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Mariners lose game despite retracing steps

Look, I set the game down right here, I know I did

Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

It might have happened to you at the grocery store. You walked down the frozen foods aisle, listlessly glancing from side to side, more browsing than looking for anything specific. Oh, those Reese’s ice cream bars look kinda neat, you might have thought before eventually settling on a more conservative choice like a pint of Häagen-Dazs chocolate. As the inner voices narrating the personal drama of your Wednesday evening played out slowly in your mind like a couple of hamsters on ketamine, someone brushed past you.

You glanced up, barely registering a person in a pink tee shirt and flip flops walking past you. You looked back down, and then back up, and you saw a person in a pink tee shirt and flip flops walking past you again, in the same direction. Wait, didn’t that person just walk past me? I swear I just saw them, Larry the hamster squeaks in confusion. I... huh. Befuddled, you started for the vegetable aisle to acquire items that would ultimately decorate the crisper drawer in your fridge for two weeks.

Or, it might have happened to you while you were sitting at home, reading. Perhaps you dropped a pen and glanced down to locate it before picking it up, only to find that the pen seemingly no longer existed. OK, I bet it’s just wedged under the rug or something, you thought before checking. Nope. Not under the table, the chair, the couch. Not in the room next door. One moment, a pen existed. The next moment, you dropped it into Neverwhere.

Most of us have had a brief moment in which the world ceases to make sense. It isn’t hard to find more intense anecdotes than these on the internet, stories of a glitch in the matrix, so to speak.

The Mariners’ version of an anecdote would seem, at first glance, to be on the less extreme side of things. Coming into tonight, the Mariners were 19-7 in one-run games. Most teams should expect to end up approximately .500 in one-run games, with great teams of course performing better and poor teams worse. The probability of a .500-ish team like the Mariners performing as well as they have is about 1.5%. Not impossible (obviously, since it happened), but excessively unlikely.

The Mariners are not likely to suddenly lose 12 one-run games in a row, as the gambler’s fallacy would suggest, but they are also not likely to maintain a .731 winning percentage in one-run games. The luck had to run dry at some point.

As it happened, tonight was the night. Yusei Kikuchi took the hill for his first start since being named an American League All Star. Kikuchi has been enjoying a continuation of his excellent 2020 performance. Concerns about the disparity between his 3.18 ERA and 4.29 FIP coming into tonight had been assuaged somewhat by an abysmal (and apparently unsustainable) 23.1% HR/FB rate. The main weakness in his game has been dingers. He’s gotta stop giving those up at some point, right?

Hopefully! Though, um, not tonight.

It’s hard to chalk it up to bad luck when you hang a pitch that badly to Aaron Judge. Kikuchi missed his spot way up and got punished for it. To Kikuchi’s credit, he hung on. After two innings riddled with hard-hit baseballs, command issues, and dingers, Kikuchi settled down to retire the last seven batters he faced. He ended up going 5.0 innings. The five runs weren’t great, but they gave the M’s a chance.

And boy, did the M’s have a chance. After would-be starting pitcher Domingo Germán’s start was cancelled due to an “emergency root canal”, reliever Nick Nelson was pressed into emergency service. His 0.2 innings of work were terrible. Nelson gave up three walks and plunked Mitch Haniger. Despite the wonderful opportunity to give their All Star some run support, the Mariners failed to record a hit in the first inning and recorded just a single run.

Reliever Luis Cessa was far more effective against the Mariners. Cessa ended up allowing just one hit through four innings before Germán was called into duty, presumably with an uncomfortably numb face (or a really painful mouth). The newly toothless Germán allowed a no-doubt dinger to Tom Murphy in the sixth inning, keeping things interesting for the rest of the game.

Alas, Murphy was the last Mariner of the game to reach base. The final ten Mariners were retired in order, half of them striking out in the process. It was a cruel way to go. The four-run lead cushioned the Yankees’ lead just enough for us to distance ourselves from the outcome early. Murphy’s dinger re-ignited hope, but came just early enough that the hope was long, drawn out, and, when proved fruitless, ultimately exasperating.

The Mariners and Yankees are now tied at 3.5 games back of a Wild Card spot, and they’ll have a chance to go at it one more time tomorrow. Any game in which Justus Sheffield isn’t starting feels winnable for the Mariners. Logan Gilbert will be starting, and one neat thing about him is that he is not Justus Sheffield.