Remember how down we all felt after those two beatdowns by Houston? Can you believe that was just two days ago? Sure, the Mariners salvaged a ridiculous extra innings win and got the hell out of Minute Maid, but they weren’t out of the divisional gauntlet yet. I can think of so many Mariners/A’s games played here that were the definition of baseball purgatory: low scores, sparse attendance, wayward drums and whistles throughout. Once Mark Canha, Matt Olson, and Yan Gomes combined to scratch a run off of Marco Gonzales in the bottom of the first by way of a pair of singles, a double steal, and a fielder’s choice, my guard was up for another one of Those Games. To his credit, Marco bore down after the run came in, and set down the next eight in a row before leaving a 1-2 changeup center cut for Gomes to devour.
Once again, though, Marco beared down, sitting Jed Lowie and Josh Harrison down to end the fourth and gutting through a fifth inning in which he retired Chad Pinder, Sean Murphy, and Elvis Andrus in order with a combined 21 pitches. I’m pretty sure Murphy’s 11-pitch at bat is the longest I’ve ever charted, and I was very impressed by how Marco threw curve after curve before finally getting him on a perfect outside changeup for an easy grounder.
With Gonzales in bulldog mode, the Mariners had a chance. Unfortunately, Paul Blackburn - the forgotten man in the Daniel Vogelbach and Danny Valencia trades - rolled out of the gate with one of the best games of his fringey, scattered big league career. Never one to miss many bats, his command stayed near-impeccable through five innings, and he tied a career-high of five strikeouts against no walks - although tonight’s ump was taking the strike zone as more of a suggestion for both sides. Abraham Toro and Jarred Kelenic (!) both singled in the second to put him on the ropes, and a two-out wild pitch moved them both up, but Cal Raleigh smoked a line drive right at Starling Marte to end the threat. And really, when he’s as dialed in as this strikeout against Toro, a small, grudging part of you might be compelled to tip your cap.
Imagine the relief I felt in the sixth. J.P., finally up for the third time against Blackburn, led off the frame with a clean single after grinding out an eight-pitch battle, and Mitch Haniger did to a 1-1 hanging curveball what one expects the guy with a career-high in homers this year to do, knocking Blackburn out of the game. And hey, did you know that the Mariners are one of just a pair of teams to have two guys with at least 29 dingers?
The bats couldn’t scratch another run off of Andrew Chafin, but I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on Abraham Toro’s single. Toro, solid overall numbers with Seattle notwithstanding, had been on a bit of a slump going into tonight, slashing just .222/.324/.244 over the last couple of weeks. Mediocre as that looks, though, he’s found a way to reach base seemingly every night, and this check swing may have been the epitome of that.
Who cares that nothing else came of it? That right there is pure, distilled chaos, and was merely a harbinger of things to come. Marco got the first two outs of the sixth with a little help from his defense - after Jake Bauers, manning right field to give Haniger a DH day, momentarily bobbled a one-out single from Marte, he fired a seed to second, and Starling was out by a few steps. As much rightful guff as Mariner fandom has given Bauers the last few months, this isn’t the first time he’s flashed an excellent arm from the outfield corners in a key spot, and if you asked me right now, I’d say it’s his best tool. Who says he doesn’t have a purpose? It proved crucial, as well - Olson immediately demolished a first-pitch high curve from Gonzales to snatch the lead back. Gomes was retired one pitch later, and Marco’s night was done. Not quite the dominance he showed against Texas the last couple weeks, but his command was sharp. Tonight was just his second start of the year without allowing a walk, and I can’t emphasize enough how huge his second-half comeback has been for the club.
Sadly, any hopes of him securing the pitcher win were dashed by Chafin staying on to rip through the bottom of the M’s lineup, and to be fair, I didn’t expect Jarred Kelenic, Cal Raleigh, or Bauers to do much against him. Erik Swanson worked around a leadoff double to keep the A’s off the board in the bottom of the seventh, and the bullpen wars were on. Sergio Romo breezed through the eighth, harnessing his veteran magic to throw plummeting sliders and changeups that the top of the order couldn’t crack. Anthony Misiewicz was up next, and he too worked out of a jam, this one brought on by a rare Seager throwing error and a walk before bearing down to coax a double play off of the bat of Olson. Still, things didn’t feel great. Lou Trivino’s command and strikeouts may be down this year, but results-wise, he had been on a roll, and his dominant last few seasons stayed fresh in my mind.
Ty France put those worries to bed without a second thought.
That’s the second game-tying ninth inning home run in a row for him. He’s having his own promotion at T-Mobile on Thursday. His wRC+ is over 130, he’s been the most valuable player on the team by both bWAR and fWAR, and most welcome of all, he’s been a plus defensive first baseman. Give Tyler Lawrence France a lifetime contract, and also check out BreakingT’s newest shirt celebrating him.. Toro smacked a hard grounder up the middle for his third hit of the night, and a ringing oppo double from Jake Fraley brought him to third. At this point, the narrative started building. What a huge moment for the kids! Could you imagine how good this would be for Kelenic or Raleigh to come through in the playoff chase? The content and tweets would write themselves!
Alas, it didn’t work out that way. Trivino dug in after falling behind 3-1 to Jarred to bury him on two consecutive changeups, and Raleigh was able to get to 2-2 before flailing at a high and away fastball. It was up to Jake Bauers, perhaps the most maligned Mariner on the active roster, to deliver. I could hear the collective groans, the calls for the return of José Marmolejos loading. Jake flailed at a first pitch changeup, and the discourse started to rev. He laid off a second one down and away, took a looping curve for a strike, and watched a fastball miss the outer edge by a few inches. The takes were locked and loaded, and ready to be fired in the blink of an eye.
Trivino retaliated with another changeup, just off the plate but left belt-high, and Bauers committed.
Those clicking sounds you hear are everyone frantically trying to delete their old tweets, texts, and game thread comments calling for Jake Bauers’s head, and despite the absurdity of it all, he was responsible for the two go-ahead runs. After a nightcap of an easy stolen base, he wouldn’t score, but the damage was done. Paul Sewald slammed the door, and all of a sudden, the Mariners have gained a game on Oakland and Houston.
Every miracle season has a couple of cult heroes, and sometimes they take longer to find themselves. Jake Bauers has struggled most of the year. His double in yesterday’s game was his first extra-base hit in nearly two months. Despite being just 25, his overall body of work in the Majors has not been great, and him washing out of the league before his late twenties is a real possibility. Tonight, though, he was the hero at the plate and in the field. Will he go on a tear after this? Probably not. But I know I’ll look back on this team ten years from now, playing Remember Some Guys with a group of friends, and at some point Jake Bauers will come up, and I’ll remember when he shined in a critical moment. And really, how great will that be?