If you lived in the Midwest or Northeast of the United States in the early 19th century, chances are you’d have heard of Sam Patch. He was a divisive celebrity, scorned by the upper echelon of society for his rough-and-tumble ways, but much beloved by working class Americans (who were the only people he gave any energy to anyways). What was he famous for? Waterfall jumping! Yes, in the years leading up to the large scale harnessing of hydroelectric power in the US, when the use of waterfalls to generate power for factories was taking off, Patch and other lesser-known peers created a whole entertainment business jumping off of them. They’d build a platform up over the highest waterfalls in Northeastern cities and then gather crowds to watch as they jumped off the platform into the water below. As folks living in poverty and looking for factory work began to live more often around large waterfalls, since that’s where industry was settling, Patch became the face of a pastime particular to those places and the people who lived in them.
I first learned of Sam Patch in one of a series of American Studies courses that were framed around “dense facts”: case studies that, according to early American Studies theorist Gene Wise “both reveal deeper meanings inside themselves, and point outward to other facts, other ideas, other meanings”. Each of our “dense facts” contained components that tendrilled in all directions into the web of American history and culture at its time, so that unpacking it allowed us to understand the bigger picture through a narrow lens. Sam Patch’s waterfall jumping was a dense fact for early 19th century America, allowing us to look at class conflicts, evolving definitions of art and entertainment, energy transitions, and the struggle to define and moderate an “American culture” for the new century. Of course those struggling to do so overlooked great swaths of Americans and cultures in their quest for a unified identity, and Sam Patch offers a doorway to questioning that as well.
Patch’s catchphrase, printed on the fliers advertising his jumps and a household phrase to the imaginary you of 1829, was “Some things can be done as well as others.” It’s a phrase to celebrate possibility, to challenge the narrow definitions of art and respectable skills peddled by elites. And it has a whiff of the incredulous snark and defeatist optimism evoked by today’s Mariners game.
This game was, might I propose, a fruitful “dense fact” for Mariners fandom as a whole. It opens inquiries about whether we are unlucky, bad, on the rise, or stumbling our way to failure (I know this because I saw all 4 argued in the game thread this afternoon). It had us remembering Felix’s ankle injury following his grand slam 14 years ago, last year’s Chaos Ball, and thinking ahead toward potential trade targets. It went quickly from “the Mariners are dead to me” to “long live the Mariners!” And of course it gave countless opportunities to say: Some things can be done as well as others.
Frankie Montas was the true star of today’s game (with a higher WPA than any player on the winning team by a hundred points), and he came out looking like it in the first inning, retiring three Mariners batters on 4 pitches. The A’s scored in the bottom of the first on a single to right field by Sheldon Neuse (cue the prophetical hisses), and a base hit by Christian Bethancourt to drive him in. Robbie Ray came out throwing his sinker again, but without the control he had his last two outings. Not much else of note happened offensively for either team through 6; after the last two days of offensive bliss for the Mariners, we had ourselves a no-hitter with just a mis-called walk breaking up a perfecto for Montas through 6. Some things can be done as well as others.
Ray continued to miss with his pitches more than he has recently, but still came away with a very good six-inning outing, giving up one run on four hits with six strikeouts. His good work was primarily overshadowed by Montas’ brilliance (he was still throwing 99mph in the eighth!), which stirred the armchair GM trade proposals into a frenzy.
In the fourth inning a giant spider flew down and landed on my computer screen and crawled right over to stop on Robbie Ray’s butt. In the fifth something much much worse happened: after the ump missed a clear strike three call against Sheldon Neuse, Neuse hit a grounder to Abraham Toro at third, who threw to Ty France... who was suddenly on the ground clutching his shoulder and rolling around in pain. It was clearer on rewatch that Neuse collided with France’s arm while running to first, knocking off his glove and shoving his arm/elbow backward. France needed support getting up and off the field, and left the game clutching his left elbow. For the rest of the game there was no news, and speculation ranged from a short IL stay to a season-ending injury, leaving us trying to picture going forward without our star offensive player. Some things can be done as well as others?
Luckily, it’s been good news since then, with X-Rays coming back negative and France sounding optimistic:
France hopeful he will miss the IL. Said he heard a crack on the collision but thinks it was actually a just an elbow pop. Had work done on it during the game.— Shannon Drayer (@shannondrayer) June 23, 2022
Cross your fingers and toes for the MRI tomorrow!
After a fiery bottom of the seventh from Andrés Muñoz, who finished the inning by striking out Neuse himself on a 100mph fastball, Montas came in at 84 pitches to pitch the 8th. Adam Frazier broke up the no-hitter with a single to left field, and Torrens followed immediately with another single. With the possibility of scoring a run (a run!) flickering on the horizon, JP Crawford ultimately grounded out of an excellent at-bat, eliminating the possibility of scoring on Montas but giving the Mariners one last shot by forcing Mark Kotsay to go to his bullpen for the ninth. (We’re skipping over Diego Castillo’s one-two-three bottom of the eighth with two strikeouts, sorry).
The A’s sent Zack Jackson to the mound to face Dylan Moore, Julio Rodriguez, and Jesse Winker for the Mariners’ last shot in the ninth. If you’re like me, you look at those three and think Julio’s our best shot at a run, or at least a hit, here. Or maybe Winker can hit another home run and make it three games in a row? Some things can be done as well as others.
DMo continued his spate of good at bats by drawing an eight-pitch walk, but Julio popped out. Winker watched four very low pitches go by to draw another walk, giving the Mariners runners on first and second with one out. With the anticipation high, Suárez struck out for the fourth time on the day, and Servais sent Kevin Padlo up to pinch hit for Taylor Trammell while A.J. Puk came in to pitch for the As, tasked simply with getting the final out of the game. I tell you, friends, that did not inspire a great deal of confidence in our chances. And yet! Padlo drew another four pitch walk as the A’s bullpen came completely unglued. Puk then threw a wild pitch in his first pitch to Abraham Toro, which scored Moore from third, and then five pitches later ANOTHER wild pitch to score Winker and give the Mariners a 2-1 lead. You know what they say.
For we who’ve lived through this season so far, the sweetness of this victory is both soothing and bittered by its context. The Mariners didn’t look like a winning baseball team today, and they didn’t show skill we’d consider worthy of winning, even against the worst team in baseball. But they won anyways, giving us a chance to laugh and celebrate on a Thursday afternoon in June. In the words of beloved everyman, Dylan Moore: “There are a million ways to win a ballgame and that was definitely one of them.”