One of the biggest Achilles’ heels for this 2021 Mariners squad has been punishing the other team for making mistakes. We’ve seen them fail to capitalize with the bases loaded, fail to punish other teams for committing errors, and fail to knock pitchers who are struggling out of games with big innings. Today, in a game that was imperfectly pitched by both sides, the Mariners managed to make the Athletics’ mistakes loom larger than their own, and as a result, carry away a franchise-first four-game sweep of the A’s at the Coliseum.
With an exceptionally tight (and often inconsistent) zone called by home plate umpire Ryan Wills, the challenge today would be to see which pitcher could get damaged in the zone less, and which team could capitalize on more of those pitches forced into the zone. Both starters had short days: one by design, and one by inefficiency. Chris Bassitt, making his return to the A’s after being hit by a line drive a month ago, was mostly effective in his scheduled three innings of work. The Mariners had a chance to get to him early when J.P. Crawford led off the game with a single and Ty France walked on some very close pitches that were probably strikes, but the top of the lineup again failed to get anything else going as Seager struck out, Haniger grounded out, and Kelenic popped out. Boo, boo, and boo. Bassitt used his curveball to great effect against Seattle’s lefties, burying it for swinging strikes and generally picking up steam as he went along, and looks every bit the All-Star he was before his scary injury. I do not look forward to seeing him again in the next series, no I do not.
Meanwhile, Yusei Kikuchi, dealing with the same tight zone, was once again ineffective. He fell behind hitters, including going 3-1 to his second hitter of the game before being bailed out by this excellent catch from Jarred Kelenic:
Kelenic had a couple nice plays out in center today and continues to look like he’s gaining confidence there. He’s always been solid going north and south; the next challenge will be improving his east/west routes as well as grasping the idiosyncrasies of each park in the big leagues.
Kikuchi escaped the first inning without damage despite walking Matt Olson, but couldn’t get around a leadoff walk to Matt Chapman in the second, with the bottom of the lineup (so weird to talk about Chapman as a bottom-of-the-order hitter for Oakland) moving Chapman around the bases on a Sean Murphy single and a sacrifice fly from Elvis Andrus. Kikuchi again walked Olson in the third on some not particularly competitive pitches, bringing up lefty-killer (140 wRC+ against lefties!) Yan Gomes. Kikuchi worked Gomes into a 1-2 count but then leaked 96 middle-middle for an RBI double, then threw Mark Canha a hanging slider in the middle of the plate for another RBI double and a 3-0 A’s lead. Yuck, you might have said, and reached to turn off the game, especially when Yohan Ramírez entered in the fourth after yet another short outing from Kikuchi, and promptly surrendered a first pitch home run to Sean Murphy, and you would have been justified in that, yes you would have.
But. The Mariners have had the A’s number all season, it’s felt like, and today would be no different. After scraping a run off Bassitt’s replacement James Kaprelian, whose wandering command manifested itself in spiking Seager with 94 between the shoulder blades and giving up an RBI double to an ice-cold Abraham Toro for the Mariners’ first run of the day (the run that would sadly be given right back by Yohan), Dylan Moore opened the next inning with a solid single, and Cal Raleigh saw a hanging slider from Kaprelian and did...well, what a professional baseball player is supposed to do to a hanging slider.
This is not meant to damn Cal with faint praise, because many professional baseball players do not do that to that pitch! We have seen these very Mariners not take advantage of that kind of a pitch, lazily popping out or fouling it off only to see something more dastardly on the next pitch. But that is not what good Calboy did, and nor was that his only extra-base hit on the day, as he also scalded a double into right later in the game (unfortunately he would be stranded, because other than failing to capitalize on other teams’ mistakes, there is nothing the 2021 Mariners love doing more than stranding Cal Raleigh on base after he has doubled).
