I love going to Spring Training. I love it the most after the front-line players are done for the day, pack up their gear bags like little baseball hobos on their way to go train hopping, leaving the game for the festival of random players who populate every spring training: the fringe roster guys, the seasoned veterans looking for one last dance, the hungry strivers from minor-league camp looking to make an impact. I love it when the games get weird, when they end 11-10, when rosters are exhausted and some kid who’s never pitched above A-ball is suddenly facing someone who’s played a few seasons in Korea.
In the first game of today’s Mariners-Tigers doubleheader, a spring training game broke out in the early days of October. Chaos ball is dead, long live chaos ball.
Today’s win eliminates the Mariners from the opportunity to get WC3, as the Rays lost today, getting battered in the rain 6-0 by the Red Sox. They played bad, and I hope they feel bad. That means the Mariners will be heading to Toronto to take on the Blue Jays. It also means no one can accuse the Mariners of backing into the playoffs based on the expanded playoff format, so there’s that. Personally, I feel like there should be some other perk to getting WC2 over WC3, like a choice of opponents or monetary compensation or a compensatory pick in the draft, something so teams are incentivized to finish as highly as possible.
Anyway, none of these games matter al that much, in the grand scheme of things. The hard part is over, until the next hard part begins, and this doubleheader exists in a weird kind of liminal space between the moments that mattered and the next moments will matter.
So it was with a profound sense of detachment that I watched Chris Flexen throw four innings in which he gave up three runs on five hits. The Tigers got their first run early, when Victor Reyes led off the third with a double and Riley Greene doubled him home. Flexen was basically putting it on the plate and daring the Tigers to hit it and, uh, hit it they did.
That very very bright EV—110.6, the hardest-hit ball in this game and it’s not particularly close—belongs to Spencer Torkelson, who hit a two-run home run in the fourth. Torkelson has been largely a disappointment this year—the “can’t-miss” hitting prospect, whose defensive limitations were acceptable because his bat was considered so advanced, has a wRC+ of 69 (not nice) and has fluttered between Detroit and Triple-A Toledo this year. It’s been a tough year for Tork, but he did not miss this cutter Flexen hung in the middle of the plate.
The Mariners did put up a fight against the Tigers to keep the game close-ish. Curt Casali made a bid for you to remember his name on the inevitable 2022 team sporcle quiz with a solo homer, and Mitch Haniger gave the Mariners a 3-1 lead in the third with a good old-fashioned Mitch Mash:
A Monster Mash in October ♂️ pic.twitter.com/3dRPkKDiyc— ROOT SPORTS™ | NW (@ROOTSPORTS_NW) October 4, 2022
Mitch would go 2-for-4 on the day, adding a single in the sixth. Since I wrote about how the Mariners need their champion back, Haniger is slashing .273/.320/.591 with a wRC+ of 155. That’ll do, Mitch, that’ll do.
But after the Tigers tied it up in the fourth on Torkelson’s homer, it started to feel like this game might slip away. Matt Festa replaced Flexen in the fifth and turned in three heroic innings, considering he hasn’t been a starter since college, only getting torched in his third inning of work on a Victor Reyes two-run home run. That made it 5-3 Tigers and, having watched the Mariners struggle to plate runs over the past
few days week month, it felt like that might be the game.
I should have known this game had chaotic vibes from the jump.
this is CLEARLY a foul ball pic.twitter.com/9ck9FiNWuu— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) October 4, 2022
(Less delightfully chaotic: In the sixth, in the midst of a Mariners rally, Jarred Kelenic was hit in the ribs in a scary moment where he was on the ground writhing in pain for a while, but eventually got up and walked to first. It looked like it might have just knocked the wind out of him, as he came back out on the field and finished out the game. We’ll update if there’s anything more to update on. Please just stay healthy, guys. I’ll go play if that’s what it takes.)
However, then the spring training vibes took hold in a powerful way. Offensively, Seattle answered back in the bottom of the seventh, when Alex Lange replaced Rodríguez and struggled, giving up a single to Adam Frazier and and RBI single to Ty France. Mitch Haniger then walked, and Eugenio hit a line-drive RBI single as crisp as the fall air in T-Mobile park to tie up the game at five. That was the end of the line for Lange, a former first-round pick who flamed out as a starter with Chicago and was converted to a bullpen arm with Detroit after being acquired in the Nick Castellanos trade. Andrew Chafin came in to bail out Lange, but walked Carlos Santana to load the bases. Unfortunately, Kelenic struck out looking to end the inning.
Erik Swanson and Andrés Muñoz both made appearances in this game in the vein of “guys getting their work in” and maintained the tie to the bottom of the ninth, when the Mariners again failed to score. That meant it was on to extras, which in game one of a double header, is not really want you want, so the Mariners sent out Luis Torrens, Mr. Do-It-All, to take the hill. Torrens, a former infielder with a strong arm who still takes defensive reps at third base for practice, allowed his Manfred Runner to score on two sac flies, but also retired the top of the Tigers order—Badoo, Greene, and Baéz—or he would have retired Baéz, but Abraham Toro made a fielding error. Torrens then allowed a single to Castro, but Kody Clemens flew out to Haniger to end the Tigers’ scoring threat.
With a 6-5 lead, the Tigers summoned Gregory Soto, who just does not seem to pitch well against the Mariners. Carlos Santana singled, scoring Suárez from second, and Jarred Kelenic singled, moving the always-hustling Santana to third. A sac fly from Toro then mercifully ended it, sending the Mariners to a 7-6 win and Luis Torrens to his first ever win, and the first ever position player win for the Mariners. It was a little breath of spring on a chill October afternoon. Hopefully that springy little zephyr will reinvigorate the Mariners as they head to Toronto to face a very tough team in the Blue Jays. Even if next weekend is the end, I will remember tonight, zipped up in my winter jacket still creased from hanging in the closet, and think fondly of spring.