment.
Unfortunately, Keynan Middleton gave one of those runs right back, allowing two hits on his slider—a double to Correa and an RBI single to perpetual Mariners-and-no-one-else-foe Martin Maldonado. The Mariners tried to rally in the bottom half of the fifth, getting two on base, but Mitch Haniger struck out to give García a career-high 9 Ks. That left Kyle Seager the lone man standing between the threat of the Mariners posting another zero, but honestly, being the lone man standing has kind of been Seager’s MO over his whole career.
That ended the night for García, who, despite the strikeouts, posted his worst start of the season at 4 2⁄3 innings and six runs, five earned. Bryan Abreu came in to get the final out of the inning, getting Ty France to fly out, with the Mariners suddenly trailing by just two runs.
Erik Swanson worked a clean inning, allowing a walk but getting out of it by getting Correa to pop out, and in the bottom half of the inning the Mariners were able to draw even closer, when Luis Torrens worked a walk and Shed Long punched a single through an open left side of the infield.
That ended Bryan Abreu’s night, as lefty Blake Taylor came in from the bullpen to face Jake Bauers. Except it wasn’t Jake Bauers! Servais pinch-hit with Dylan Moore, who got ahead 2-0 before a gifted strike and then a foul evened up the count before Moore struck out to end the inning. But it did force Baker to use yet another arm out of the Astros pen in the first game of the series, perhaps evening the teams up in terms of bullpen usage. (I’m not fixing this part but LOL you can tell this part was written while they were trailing, right? Because we are so used to asking for small wins against these Astros, and tiring out the Astros’ bullpen felt like a win.)
Swanson and Taylor matched each other for scoreless innings, and then in the top of the 8th Kendall Graveman came in to face the top of the Astros lineup. After quickly dismissing Maldonado on a strikeout looking and Altuve on an easy popout (it’s worth noting Altuve went hitless in this offensive barrage), Graveman walked Brantley but rebounded to strike out Gurriel thanks to some very nice pitch framing from Cal Raleigh, who, as seen above, is VERY UNDERRATED AS A RECEIVER, CAN I INTEREST YOU IN HEARING ABOUT THE GOSPEL OF CAL RALEIGH? [as I am yanked off stage by a giant cane, vaudeville-style].
Next out of the bullpen was hard-throwing Ryne Stanek, because again, the Astros had to use all their highest-level relievers despite jumping out to an almost double-digit lead early in this game. Ty France just reached out and tapped a single off a splitter on the outside corner to start the inning off, but Raleigh got in an 0-2 hole quickly against 98-99 and went down on that same splitter, and Torrens grounded out, and then Jarred Kelenic...absolutely battled through a plate appearance to work a walk, forcing Dusty Baker to go to the bullpen yet again.
Despite a shiny FIP that underscores his ERA of almost 6, Brooks Raley has struggled at times this season, especially with his command, and that command appeared to be shaky again as he walked Tom Murphy after getting ahead of him 0-2. Again, Raley struggled with the strike zone, getting to a 1-1 count thanks to Dylan Moore chasing off the plate, which maybe emboldened him to come in high like this:
You know what Dylan Moore likes? A high fastball.
GRAND SLAM TO TAKE THE LEAD pic.twitter.com/u6D4nbvho4— ROOT SPORTS™ | NW (@ROOTSPORTS_NW) July 27, 2021
And in case you were worried the fireworks would stop after tonight: the next batter was J.P. Crawford, who was hit by a Brooks Raley pitch, incensing the Mariners bench and specifically Scott Servais, who seemed to experience five whole human emotions and in the postgame interview showed up completely hoarse, saying he had been shouting with his players/at the umpires. We know there’s no love lost between the Mariners and Astros, but after a game like this, emotions should be running high for the remainder of the series.
Surprisingly, the least dramatic part of the game was when Paul Sewald came on to close things out, setting down the heart of the Astros lineup 1-2-3, and can we just take a moment to appreciate Paul Sewald, no-agita high-leverage reliever? More like Paul Serene.
For so long we’ve been trained to expect the least with this team, who don’t make splashy deadline moves or off-season acquisitions; we’ve become numb to other teams celebrating wins or no-hitters or playoff berths on our field, while the Mariners slink away back to their own dugout, perpetually background players in their own sport, their own stadium. We’ve especially learned to manage our expectations when playing the Astros, having watched Mariners teams for the past five years crushed like so many junk cars beneath the relentless orange wheels of the Astros’ monster truck.
Tonight, though, those junk cars banded together into an even bigger, nastier car, Transformers-style, and crunched right back. Tonight the 2021 Mariners encouraged us to hope for more, with literally a player named Moore, because the team knows our wits have been bludgeoned dull by decades of losing, so a little heavy hand on the symbolism is necessary. Tonight the Mariners won a game they probably had no business winning, except they also won a game they had no business winning yesterday, and the day before that, and maybe what these Mariners are in is the business of winning. The 2021 Mariners are asking us to be louder, to take up space, to dare to hope. Personally, I have been reluctant to do so—much like in my own life I am not always as loud as I want to be, or try to train myself to take up less space in the world. But a game like this makes me want more; more than that, it makes me expect more. It invites us to be the crusher rather than the crushed. It demands a bravery of spirit, nothing less, the same bravery of spirit required to do or love anything well. I’ve held out as long as I can; I am ready to be brave, to love these 2021 Mariners well. See you on the other side of the arena.