Tonight’s game is a challenge to cover, considering that I wrote up a nearly identical game almost exactly a month ago: a game in which Chris Flexen allowed one run over ~7 innings and Cole Irvin gave up 3 runs on 7 hits. It’s not an altogether surprising coincidence, though the déjà vu is bolstered by the fact that the Mariners have played this game against the A’s a great deal this season.
Going back to the start of Seattle’s 8 game win streak over Oakland, the M’s have put up either 4 or 5 runs in each one, holding the A’s to a maximum of 4 runs (a walkoff win back in late July). Seemingly gone are the days of 0-6 or 6-12 losses to the Bay Area club that plagued early June.
The definitive story tonight, a familiar one by now, was Chris Flexen and his career-best-tying 8 strikeouts. With his average fastball running up to 95 and his curveball effectively delivering tantalizing strikes, he managed once again to look like an elite pitcher against a team that is by no means stacked with easy outs.
Note the way I phrased that: he “look[ed] like an elite pitcher”. It begs the question, at what point does one stop “looking like” something and start “being” that thing? Is it when you top Gerrit Cole for the most 7 IP, ≤1 ER starts in the American League? Is it when you have a top 5 ERA among qualified AL pitchers in late September?
The narratives surrounding players who break out are fascinating to watch unfold as they vary from media market to media market, from those who prefer underlying metrics to results-based ones, from those who shout “SSS!” from the rooftops to those who latch onto faith in success that is surely unsustainable.
I digress. The point remains that Flexen has given the Mariners something extraordinary for someone in his situation, and he looked in peak form on this first night of autumn. He got some extraordinary help from (God willing) two-time Gold Glover J.P. Crawford, who ended Mark Canha’s hopes of a double with this 10,000 IQ tag:
Oh, and this absurdity:
This is why people insist on using FIP to account for the defense a pitcher may or may not rely on. Luckily for Flexen, there’s only about a -0.16 difference between the two, which would barely move the needle in terms of his ERA ranking. Regardless: Chris should send J.P. a nice flower basket and some high quality sativa for his performance tonight.
Flexen’s run support came later than many had expected and hoped against a pitcher like Irvin, though there were quite a few missed opportunities in the first three innings. Kyle Seager ensured that the onslaught would indeed arrive with a leadoff homer slugged just over the wall in front of the batter’s eye. A pair of singles from Toro (who snapped a lengthy oh-fer tonight) and Tom Murphy tacked on another.
Ty France accounted for the final two runs scored, bashing one out to the awkward pop-up book zone in left-center and subsequently reaching home on a sac-fly from Torrens after yet another hit-by-pitch put him on the basepaths.
Tonight’s game, though it had its moments (see: Bob Melvin getting tossed), was a sleepy game played in a sleepy, spartan stadium against a team that seems to have had all the life sucked out of them. Admittedly, the Coliseum is never a friendly place to watch games played at, with its abysmal attendance and echoing drumline, but this one could have been more of a thrill if played almost anywhere else.
The result is the same, however. The Mariners, all but out of it, have reached a new high-water mark at 14 games over .500, have leapfrogged the A’s in the standings, and with the solid brand of baseball they’re playing right now, may very hold onto that position.