I have long held a love for the game of baseball. Even longer though, I have had a love of video games. I started old school, my first handheld being the big, grey brick, Nintendo Game Boy. The first game I ever beat on that Game Boy? Kirby’s Dream Land. Imagine my joy then when the Mariners drafted a pitcher by the name of George Kirby. Now imagine that joy going turbo mode when it became clear over time just how great George Kirby would be. There were many heroes in tonight’s game, but one star among them was definitely Kirby who threw six dominant, shutout innings, leading the charge as the Mariners went on to shut out Oakland on their home field with a brutal score of nine to zero.
If you are familiar with Kirby games, then you might know he has long had the ability to consume his enemies, and if applicable gain their abilities. Originally though, Kirby could basically only do three things: fill himself up with air and then float, dispel that air for a short ranged weapon, or inhale blocks or enemies to fire a faster and farther blast. Like any good platformer of the age, the moves themselves weren’t particularly flashy in and of themselves, but required a certain level of finesse and precision to be executed in such a way that you didn’t receive damage. This was the Kirby I first got to know on my Game Boy, and it was the Kirby that pitched in tonight’s game, not taking any damage at all himself.
Over the six shutout innings he threw ninety-six pitches, and sixty-eight of them for strikes, allowing only five hits and one walk, striking out six. On the night he posted a healthy 12.5% swinging strike rate on all of his pitches, and finished with a 1.00 WHIP and 1.63 FIP. He relied predominantly on his fastball as his main weapon as per usual, with it reaching 97 MPH and generating a 15.7% swinging strike rate, generating eight whiffs. His second most used pitch of the night, his curveball, didn’t generate any whiffs. In this way his curve didn’t particularly fool anyone, and some definitely caught too much of the zone, but his sequencing was effective enough that it managed to fall in for eight called strikes, or a 38% CSW. Much like the inflatable pink hero of my childhood, George Kirby floated and finessed his way to victory.
Rounding out the shutout pitching performance tonight was Penn Murfee and Tommy Milone. Murfee worked one inning where he gave up one hit and balanced that with one strikeout, and Milone only gave up one hit as well over the two innings he worked, including a 1-2-3 eighth inning.
Of course, the best video games have not just one worthwhile character, but a whole cast of them. One game series that Kirby is a stable of is the Super Smash Brothers games, and the Seattle Mariners rallied around him today much like the hard hitting heroes of that series, super smashing the ball and knocking multiple Athletics pitchers out of the arena. Every single Mariners hitter reached base at least once tonight, with the lone exception of Dylan Moore, who only had one pinch hit at bat in the top of the seventh inning.
They wasted no time in dealing the damage either, putting themselves on the board in the top of the first inning. First J.P. Crawford executed a double to center field, that might have stayed a single if not for a mishandled ball, but no error was ruled on the play. It was a perfect setup for Julio to hit a ground rule double, bringing Crawford home.
Cal Raleigh was the next to do damage, and continued slugging his way into the hearts and minds of M’s fans everywhere, sending a towering solo shot over the center field wall to put the Mariners up two to nothing in the second inning.
In the third inning, Ty France led off with a single for his lone hit of the night, followed by JRod then reaching base on a fielder’s choice that saw France thrown out at second. Julio would not let the Mariners be denied the presence of a runner on second though, and promptly stole that base for his nineteenth of the year. That was all of the motivation needed for Jesse Winker, who has quietly posted a 140 wRC+ in June coming into this game, to hit an RBI single that brought Julio home, bringing the Mariners run total up to three.
Julio Rodríguez and Jesse Winker weren’t done with their 1-2 combos though. Julio lead off to start the fifth inning, this time hitting a single on a line drive to center field. Winker then took advantage of a 3-1 count to send a two run moon shot to center field, his second in as many games and sixth of the season, bringing the M’s runs up to five.
The hits kept on rolling in the fifth, and so did the runs. Next when Adam Frazier brought home Eugenio Suárez on a fielder’s choice, who channeled good slides only to smoothly move around the throw home and bring the Mariners to six runs.
Then again when J.P. Crawford hit a two run double deep to the right-center gap, scoring Taylor Trammell and Adam Frazier, and bringing the Seattle run total up to eight for the second game in a row.
With such a commanding lead, the Seattle squad decided it would let some of the bench in on the fun in the top of the seventh. After Raleigh drew a one out walk, Abraham Toro had a chance at the plate, stepping in for J.P. Crawford. He only needed to see one pitch, before sending the next one to a sharp grounder to right field and moving Raleigh to second. Recent addition (re-addition, really) Kevin Padlo then stepped in for Ty France, and doubled to bring Cal home, and scoring the final Mariners run of the night.
Overall, this was a long game against an opponent with the worst record in the Major League, so any lessons derived from this series should of course be taken with a grain of salt. However, this game carried weight, one that framing doesn’t do proper justice. In the games of the era I mentioned, such as Kirby’s Dream Land, there were no save files. This meant that all success was derived from grit and determination, and good old fashioned trial and error. It’s easy to be critical of this team, at times rightfully so, when we came into this season with such high expectations. However, many of these characters are playing this particular level of this game for the first time, or are just now becoming newly acquainted with some of these mechanics, be it a new ballpark or a baseball that by all accounts plays very different.
At times they have flashed success, but usually only in parts, and in ways that failed to trend in any meaningful, broad way. Tonight they not only managed a decisive shut out, but it was their second decisive victory in a row, and against pitcher Paul Blackburn who has been extremely formidable this season. There is no such thing as an easy mode in baseball. They succeeded as one, in all of their parts. They are still figuring out their trial and error, getting a feel for how to operate as a team. This trend may very well still continue, and now they have a legitimate chance to win game three against the Athletics and secure their second series sweep of the season. This season is still a long way off from game over.