On the heels of the most thrilling victory of the season, perhaps the last few years, one that dug comparisons to ‘95 out of the grave and propelled playoff hopes to a fever pitch, the Mariners were cast into turmoil. The loss of a teammate to a trade is always difficult, but the factors compounding the case of Kendall Graveman were additive and threatened to spiral if left uncontrolled.
A player evidently respected and trusted, a player who had indicated a desire to stay with the team in the midst of a midsummer push. A team eminently reviled and treacherous, a team with whom the fight for the postseason would possibly be engaged. Combine with preexisting mistrust of those in charge, promises made, and promises perceived to be broken. Mix together in a home ballpark and add a little July heat. Congratulations, you’ve made a ticking time bomb with a countdown set to Friday, July 30 at 4:00 PM E.T.
Nevertheless, the cold and unrelenting scheduled devised by the suits at MLB demanded that a game be played today.
The energy in the stands was low as the players took their spots on the field, the atmosphere an alternate dimension away from the live wire the night prior. The players were perceptibly shaken, despite the broadcast’s attempts to edit the sad parts.
With a torrent of Astro offense a mirror image of the first inning 24 hours prior, the narrative appeared cemented. Home Flexen, a pitching deity on par with some of the league’s best, was absent. The Mariners were a new team now, one that would get tripped up on their own shoelaces and faceplant back to the basement of the standings where they’ve always belonged.
That is, until the city’s first half hero, J.P. Crawford, offered his team his beloved Dr. Evil grin from second base.
If I squint, maybe there’s something forced about it. Maybe it lacks something we’ve seen in games past.
Kyle Seager didn’t think so.
No, he bought it enough to send T-Mobile Park’s toweringest home run out to right field. On a fly ball with an astounding launch angle of 44 degrees, he cut the deficit to one run.
By the sixth, it was an 8-2 ballgame and the narratives were beginning to re-form. The players will never recover from the blow to their confidence, or, if you prefer, the players should “put their heads down and do their jobs.”
Ty France, Cal Raleigh, and Luis Torrens would like a word. With a single and two walks, the trio loaded the bases with just one out. Jarred Kelenic, who had struck out twice on the night, stepped into the box. Ever the competitor, he couldn’t remain as un-clutch as he has for much longer. With a line drive single straight up the middle, he paid his due.
The lead cut now in half, the first test of the day’s most polarizing trade was underway. Joe Smith, a man with a name so ordinary it’s hard to imagine it’s real, a man whose ERA sent shivers up the spine of many, elicited a groundout, a flyout, and a popout in order from three Astros with whom he had woken up teammates. “We won the trade,” many joked on Twitter, the feeling not quite there.
Any doubts about energy from the team were quieted in the eighth with Sadler on the mound. Bellevue-born Michael Brantley lined one out toward left center field, and Jarred Kelenic... well, Jarred Kelenic did this:
This double play started by @JKelenic_1019 pic.twitter.com/PBPro0rNPW— MLB (@MLB) July 28, 2021
Has he arrived? Folks, many are asking this.
By the home ninth, still down four runs, the Mariners were looking for some of the same magic that had propelled them the night prior. The kind of magic that thrives on joy and relies on unselfish love for those around you. The kind of magic that seemed to have been zapped out of existence by the cruel reality of baseball-as-business. Out of the depths of their frustrations, the team found some.
With much-maligned Abraham Toro standing in the on-deck circle, Jarred struck one to the outfield grass for his second hit of the night (folks...), and instantly the imaginations of baseball fans around the Sound began to churn.
As they do every so often, destiny and absurdity aligned:
Abraham Toro:— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) July 28, 2021
First AB as a Mariner ✅
First HR as a Mariner ✅ pic.twitter.com/6e29x3gBOF
Both inevitable and improbable, the man who strode across the field to a dugout in tumult just hours prior had a little of their magic up his sleeve.
In a show of solidarity with their newfound teammate, who was most likely not on the receiving end of the warmest welcome in Mariners history, Shed and Mitch elected to join the effort. If you’re anything like me, this left you staring at the screen or leaned in toward the radio, mouth agape, saying to yourself, “there’s no way... there’s no way.”
In that case, you and I were right.
Seeing as the loss felt like it was in the books before the game began, it’s hard not to be heartened by the effort shown tonight. In the face of one of the most difficult games of the year for many players, they demonstrated that the show wasn’t over just yet. As we sit on our hands waiting for Jeff Passan tweets, the players’ breaths are endlessly more bated. Whether the moves allegedly looming are enough (for whom? to accomplish what?) is uncertain. In the meantime, it’s clear that no one in Seattle has given up.