As baseball fans, we are no strangers to waiting. For good or for ill we are fans of a sport where the majority of players spend most of their time standing around. For most “things” that happen in a game, only three players, the pitcher, catcher, and hitter, are the only ones that matter.
But, of course, if anyone tries to point that out disparagingly, we laugh. Because we know better. Baseball isn’t about the 2-1 changeup that gets fouled off. We all know that. Baseball is about the build up of tension over those moments followed by the ecstatic release of that tension. It’s about the waiting and the big moments.
There was plenty of waiting in tonight’s game against the Blue Jays. After dominating Toronto on Thursday and walking them off in yesterday’s nationally broadcast game, we were due for a close pitcher’s duel. For one, as our own Zach Gottschalk pointed out on Twitter, Carlos Santana was the only Mariner to have faced Blue Jays pitcher Alek Manoah before today.
Carlos Santana is the only current Mariner that has ever faced Blue Jays ace Alek Manoah. Could be looking at a low-scoring game.— Zach Gottschalk (@zgotty) July 10, 2022
And indeed, that’s how the game started, with both pitchers facing the minimum the first time through the lineup (A Teoscar Hernandez single was erased when he was picked off, and an Eugenio Suarez walk was erased when Cal Raleigh grounded into a double play). Both pitchers were bringing their best stuff, inducing awkward swings and weak contact.
But Manoah was the first pitcher to get into trouble. With one out in the bottom of the fourth, Ty France roped a double that just got past the diving Tapia. J.P. followed that up by walking on four pitches to put the Mariners in a promising situation, two on with only one out. But then.
Alek Manoah, Soul-Stealing 95mph Two Seamer.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 10, 2022
Getting a Buckle on a Middle-Middle pitch. pic.twitter.com/3vCO0oZxoT
Carlos what are you doing? That was right down the middle, man. Just remember that pitch for next time, ok? After that brutal strikeout, Eugenio popped out to end the inning. And that’s how the first moment where the Mariners threatened to score runs ended.
Then it was Robbie’s turn.
Robbie actually had a pretty good game. Just three hits and two walks across six innings. His command was a bit spotty, he struggled to locate his nascent two-seamer, with it often running outside to righties. And those command issues started to haunt him in the top of the fifth, when back to back walks followed by a Lourdes Gurriel single loaded the bases with nobody out. We feared the worst and braced for the big moment.
Robbie Ray, known escape artist, worked his way out of the bases loaded with no outs without giving up a run. For a man who has been tormented by the Big Inning™ for the early part of this season, this felt like nothing short of a miracle. Robbie stepped up to the moment and worked his way back out again.
Oh, but he did give up a solo home run to George Springer next inning. So that’s lame.
Not to be overlooked in the spectacle of Robbie’s Houdini impression, however, was the performance by the bullpen tonight. With Ken Giles on the IL, and Erik Swanson on paternity leave, we were reunited with Matt Brash, now a hard-throwing reliever. While he seems to still have some of the command issues he did at the start of the year, his new position affords him velocity, and he threw gas, even touching 100 at one point.
Andrés Muñoz brought disgusting stuff onto the mound with him for the 8th inning retiring Tapia on three straight 101 mph fastballs, and then doing the same to Springer on three straight 92 mph sliders. It took him just 10 pitches to completely dismantle the Jays.
And, well, we’ll get to Castillo.
After the Springer homer, you could feel the tension emanating from the ballpark. People began to wonder if a 1-to-nothing game was going to end the win streak. When J.P. led off the seventh with a ground ball single, it did little to ease that tension.
But remember that fastball that Santana watched go down the heart of the plate? The one I asked him to keep in mind for his next AB? Well...
Absolutely, positively CRUSHED. pic.twitter.com/SFz8LlVobR— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) July 10, 2022
Ecstasy. Jubilation. Relief. Carlos did not buckle from this one. Admittedly this pitch that he homered off of didn’t have quite the same movement as the first one, but it seems pretty clear to me that Carlos was looking for it again. And he did not miss it. This home run would provide the only scoring for the Mariners, giving them a one run lead. Would it be enough?
Diego Castillo has been in plenty of big moments this season. Fangraphs gives him a clutch rating of 1.19, meaning that he has been great in high pressure situations, performing significantly better in them than he does otherwise. Who can forget that game in New York where he faced Pete Alonso in the ninth inning, up by one, with two outs, the bases loaded, and in a full count? Every kid’s backyard fantasy come to life, and he pulled through, striking out Alonso.
Castillo came in today for the ninth inning, his third appearance in as many days, and quickly set his slider to work. After Bo Bichette popped out harmlessly on the first pitch, back-to-back two strike singles put two runners on, who moved up on a groundout. To bring the force play back in order, they chose to issue an IBB to Lourdes Gurriel Jr, and bring up Matt Chapman. Ninth Inning. Two outs. Bases Loaded. Up by one. Mariners fans from Seattle to Key West held their breath.
And Chapman rolled over and grounded out weakly to Toro. Game over, Mariners win.
Cast your minds back to last Wednesday. The Mariners had just swept the Padres in two games in San Diego, and suddenly as we looked up, they were in with a shout in the Wild Card race. After the misery of that five game Angels series, the season was back on. I’m not ashamed to admit that I waited for this series with trepidation. The Blue Jays are a good team, and this series, which has hung on countless little moments, could easily now be 1-2 in Toronto’s favor.
A win tomorrow, however, and the Mariners will be tied for a playoff berth. That’s how seasons are built. Instances of energy bounded and separated by patience and stress. Perhaps tomorrow and all the way until the fall, as they did tonight, those moments might just go our way.
See you tomorrow.