The right field corner at T-Mobile Park is an odd little place, with its Grandma’s Attic-esque corner and jigsaw puzzle shape. With no bullpen or batter’s eye garden, right fielders at T-Mobile are subject to the cheers and boos of the crowd with little buffer zone, sometimes literally having to get up close and personal with fans as they try to track balls into the right field corner.
It’s also a great place to hit home runs, if that’s a thing you’re into, which the 2021 Mariners are less often inclined to than one would like. Tonight a majority of the game’s action was concentrated in right field, although more often it was the Red Sox enjoying the area’s peculiarities like a fun haunted house, and the Mariners just out-and-out haunted by it.
Tyler Anderson didn’t have his best stuff tonight, which isn’t a great recipe in pitching against one of the AL’s best offenses, but he bunkered down and did yeoman’s work, only surrendering one run but also only making it through four and a third innings as his pitch count swelled to 90. Anderson’s problem was just not making enough competitive pitches at moments when it counted, attempting to exploit Boston’s love of a high fastball but more often than not sailing the pitch well out of the zone for a suddenly-patient lineup of Boston hitters who pushed him to full counts again and again. The damage probably could have been worse: Anderson got very lucky on a middle-middle fastball to Devers in the fourth inning that the youngster cut over for a swinging strike three; he wouldn’t be so lucky on the next batter, serving the same pitch up to J.D. Martinez, who redirected the same pitch over the center field wall for a home run, and the first run of the game.
The Mariners got that run back in the bottom of the fourth. Nathan Eovaldi had thoroughly shut the Mariners down in the previous three innings, looking dominant as he spun his splitter and curveball for swinging strike threes; paired with his fastball, sitting a comfortable 96 and touching as high as 99, the result was some especially ugly at-bats from a team that can really put together some ugly at-bats. However, as would so often be the case, the Red Sox defense—or lack thereof—opened a scoring opportunity for the Mariners. Haniger led off the inning with a single through the 5/6 hole, and then Seager managed to chop a curveball off to one side against the shift. A bloop single from Ty France scored a hustling Haniger to tie things up. Abraham Toro then hit a deep fly ball that should have been a routine flyout, but the right field goblins reached down and high-fived Hunter Renfroe in the glove instead, clanking the ball off his mitt. The term “little league” gets thrown around a lot, but honestly to describe that play as “little league” is insulting to the relative skill level and hard work put in by those athletes.
But, and stop me if you’ve heard this one before, the Mariners failed to capitalize on a prime run-scoring opportunity. Jake Fraley hit a sac fly to bring in another run, but that was all they’d be able to do as once again, the bottom of the lineup failed to make the Red Sox pay in any meaningful way for Renfroe’s egregious error. If one run crossed the plate for every fan sitting at home who blurted out “even I could have made that play” after Renfroe clanked it like a myopic Iron Giant, well, the Mariners would never have to worry about run differential again. Instead, they allowed Eovaldi and the Red Sox to wiggle off the hook.
The Pyrrhic victory of the fourth inning was it pushed Eovaldi’s pitch count from 39 to 77, meaning the fifth inning would be his last, and once again, the offense allowed a scoring opportunity to slip by. Cal Raleigh led off the inning by doubling to the accursed right field corner, but for the third straight time, a leadoff Cal Raleigh double was left stranded, even though Eovaldi intentionally walked Kyle Seager to get to Ty France, which should have been insulting! But unfortunately, given Ty’s recent performance, was just solid strategy:
Ty France prior to South of France Night: .291/.360/.464, 130 wRC+— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) September 15, 2021
Ty France since: .258/.355/.273 (!), 89 wRC+
I jokingly set the splits at SoF Night, but that .273 slugging is...bad. So so so bad. I think we’re not seeing the total effect of all those HBPs because France is in the lineup every day, but man. That’s a problem from your lead-footed first baseman.
The bullpen is Boston’s weak spot, but again, the Mariners could not muster more than a walk against Darwinzon Hernandez, Adam Ottovino, and Michael Feliz. Meanwhile, the Mariners’ much-vaunted bullpen started leaking oil after Anderson departed. Casey Sadler was solid bailing Anderson out of the fifth, but Anthony Misiewicz gave up a game-tying home run to Bobby Dalbec in the sixth, on an admittedly pretty good pitch—Dalbec is a two-true-outcomes player who homers or strikes out, and the dice came up snake eyes for Misiewicz on this pitch:
Here's the pitch that Misiewicz threw ... breaking ball that was down. Not a terrible location to a right-hander. Dalbec went down and just muscled it over. pic.twitter.com/pP3uC8oX8r— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) September 15, 2021
That home run? To haunted right field, of course.
Things got worse from there. Joe Smith worked a clean inning and then was summoned for the top of the eighth, as well, for...reasons? He opened the eighth with a triple that probably wouldn’t have been a triple except Mitch Haniger misplayed it, because the curse of right field was so strong tonight it could even overtake a long-term resident who presumably knows all the correct incantations before stepping foot on that unholy ground. That was it for Smith, to be replaced by the normally stalwart Drew Steckenrider, except tonight the Steckasaurus was near-extinct. Steck led off by walking Devers and pinch-hitter Travis Shaw to load the bases with just one out, and then pinch-hitter Kyle Schwarber, in a 3-2 count, absolutely demolished a ball to...you guessed it, right field. Haniger bobbled it, and Cal Raleigh dropped the relay, making for a bases-clearing triple for one of MLB’s slowest footed sluggers. The incantations, they do nothing!
The poor pitch execution goblins followed Yohan Ramírez into the eighth, as he gave up a two-run home run to Alex Verdugo to...yep, right field. The lefties were on parade tonight, something that would normally make me, a lefty, very happy, but not this way. Not this way. The Sox would add another run just for funsies on another J.D. Martinez single, this time against Matt Andriese in mop-up duty, putting the game well and truly out of reach for the Mariners.
The Mariners would finally stir themselves to Do An Offense in the bottom of the 9th, finally getting after the bottom of the Sox bullpen in Hirokazu Sawamura, who gave up a single to Luis Torrens and Cal Raleigh (two hit night!), and was also victim of some more Bad Boston Defense, as Travis Shaw had allowed Fraley to reach earlier in the inning. Austin Davis, the lefty who was brought in to shut down Kelenic last night, came in tasked with the duty of retiring J.P. Crawford, who instead hit a sac fly to bring in the Mariners’ third run of the night, and a Mitch Haniger single brought in the fourth and final run for the Mariners in the dictionary definition of “too little too late.” But make no mistake: two garbage-time runs don’t make up for the offense once again sputtering when offered scoring opportunities on a silver platter.
It’s frustrating because, unlike the worldbeating Astros, Boston is so clearly a flawed team—their defense is poor, their offense can be feast-or-famine, and their bullpen is middling-to-poor—and one the Mariners could theoretically keep pace with if they had like, any consistent offensive producers other than their OBP-centric leadoff man (also if they too got to play the Literal Orioles for a solid month, but I digress). But the top of the lineup is just too streaky to provide that kind of consistency, and the bottom of the lineup together has about as much consistent spark and resiliency as a Yugo (for the younger readers out there, that was a kind of shitty tiny car, kind of like a Car2Go, but people drove them on highways, because the 70s were wild). And then of course, there’s the little matter of the haunting of right field. But don’t worry everyone, I am going to the game tomorrow and will bring some crystals along to clear the energy, assuming the T-Mobile ushers don’t confiscate my black tourmaline.