As the Seattle Mariners settled in to begin a baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays, and the fans settled in to watch, it was with a backdrop of mild discomfort. A sense of uneasiness has hung around the Mariners. While the whispers of clubhouse discontent seem somewhat overblown, the Mariners are just 6-10 since the deadline. Marco Gonzales’ complete game win yesterday acted as something of a salve for the team’s wounds (winning cures all, as they say), but none but the most irrational still harbor dreams of the playoffs this season.
Even more uncomfortable than the recent morale was the weather. Sticky and warm air saturated the space between players and fans. Fine bits of ash from our burning world were held suspended in the air, tickling throats and muting colors.
Despite the backdrop, fans settled into their seats to watch a Mariners game as best they knew how: while tolerating less-than-ideal circumstances.
This game was, in essence, the Platonic ideal of a Mariners game. Have you ever tried to explain why you like baseball to somebody that doesn’t like baseball? To a fan of another sport, you end up advocating for the intricacies and minutiae of the game, or explaining how hitting a baseball is probably the hardest thing to do in any sport in the entire world. To one who dislikes sports, you instead advocate for how much of the experience of watching a baseball game is doing things that aren’t watching a baseball game. It’s about sitting and hanging out with friends with something to watch in the background, I’ve said before. Actual baseball-related goings-on become afterthoughts. I wonder if I think about baseball that way because of the Seattle Mariners.
In any case, that’s what I mean by this game being the Platonic ideal of a Mariners game. The 28,000 fans in attendance had plenty of time to eat, drink, and make merry as the Blue Jays and Mariners recorded 13 outs in their first 14 plate appearances. Both Robbie Ray and Chris Flexen had good control of their mid-90’s fastballs and their off-speed stuff, Ray with his sliders and Flexen with his cutters and curves.
Ray and Flexen, however, are only so good. It was only a matter of time before a hitter made something happen, and demanded that the baseball game be watched. It just so happened that that hitter was Jarred Kelenic, who sliced a line drive the other way for a double. Kelenic’s hit was followed by Tom Murphy, who turned on a middle-middle fastball and hit it over the fence at 109 MPH.
I’m not sure whether Tom Murphy is hazing Jarred Kelenic, or what, but he really snubbed Jarred on the ensuing celebration.
Unfortunately, the lead was not destined to last. After Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette put themselves in scoring position with a walk and a double, Flexen nearly escaped the inning. Lourdes Gurriel had other ideas, singling up the middle to score both runners and tie the game.
That was pretty much it for the excitement, at least for a while. The next several innings were punctuated by solid defensive plays, the most notable of which was a casual near-double play by Kyle Seager. Seager made an extremely difficult hop off a Bo Bichette ground ball look easy as he fielded it cleanly and threw the ball hard to second base. Abraham Toro turned and fired to first. Bichette was called out on the play, but the call was overturned on review.
It’s surreal to watch Kyle Seager while knowing this is likely his final two months as a Mariner. At over ten years, Kyle is easily the longest tenured player on the team. If and when he leaves, that tenure will be sliced in half. Mitch Haniger, who has now been a Mariner for nearly five years, is the second-longest tenured. For all of the jokes that Mariners fans have used to cope over the past decade, and for all of the tragedy endured, Kyle Seager has been at the center. He’s lived every second of it. To think there will not be a happy ending, well, I guess it’s something we’ve already seen with Félix.
The blurred vision of stakes-less baseball and wildfire smoke was again sharpened into contrast in the seventh inning. After two quick outs, Joe Smith ran into trouble. Smith gave up a double to Santiago Espinal and a walk to George Springer. Up came Marcus Semien, easily one of the more threatening hitters on the Blue Jays. In the on-deck circle stood Vladito, who promised to break the game open if given the chance.
Thankfully, Smith got the hook. In came Diego Castillo, who has temporarily played the role of undeserved goat of the trade deadline after giving up a walk-off dinger just days later.
