Let us drop all of our pretense, and all of our pomp. The Seattle Mariners won a game against the Boston Red Sox, who had beaten them seven straight games in a row. The Seattle Mariners won a game where they fell behind not once, not twice, but three separate times. They won a game where they gave up six runs on eight hits, and where they gave up three home runs. They were down, and down to their last out, their last strike, and they still won against the red hot Boston Red Sox, outscoring them 7-6.
You can call it Chaos Ball. You can call it grit, or no-quit. Call it whatever you like, I simply call it fun baseball. This 2022 Mariners team wears its heart on its sleeve, much like their fandom. I am no exception to this. I’m a lifelong fan well into my thirties, and I can say with a clear head and a full heart, that from toe-to-tip this is the most fun Mariners team I have ever seen.
This team has been fun, all year, even during many of their losses. One of their biggest weaknesses has been getting their various parts to work in sync. Let’s go over tonight’s game one at a time with those various parts, starting with the pitching. The starting pitcher for Seattle was twenty-four year old rookie George Kirby. Last night was definitely not his greatest outing of his seven starts so far, nor was it his worst. Across five innings he was tagged for five runs, three of them earned, on six hits. He gave up two home runs. He struck out four, and only walked one.
One of Kirby’s greatest assets is his command, and one look at his pitch chart from last night, shows you he had room to improve. A little too often his breaking stuff was left hanging in the zone. He first ran into trouble in the first inning after leadoff batter Trevor Story was able to reach on an error by J.P. Crawford, who mishandled a grounder and was unable to make a play. Two pitches later Rafael Devers sent a fastball that caught too much of the plate over the wall to put the Red Sox up early.
Xander Bogaerts was the next batter to reach base, but with a single. But then Boston hitters used a combination of small ball, and Kirby’s inattentiveness to the runners, to get Xander Bogaerts to first steal second, then reach third on an Alex Verdugo groundout, and finally score on a Christian Vázquez single. Somewhat frustratingly, Kirby also allowed Vázquez to steal second base, but it became null when Franchy Cordero grounded out to end the inning.
Kirby then was dialed in over the next three innings. He struck out two in the second and only allowed a single, and in the third and fourth innings he faced the minimum and racked up a strikeout in each. In the fifth inning he allowed his only walk of the game, and was immediately punished for it when J.D. Martinez launched a home run, putting the Mariners behind for the second time in the game. But I said that this game, and this team was fun? Kirby may have tied his season high for runs allowed at five, but he battled back. He threw sixty-seven of his ninety-seven pitches for strikes. It’s exactly what you want to see from a young pitcher making his season debut. After tonight, he still has a great 20.1 K-BB%, largely due to his 2.6% walk rate, which is good for second best league wide among all pitchers with at least thirty innings pitched. His WHIP stands at 1.14. That is not only fun, it’s exactly what the Mariners need from him. Here are his four strikeouts of the night.
After Kirby left the game, the bullpen did everything they could to keep the Mariners in the game. Penn Murfee continued to be stellar, striking out two and allowing no runners in his inning of work. New face Ryan Borucki faced the minimum in the seventh, allowing Story to single, but inducing a double play to end the inning. Diego Castillo then pitched the eighth inning and continued his recent streak of reliability with a 1-2-3 inning including getting Bogaerts to strike out swinging on a filthy two seam fast ball that cut deep inside. Paul Sewald came in to the ninth and was able to get Vázquez to ground out and then struck out Cordero, but ended up leaving one too many sliders in the middle of the zone against Bobby Dalbec who hit a home run to put the Red Sox up for the third time in the game.
Much has been made of Winker’s questionable defense, but it was an admirable effort on his part and he was able to get a glove on the ball, just not bring it back down with him. It was all they were able to get though and Sewald ended the top half of the inning by getting Jackie Bradley Jr. to strike out swinging.
