An ekphrastic poem is a poem inspired by or describing a work of art, and no source of ekphrastic poetry is more well known than the 16th-century painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, thought to be from the school of Bruegel. The painting depicts the fall of Icarus, the mythological figure who fell from the sky on wax wings contrived by his father Daedalus. It’s a story about the perils of ambition that goes against the natural order of things, the moral being not to fly too close to the sun. It’s also a pretty good metaphor for today’s game.
Shohei Ohtani was excellent, keeping the Mariners wrong-footed all day with an easy 97-98 to pair with his deadly splitter. He also threw a slider, just for funsies, using it to strike out Haniger, who didn’t see a fastball all day, twice. Ohtani collected 10 strikeouts total, setting a record for the first time in his career with back-to-back 10-strikeout games. The Mariners scattered five hits against Ohtani throughout the day, but weren’t able to stack anything despite having some traffic on the bases here and there, as Ohtani was able to get out of a two-on, one-out situation in both the fifth and sixth innings.
Meanwhile, Marco Gonzales matched Ohtani blow-for-blow with his own out-getting arsenal: not a plus fastball and splitter, obviously, but a cutter, changeup, and curveball that coaxed weak contact from the Angels hitters all day long. He also collected five strikeouts of his own, including completely undressing Jared Walsh on three 87 MPH sinkers in the exact same spot on the outside of the zone.
Marco made just one mistake—or at least one mistake that would get punished—a sinker he left up in the zone that Kurt Suzuki was able to ambush and redirect over the fence in the third. Unfortunately, with Ohtani pitching lights-out, it looked like that might be all the Angels would need on the day.
The thing about strikeouts, though, is they tend to vacuum up a lot of pitches, whereas pitching to contact, while riskier unless you’re a contact manager like Marco, can make for some tidy innings. Marco finished the sixth inning under 80 pitches, while Ohtani was already almost to 100 pitches. And here is where Joe MadDaedalus begins affixing the wax wings in the bright O.C. sunshine.
Jarred Kelenic had put up some good at-bats against Ohtani, managing to make contact off the splitter twice: once for a harmless groundout in the second, and shooting a sharp single back up the middle (99 EV) in the fifth. Ohtani struck out Jake Fraley on just four pitches for the first out of the inning, and Maddon opted to stay with him to face Kelenic. Ohtani, who didn’t throw his fastball once against Kelenic, decided to go slider-heavy against the youngster, having seen his ability to catch up with the splitter. After Kelenic spat on the first slider off the plate, Ohtani put it on the plate for a called strike, seemingly setting him up for another split or maybe even the fastball. Instead, Ohtani attempted to go back to the well, hanging a slider on the plate, and while July Jarred might have been fooled by that, September Jarred was not:
Facing off with AL MVP candidate Shohei Ohtani?— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) September 26, 2021
No problem for Jarred Kelenic, who wallops a game-tying homer. pic.twitter.com/DhwJeRpkXT
Tied game. Marco would come back and take care of business in the bottom of the seventh, ensuring Ohtani wouldn’t get another at-bat on the day.
With that opening, the Mariners offense got to work against the soft underbelly of the Angels bullpen. J.P. Crawford, making another case for Vibes to be a sabermetric stat, led off the eighth with a double off new pitcher José Quijada. Kyle Seager contributed the necessary Chaos Ball of the day with a broken bat single on a 3-0 pitch, causing Maddon to summon a fresh-from-Triple-A Austin Warren to face Mitch Haniger, who promptly gave the Mariners the lead:
Mitch Haniger brings home J.P. Crawford for a Mariners lead in the 8th pic.twitter.com/QiMImS3YRt— Justin Groc (@justgroc) September 26, 2021
Somehow that had an exit velocity of 103 despite looking like Mary Poppins floating into center field. Mitch remains weird. Also weird, the bad kind: Jared Walsh’s first base defense, as Abraham Toro was able to reach on a throwing error by Walsh on what should have been an inning-ending double play ball that instead loaded the bases for Jake Fraley, who did this:
Jake Fraley with a bases-clearing double. 5-1 Mariners in the 8th pic.twitter.com/t3B12eCc8y— Justin Groc (@justgroc) September 26, 2021
Look, this is a bad pitch. 93 in the middle of the plate should get crushed by a major-league hitter. But Fraley—and the Mariners in general—haven’t exactly been doing that lately, and Fraley in particular has been struggling to the tune of a wRC+ of 56 in the second half. So this is encouraging, regardless of the pitch quality, and hopefully portends Fraley getting his groove back for these last few games.
That would be all the offense the Mariners would need, as the bullpen came in for the 8th and 9th innings and did what the bullpen does, with Paul Sewald getting two strikeouts in a 1-2-3 inning and Diego Castillo doing the same. One of the batters Sewald retired was Jose Rojas, taking that at-bat Ohtani would have had if Marco hadn’t taken care of business in the bottom of the seventh. He struck out on four pitches.
This type of usage for Ohtani has been typical over the month of September, with Maddon routinely pushing him to over 100 pitches, including a career-high 117 against the A’s back on September third. That was in a winning effort, though, as opposed to today’s loss. Maddon’s explanation for why he is taking his often-hurt franchise superstar so deep into games is something that might have passed muster in Bruegel’s Belgium, but sounds a little leeches-and-four-humors to modern ears:
“I like when guys go more deeply into the game like that,” Maddon said. “The mind once stretched has a difficult time going back to its original form, so does a pitcher. When he goes that deeply and gets out of a jam late and has his A stuff late, it does something for him down the road. … This was absolutely a growth moment for him.”
The reason Bruegel’s depiction of Icarus has attracted the attention of poets over the centuries is the work’s tension between the banality and the extraordinary; tiny Icarus’s pale legs flail helplessly buried deep in the ocean, feathers from his ill-fated flight fluttering above the water’s surface, while in the landscape around him, life goes on: the farmer pushes his plough, the shepherd tends his flock, while the light of Icarus flickers and disappears on the horizon. “About suffering they were never wrong,/The old Masters” observes W.H. Auden, man’s indifference to his fellow man. It is impossible to argue anyone has been indifferent to Ohtani, who has been much more remarked upon, admired and revered than Bruegel’s pathetic, puny Icarus. It is also, however, impossible not to observe how he has been “Something amazing,/A boy falling out of the sky,” yet landing in the turbulent waters of the Angels organization, while the ship to the playoffs has sailed calmly on without him. Meanwhile, the Mariners plough on.