“Last night was a movie” has become a cliche term to the point where no one says it seriously anymore, but last night at T-Mobile Park was, indeed, something you’d see during a triumphant second-act montage. Double-digit runs against the Astros, every Mariner reaching safely, Marco shoving, and under the bright lights of a home opener? Forgive me for reveling a bit. Despite a nugget on the ROOT broadcast claiming that the M’s are 9-1 in the last ten home openers, Friday’s was truly off the charts, both on the field and in the stands - for me personally, the guy sitting half a row down me in the left field bleachers who sounded exactly like Charlie Day was a true mood booster. Those kinds of folks and vibes are ones you only see in the parties you see in movies, but last night? That became reality.
As glorious as an epic party is, though, it must come to an end at some point. Objectively, we could look at the Chris Flexen versus Justin Verlander matchup and conclude that this game would end in a loss. Our ostensible fifth starter against their freshly recovered ace? Yeah, you take the under on that every time. Not for nothing, Flex tried his hardest to keep the good vibes rolling. Despite battling a bit in the first, he got through his first four innings allowing just three hits and a run thanks to a sac fly by Astros rookie - and Carlos Correa replacement - Jeremy Peña that probably would have left the yard in the summer. Adam Frazier injected some life, too, smacking a leadoff single in the first to build off his four-hit night the game prior. For a split-second, it seemed like the Mariners had found their second wind and were all reared up to keep the good vibes rolling - and hey, for a while a one-run deficit felt beatable.
Unfortunately, Old Man Verlander had had enough of these hooligans, and filed a noise complaint and then some. I quipped a couple times that seeing him be as dominant tonight as he looked ten years ago was frustrating, but man, this was an excellent outing even by his old MVP standards. He constantly got ahead of hitters, didn’t walk a soul, and had he not been making his second start since coming back from Tommy John, there’s a great chance we’d be lamenting his Maddux against us. Instead he had to settle for eight shutout innings. Oh, the humanity!
To make things worse, as the game entered the fifth, Flexen’s hard contact management finally collapsed. Peña led off the frame with a tomahawked single into left, and Martín Maldonado activated his Mariner Killer powers and broke an 0-for-15 in about the worst way possible.
Blech. Results-wise, Flexen was his usual self, getting out of the fifth without any further trouble and finishing off his start with a perfect sixth for a bare minimum quality start. Some scary velocity dips - including a fastball that averaged just a hair over 90 MPH tonight yikes! - and a boatload of hard contact (behold all these flame emojis), though, lent themselves some justifiable worry. I don’t think anyone expects Flex to repeat his three-win 2021, but him crumbling completely could spell disaster for the stability of Seattle’s rotation. Thankfully, it’s still early, and taking anyone’s velocity with a grain of salt at this point is a good call. Should the fastball be this lethargic come Memorial Day, though, we could find ourselves staring longingly at George Kirby.
Matthew Festa hiccupped in the seventh, allowing the Astros’ fourth and final run to cross, but by then, victory for Houston was all but assured. Ty France contributed a couple singles, but other than a J.P. Crawford hit by pitch, no other Mariner reached base. Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodríguez each looked utterly overmatched, and no Seattle hitter reached second base. If you’re really hunting for a silver lining, though, it’s that both of them looked solid in the field. Kelenic was manning right field tonight in Mitch Haniger’s COVID-related absence, and looked far more comfortable there than I’ve seen him in center, fielding several balls adeptly and flashing a strong arm. Hooray for defensive progress!
Julio, though, provided easily the best highlight of the game on the Seattle front. Remember how I said that Flexen got through the fifth with no further trouble after the Maldonado dinger? Wellllll, there’s a great chance that sentence wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for this catch.
For a split-second, the party had its last gasp. Julio has pleasantly surprised a bunch of folks with his elite speed and competent center field play, but that? That’s a superstar catch right there. He went hitless with a trio of strikeouts - including yet another called third strike off the plate - but plays like that make an 0-for-3 go down so much easier.
Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson combined to throw 2.2 scoreless innings to finish up the game, but it felt more like the dudes who dutifully clean up the scattered Solo cups and crushed cans strewn about the kitchen counter at the end of the night. Much appreciated, but hardly notable. Tonight was about as moribund as you could imagine after the raucous rumpus of last night, but there were still some sparks of that spirit - Julio’s catch, J.P. fielding every ball hit his way with ease, and France and Frazier staying hot. Plus, Matt Brash going tomorrow afternoon has become appointment viewing. This game may have sucked, but there are gonna be plenty more parties this season. Let’s kick off another one for Easter, huh?