When the Mariners signed Marco Gonzales to a four-year contract extension in early 2020, the club put in writing what has steadily become more evident since Marco’s arrival to the team in mid-2017: the Mariners believe in Marco on the mound; they believe in his role as a team leader; and they’re committed to him for the long haul, as the team comes out of this rebuilding period and into (hopefully) more winning ways. As Félix’s career waned and then ended in Seattle, the Mariners transitioned Marco to that role, handing him the ball on Opening Day starting in 2018, calling on him to act as a team representative at events like Fan Fest, making him the face of their marketing materials even as the rest of the team’s composition was in flux. No matter what happened, Marco was there.
Unfortunately, in 2021, things have been off to a rockier start for the Mariners’ de facto team leader. Things started off badly before Marco had even picked up a baseball in a competitive game, as disgraced former team president Kevin Mather decided to, for no reason at all other than that sweet sweet clout, cast aspersions on said de facto team leader by calling him “Very Boring,” which of course immediately became a t-shirt Marco (and other members of the rotation) routinely wear to press conferences. But things didn’t look right from the jump on the field, either, when Marco surrendered 12 runs in 15 innings in spring training. It got worse from there: the Giants tagged Marco for three homers on Opening Day, and in his next outing he got lit up by the Twins, lasting just 4.1 outings and giving up seven runs. To his credit, Marco buckled down and fought hard over the back half of April, a tough-luck loser against the Astros and Dodgers despite giving up just three runs over 13 combined innings, but then a forearm injury sidelined him for all of May, a frustrating setback for a pitcher who prides himself on making every start and going deep into games. Then, shortly after his return, Marco went on the paternity list for the birth of his first child (who bears the middle name of his late mother-in-law, who passed away in February), and in his first game back, got rocked by the lowly Texas Rangers for seven runs in just 3.1 innings. He’d lose again against Texas earlier this month despite giving up just one run over six innings, which is another unfortunate theme for his 2021 season; Marco ranks 20th in lowest amount of run support among pitchers with at least 15 starts.
Maybe Marco had those last couple of starts in his mind when he took the mound today against Texas, but from the outset of the game, he pitched today like a man possessed. Aside from one mistake pitch—a fastball that missed his spot that Charlie Culberson ambushed for a solo home run—Marco was practically perfect today, spotting up his fastball beautifully at the top of the zone for swinging strikes. He collected a career-high-tying nine strikeouts, to go with nine whiffs on the fastball and 17 swing-and-misses overall, good for second place on Statcast’s leaderboard for the day (currently, at least). Look at all these beautiful whiffs!
Marco was the homer and a ground ball single directly after that away from a no-hitter, and the only other trouble he had with the Rangers was a walk that was promptly erased on a double play.
However, the win probability for this game stayed stubbornly pointed towards the Rangers into the fifth inning; it took the Mariners offense four innings to get to noted Bad Pitcher Mike Foltynewicz, when Ty France singled and Abraham Toro smoked a ball at 100 MPH directly at Isiah Kiner-Falefa, putting runners on the corners. Jarred Kelenic hit a sac fly that was juuuuuust deep enough to bring France chugging home (although the Mariners benefited there from a terrible off-line throw by left fielder Culberson) and boom, tied game. Then in the fifth inning, J.P. Crawford continued his dominance over Mike Foltynewicz:
1️⃣0️⃣7️⃣ off the bat.— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) August 12, 2021
4️⃣0️⃣0️⃣ feet. pic.twitter.com/ohEE1Yp0bU
J.P. has six homers this year and three of them are off Foltynewicz, and that is objectively hilarious. This was his second hit of the day; he led off with a double, but was promptly stranded as Haniger, Seager, and France all made outs.
Jake Fraley has been slumping since coming back from the COVID-IL (like, a 52 wRC+ and a 40% K-rate slumping), but he snapped out of it to give the Mariners an insurance run in the seventh:
Jake Fraley crushes this one. 3-1 Mariners pic.twitter.com/4gERJ4YHT0— Justin Groc (@jgroc) August 12, 2021
I hate to disagree with Justin up there, but this homer to me isn’t as impressive as it looks: only 99 MPH off the bat, a .380 xBA with a 32 degree launch angle. So, high and towering (and out at 28/30 MLB parks), but I have to give J.P. the Best Dong of the Day award.
Even as the Mariners offense scuffled to score runs of Foltynewicz, allowing him to hang in the game for a season-high-tying seven innings, the Mariners defense turned in a sterling performance, especially Ty France, who tracked down several popouts in the midday sun.
I mean, put some respect on Ty France’s play at first base, defensive metrics!
It’s important this team play good defense, because offensively they have kind of been a poo-poo platter lately. Three runs isn’t going to cut it against the Toronto Blue Jays, whom the Mariners need to put up a good showing against to have any hope of remaining Wild Card-adjacent. But for today, they did just enough to earn Marco a much-deserved win, and help him turn the tide on what’s been a rocky 2021 season. Here’s hoping for smooth sailing for Marco and his crew of Mariners from here on.