Chris Flexen, Julio Rodríguez, Jarred Kelenic. These are the heroes of the night, who scraped together a relatively easy win that could, in another year, easily have been hard-earned. Instead, with a decent roster, Seattle cruised to a 4-1 victory. It’s been something they’ve made more commonplace, last night’s debacle notwithstanding. And yet, tonight the Seattle Mariners won a game on the backs of two under 23 year olds and a cast off pitcher.
Chris Flexen deserves the first focus. In a sense, he deserves all the focus. With every fiber of my being, as a millennial, avocado toast munching 28 year old, I respect and adore starting pitchers who can work deep into games. It is my preferred genre of the sport, one that highlights a specific talent: stamina combined with efficient soft contact elicitation. After getting his business handed to him, then donkey kicked across the room by the Minnesota Twins and the Houston Astros, Flexen locked in and reaped the rewards of locating his pitches better simultaneous to facing a lesser opponent. The Kansas City Royals were flummoxed by 90-91 mph fastballs time and time again, and Flexen reveled in their errancy. It was a resume builder of a performance from Flexen, 7.0 innings pitched, no walks, just five strikeouts but only a single run yielded, a home run to, who else, Salvador Perez. There’s no inclination that Flexen’s KBO strikeout maven past is returning, but in a world where the ball appears deader than Rasputin, the soft-tossing righty did just what Seattle hoped he might do to an aggressive Kansas City lineup. Unlike their AL Central counterparts in Minnesota and Chicago, KC threatens a great deal of contact but far less power, and for a purveyor of poor contact like Flexen that is and was a gift. The seven innings he worked rarely felt stressed, a Hunter Dozier double in the second and a first and second scenario with one out on a soft grounder and a bunt the only runners in scoring position allowed by Flexen. It was tactical, it was a good matchup, it was a favorable situation Seattle took advantage of, something good teams do.
Offensively, the M’s had a similar opportunity. Brad Keller is no pushover, but he is the diluted extraction of a below-average MLB arm. 26 years of age and the sinkerballer has yet to establish himself as a quality arm, struggling more with every season. For three innings Seattle was stymied. Not for four.
In the fourth, Seattle made every bit the most of the opportunities they saw fit to squander Thursday night against Texas. A sharp one out single from Eugenio Suárez? It was added to by J.P. Crawford with another lashed single instead of left adrift. With two on and one out, an Abraham Toro chopper? That’s bases loaded, with Toro busting down the line to beat out a deflection off Keller’s glove instead of a double play. Bases loaded, one out, every chance for disaster aligned, and instead, sweet release.
Two runs on a double by Julio Rodríguez, on the elevated fastball that had maligned him in his first 12 games, no such misery in game 13. A double just out of Michael A. Taylor’s reach enabled by quality baserunning from Toro. Next it was the other youth given the burden of expected brilliance, Jarred Kelenic. He would not be outdone.
Jarred Kelenic got Seattle rocking on a Friday night! pic.twitter.com/znb2r2C0DO— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) April 23, 2022
A triple out of Taylor’s fleet-footed reach, an inning of utter relief. Two more runs in, four in totality, four reminders that patience is, exasperatingly, a virtue. Adam Frazier, Ty France, and Jesse Winker went 0-11. The Mariners still won, thanks to the long, capable lineup they boast and the youth they’ve trusted to anchor it.
4-1 it was, and 4-1 it remained, thanks to Flexen, Anthony Misiewicz, and the simple brilliance of Toro, J.P. Crawford, and France backing Andrés Muñoz up for the save.
JUST LOOK AT THE DETERMINATION IN JP’S EYES HE’S LIKE “OH NO YOU DON’T SAL” pic.twitter.com/Ks4iTXLAVE— Lydia Cruz (@TheLydiaCruz) April 23, 2022
After the franchise-altering terror Salvador Pérez inflicted on the Seattle Mariners last year, nigh-single-handedly keeping them from a playoff berth in retrospect, it is a salve to see him laid, well, not low, but impotent. Congratulations to Salvy on his admirable effort, it was not enough at last. Instead, down their ace closer and their venerable middle-of-the-order slugger, Seattle locked down another win, drawing even for a tie of the division lead after 15 games in the season. There is precious little lasting meaning to be had at this stage, of course, but the reminder that it is as early as it hopefully feels, and these Mariners can win on days less than their best. Every single victory counts the same.