The A’s replaced Kaprelian with Jake Diekman, who surrendered a game-tying dinger to Mitch Haniger, because all Mitch Haniger do is strike out, hit solo home runs, eat hot chip and lie. I do not know what to make of Haniger’s 2021 season, which has been by turns exhilarating and frustrating, but honestly, the man is still upright on two legs in late September after missing essentially two seasons’ worth of time, so that remains the win.
Perfect time for an oppo taco pic.twitter.com/XbuMR14ZFs— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) September 23, 2021
Also, in a day full of fun facts, let’s not overlook this one!
Mitch Haniger & Kyle Seager are the first #Mariners teammates with 35+ home runs in the same season since Robinson Canó & Nelson Cruz in 2016.— Mariners PR (@MarinersPR) September 23, 2021
The Haniger homer wasn’t a terrible pitch, and neither was this one, exactly, but it was a fastball from a lefty, and do you know who loves hitting fastballs from lefties? That’s right, it’s Luis Torrens:
we're having fun. are you having fun? this is fun. pic.twitter.com/PbFsONnkMC— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) September 23, 2021
I don’t know what I love more there: the homer, the bat drop and explosion down the first base line from Torrens like he just walked it off (which he kind of did I guess? Given that these would be the decisive runs of the game?), or the clear-as-day expletive hollered in the background. No, I know what I love the most: that it was a pinch-hit home run hit by a lefty-hitting specialist, engineered by a savvy Servais, who in all honesty deserves the Manager of the Year award.
Meanwhile, the Mariners pitching had tightened up the instant Anthony Misiewicz took the mound in relief of Yohan Ramírez in the fourth, as Tony Sandwiches came in to face Olson and make him look silly chasing curveballs. The new three-batter rule means Misiewicz had to stay in to face the lefty-killer Gomes, though, but just as he had undressed Olson, our pal Tony got Gomes to chase that curveball:
Joe Smith worked an eight-pitch, 1-2-3 inning (with some help from a nice pick by Dylan Moore getting the start today at third, his three-error inning there a distant, distant memory), but the pitching today was highlighted by Casey Sadler, who was dominant in two innings, working the sixth in six pitches (three groundouts, one first-pitch swinging, one second-pitch swinging, and one third-pitch swinging, for a delightful bit of sequencing) and coming back out for the seventh to face the teeth of Oakland’s lineup. After getting two quick outs—a two-pitch groundout from Marte and then freezing Matt Olson on a bit of excellent sequencing—pinch-hitter Jed Lowrie, the most annoying human, snuck a double past a diving Ty France to bring up Mark Canha. Sadler—pumping 95 suddenly?—got a called strike on his now-faster-fastball perfectly located on the edge and a swinging strike at 91 on the outside edge of the zone to get ahead of Canha 0-2. Canha then fouled away 96 (!), took 95 at the top of the zone, and then Sadler came back with this:
Pound sand, Canha! That pushes Sadler’s scoreless inning streak to 22, tied for fourth-longest in franchise history (with Kendall Graveman and J.J. Putz, lol) and even earned him the Pitching Ninja treatment:
Diego Castillo’s inning wasn’t quite as smooth; he made his own entry into the Bad Pitch contest with 94 middle-middle to Matt Chapman, who even in the depths of his slump could find a way to Hit That—the hardest-hit ball of the game, in fact, and at 113.3 MPH, the hadest-hit ball yet today in baseball—but Jake Bauers, in as a defensive replacement, could also find a way to Catch That, it turns out.
A missed catch error from Ty France and a stolen base could have made things stinky, but Castillo escaped without allowing a run, although not without me clicking down the dial a notch on my Diego Castillo Trust Meter. In the 9th, Paul Sewald did allow a run, because Matt Olson would not be silenced for this long, but he also struck out Josh Harrison on his slider and Starling Marte on his fastball up in the zone before getting a nice lil’ popup from the eternally pesky Lowrie to end the day, secure the sweep over the Athletics, drive them down in the Wild Card race, and generally bring delight to the Seattle area. Considering how this started, not a bad day at all.