Castillo whipped a slider inside for ball one. He was then gifted a strike on another slider just off the plate. Perhaps realizing he’d made an error, home plate ump Jim Reynolds called a ball on a sinker on the outer corner to make the count 2-1. Another slider off the plate became ball three.
In the on-deck circle, Vladito waved his bat.
Castillo took a deep breath and set. Yet another slider barely caught the outer corner. Full count. The fifth slider of the at bat was fouled off. And the sixth. Another deep breath by Castillo.
Semien, expecting a fastball after so many sliders, blinked first. The seventh slider sliced away from the plate as his bat cut helplessly through the air, ending the inning. And so the fans got back to eating, drinking, and making merry as the bottom of the seventh and entirety of the eighth innings passed uneventfully.
A baseball game does offer excitement, we claim as we furiously defend that which we sink so much time into. And there is no time more exciting than the ninth inning of a tie game. So it was tonight.
Drew Steckenrider took the hill for the Mariners and promptly gave up back-to-back singles to the Blue Jays’ seventh and eighth hitters. The ninth hitter, Espinal, laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners, bringing up the top of the order.
The Mariners chose to pitch to Marcus Semien with the bases loaded, intentionally walking George Springer. How frustrating it must be to be an MLB hitter. Poor Semien, after being given nothing but sliders by Diego Castillo, found himself being peppered with fastballs by Steckenrider. The fourth and final fastball was middle-middle, but Semien found himself behind it as he popped it down the first base line. Ty France gave chase, stuck his glove out, and caught it.
Immediately, pinch runner Breyvic Valera took off from third. France took a step and fired home. The throw beat Valera by a mile, but he seemed to dive around Tom Murphy’s tag as Jim Reynolds called him safe. As every player seems to do these days, Tom Murphy immediately pointed at the dugout to signal for a review.
The replay looked like Murphy might’ve gotten Valera, but it sure didn’t look conclusive. Maybe they had another view in the fabled New York Review Room, because they called Valera out to end the inning and take a run off the scoreboard.
The Mariners had reasons to be optimistic for the bottom of the ninth inning with Mitch Haniger and Ty France coming up to bat, but that optimism faded quickly. Haniger was caught chasing a slider well off the plate to strike out, and France weakly dribbled a grounder to second for out number two.
Enter, well, whatever the 2021 season has been for the Seattle Mariners.
Kyle Seager worked a patient plate appearance against reliever Adam Cimber, taking several pitches inside before finally walking on a full count. Abraham Toro followed suit, perhaps getting away with a borderline ball before also walking.
Luis Torrens found himself with a chance to be a hero, but quickly got into an 0-2 hole. Out of necessity, Torrens hacked at a slider on the corner, driving it directly into the ground in front of him. It bounced once, twice, and over Cimber. Realizing he would have no chance at nabbing Torrens, second baseman Semien ran into Toro as Toro ran to second base, hoping to draw an interference call. Second base umpire Tony Randazzo (who we hate, Lloyd McClendon forever, thank you) immediately said “uh, yeah, no way, pal”.
The Blue Jays had seen enough of Cimber, especially with the lefty Jarred Kelenic coming to bat. They instead opted for left-handed Brad Hand.
Nothing Hand threw came remotely close to the strike zone. Kelenic watched as ball four sailed wide, immediately turned to the dugout, and lept into the air.
See, we say triumphantly. This is why I love baseball. Moments like this. The grin on Jarred’s face. The tension. The emotion. It was fun, wasn’t it?
On nights like this, we don’t think about the countless weeknight affairs that seem to drag into the night, keeping us up far too long for far too little payoff. Nor do we think about the October games we haven’t witnessed, the champagne we never saw Seager or Félix get doused with.
They’re in the back of my mind, of course. Fear momentarily flickers through my mind as I look at Jarred and see the same for him. But as he leaps into the sky, screaming with jubilation at the moment, I find that tonight is enough for now.