Enter, the Mariners offense. The Red Sox would not have been able to get ahead on three separate occasions if Seattle hadn’t been fighting and answering back. They fought back immediately in the first inning. First Ty France reached on an error, then Rookie of the Year contender Julio Rodríguez moved France to second base with a single. After J.P. Crawford singled to right field, extending his hitting streak to six games, the bases were loaded with one out. Now, for most baseball teams, this would be a fortuitous development. For the Mariners, there is something about one out, bases loaded scenarios that have been their rally killing kryptonite.
Luckily for Seattle, Chaos Ball wasn’t penciled into the lineup, but it showed up ready to play. Eugenio Suárez came up to bat, and the pitch that gave him a full count was also wild, scoring France and advancing Julio and J.P. to third and second, respectively. After Eugenio drew the walk, Adam Frazier decided to get in on the fun with an RBI single, and suddenly the Mariners were only trailing by one. Red Sox starter Michael Wacha was able to stop the bleeding, and ended the inning by getting Abraham Toro to pop out, and Taylor Trammell to strike out.
The Mariners next struck in the second inning. Jesse Winker singled on a line drive to right field, his lone hit for the night, but it was instrumental in what came just two batters later. Two batters later was the undeniable, and undeniably fun, Julio Rodríguez. Wacha left a fastball up in the zone, and Julio smacked it for a two run blast.
After tonight’s game Julio is now tied with RoY rival Jeremy Peña in wRC+ at 123. If JRod continues his pace of play, things are going to be very interesting come voting time. Now, I mentioned the Red Sox pulling ahead multiple times, and by the time the Mariners scored again they were indeed up, five runs to the M’s four after Kirby’s snafu in the fifth. The Mariners though? They just kept coming back. The heart of the order had its role to play for sure, but believe me when I say the heart of this team sits in every spot in that lineup. They beat as one; they succeed or fail as one. Ultimately, the heroes of tonight’s game came not from the heart of the order, but the bottom of it.
Unfortunately I’ve been seeing a lot of doubt about Abraham Toro lately in the comments and the discourse. Part of me gets it, he’s been streaky, and lately the streak is colder than it is hot. Luckily for all of us, Toro doesn’t have eyes for the haters, and has eyes for clutch hitting instead. First, he contributed with an RBI double in the seventh, scoring J.P. Crawford and tying the game. It was inches away from being a home run.
I already mentioned the unfortunate home run given up by Sewald in the top of the ninth inning that gave the Red Sox their third lead of the night, and Toro, well he must have taken that personally. When ATOB (Abraham Toro, Our Beloved) ties a game, he expects it to stay tied, at least. From the heart of the order ahead of him, Julio had grounded out, J.P. Crawford drew the walk, Eugenio Suárez singled, and Frazier lined out. Runners were on first and second, and there were two outs. Toro started the at bat 0-2. The Mariners were down to what could have been their last out, and their last strike. Never doubt Toro though when he has the eyes. He worked it back to an even count, and then when Hansel Robles left a changeup in the upper part of the zone, he did this.
Now, tie games as we all know, don’t win games, but it kept it alive. Luckily the M’s didn’t want to just tie it, they wanted Moore. Dylan Moore, that is, who had pinch hit for Taylor Trammell earlier in the game. DMo, who having seen Toro’s strategy of starting the at-bat 0-2, thought he would try it for himself. On the third pitch, a middle-middle slider, Moore stung it to the gap in left-center for the game winning, walk-off RBI single.
It was a win the Mariners needed to snap a losing streak against the Red Sox. One they needed to keep the possibility of continuing their streak of series wins alive. A win that the fans at T-Mobile Park, and indeed everywhere there are Mariners fans, needed to know that this team is a fun team, a team worth watching, a team with fight. I have said it earlier this year and I will reiterate it now. This isn’t the same old Mariners. I’ll make no promises of the postseason. I’ll make no guesses as to the highs or lows in the future for this season. But I know in my heart, that perhaps foolishly refuses to fall out of love with this team, that if they keep fighting even half as hard as they did last night, it will be a wild ride worth taking with them. We gotta love these guys.