Prior to writing this recap, I had never had occasion to think “what is the state song of North Carolina?” Well, for those of you who don’t know, it’s the somewhat-confusingly titled ditty “The Old North State,” written in 1835 by William Gaston, a state Supreme Court judge (and also an abolitionist and the first-ever dropout from Georgetown University. Fun facts!). The reason that song is important is because instead of blasting “New York, New York” after today’s game, we should be cranking up “The Old North State,” as two Tar Heel sons helped secure today’s victory for the Mariners, avoiding a series sweep against the Yankees.
Yusei Kikuchi does not hail from the state of North Carolina, but also played an important part in today’s victory, keeping a Rizzo-free-but-still-scary Yankees lineup off the board through five innings of work, striking out six and surrendering just four hits. Kikuchi had to deal with traffic on the bases in every inning—some of which was his own doing, with three walks—but escaped jam after jam, none bigger than in the third when a single, walk, and hit by pitch loaded the bases with two outs. Kikuchi responded by dialing up a strikeout of Luke Voit for the second time that day:
Yusei Kikuchi gets Luke Voit chasing pic.twitter.com/ALENdUbpu2— Justin Groc (@jgroc) August 8, 2021
Kikuchi also got some help from his defense today. Jarred Kelenic made an inning-ending catch in the second in the swirling wind in the concrete toilet bowl that is Yankee Stadium, snagging a Kyle Higashioka near-double that came off that bat at 106 MPH with a .900 xBA. Kikuchi also got five groundball outs, most of which were handled by Kyle Seager making third base defense look effortless, as per usual.
The third-inning pattern would repeat in the fifth, when Kikuchi again got into a little two-out hot water when Joey Gallo bunted to get on and Kikuchi walked Stanton, again bringing up Voit, and again, Kikuchi got him to pop out in a key spot (Voit’s WPA was -.226 for this game, per FanGraphs). However, because of the Yankees’ ability to work long counts and foul off a ton of pitches, Kikuchi’s pitch count sat at 97 at the end of that inning, leaving the bullpen in charge of maintaining the shutout for the back half of the game.
Casey Sadler (Oklahoma), Drew Steckenrider (Georgia), and Paul Sewald (Vegas, baby) also are not Tar Heels, but all three deserve a share of credit for today’s victory, as well, combining for four innings of two-hit ball with six strikeouts. Steckenrider pitched two stress-free innings and earned the six-out save, but Sewald was the fireman, working 1.2 innings against the teeth of the Yankees lineup and striking out four batters: Gardner, LeMahieu, Judge, and Gallo. The LeMahieu strikeout was especially epic, ending an inning and causing the Yankees to strand another two runners on base, and Sewald’s reaction was appropriately fired-up:
The clutch performance of the pitching staff was the key to this game, as again the Mariners offense was sluggish today, although that wasn’t entirely their fault; they got to Yankees starter Luis Gil in the second, when Jarred Kelenic stroked a solid base hit; Cal Raleigh then hit into what should have been a double play but Rougned Odor failed to cover the bag, causing Luke Voit to literally make the shruggy guy emoji on the field. With his command slipping, Gil then walked Fraley to load bases with one out, and fell behind Moore 3-0, as DMo smartly waited out the young starter struggling with his command. Moore took two strikes, and then should have had ball four:
But we’ve seen how these calls went all series, and they weren’t in the Mariners’ favor. Jake Bauers then grounded out to end the inning. Sigh.
The Mariners had a few other chances to get something going—a Haniger single and a two-out walk to Ty France; a lefty-hitting Cal Raleigh flyout that missed being a Yankee Stadium Special by mere inches, a DMo Bermuda Triangle shot—but the offense continually sputtered out against Gil, who went five strong innings, and then the fireballing Russian Roulette game that is the Yankees bullpen. It took until the Yankees were forced to use Lucas Luetge, former Mariner, for Seattle to scratch a couple of runs across in the only half-inning that saw any scoring in today’s game, led by the proud sons of North Carolina: Kyle Seager (Charlotte) and Cal Raleigh (Cullowhee).
After Odor—having a tough day in the field—misplayed a routine groundout from Toro, a walk to Haniger put two on with no outs. Kyle Seager—who has tried to single-handedly drag this team to victory seemingly every game this series—then continued what Yankees fans likely consider his audition to play for the team, hitting a ground-rule double that fell just a couple feet short of another Yankee Stadium home run. (That actually might have cost the Mariners a run, as even the slower-of-foot Haniger probably could have come around to score as Judge would have had to track the ball down in the very corner of Yankee Stadium)
The rally might have stopped there. After Ty France, having a rough day, struck out, Kelenic got punched out on a pitch at the top of the zone for the second out and was heated about it. Earlier in the game, Kelenic had been called out on a ball at the bottom of the zone that hadn’t been ruled a strike all day and was upset about it, so now with the zone seemingly getting taller on him—and the way this zone has been called all series against the Mariners—it’s understandable that he expressed some frustration. Unfortunately, it was a little too much frustration in the eyes of HP umpire Lance Barrett, and Kelenic got run, along with Servais, who came out to argue on behalf of his young player.
That would leave the scoring opportunity in the hands of another rookie, but more importantly, another beefy Tar Heel Boy, Cal Raleigh:
“The Old North State” describes the sons of North Carolina as “plain and artless” but notes “whose doors open faster/At the knock of a stranger, or the tale of disaster?”, a description embodied to the fullest by both Kyle Seager and Cal Raleigh. Soft-spoken, shy, and spotlight-adverse, their style of play isn’t as demonstrative or flashy as others; they are quiet, workmanlike, still waters that run deep. Seager’s lone dramatic outburst of emotion as a Seattle Mariner is so memorable it’s still the most-giffed image of him seven years later. However, when the team knocks on their door, when disaster is imminent, these Tar Heel sons answer the call with resounding thumps.
The state motto of North Carolina is Esse Quam Videri: “to be, rather than to seem.” What both Cal Raleigh and Kyle Seager seem to be is valuable parts of the Seattle Mariners’ past, present, and hopefully future.