Surrounding baseball, and indeed many facets of competition, lies a sea of superstitions. Logic tells us that it is merely our perception of these seemingly random events that gives us the perception of luck, and yet sometimes even the most cynical of us cannot help but engage in rituals or pleas we hope the universe might listen to, and reward us with fortune. The number thirteen in particular has been tagged with the perception of being unlucky. It is a number that because of this perception has been tied to potential apocalypse, has led building planners to simply skip the number in their labeling of floors, and even has it’s own name for a phobia attached to it: triskaidekaphobia. Luckily the Seattle Mariners of 2022 have no fear of that number, and today they grinded out a 3-2 win in extra innings against division rival Texas Rangers to bring their current win streak to thirteen in a row.
There were certainly times in today’s game that it felt like bad luck was looming, and that perhaps the Mariners hot streak finally had reached a cooling period. Four of their outs came from hits with an xBA of .500 or more, including two back-to-back lineouts from Abraham Toro and Julio Rodríguez to end the top of the sixth inning. Logan Gilbert threw fifty-nine of his eighty-five pitches for strikes, including starting Nathanial Lowe with an 0-2 count in the first at bat of the bottom of the second, but Lowe still managed to hit a double off of the wall. Lowe then advanced to third on a Leody Taveras groundout, and after Jonah Heim worked a full count, he came around to score when Heim lined one to center field for a single, putting the Rangers on the board first and putting the Mariners win streak in jeopardy unless they were able to overcome the deficit.
Luckily, or rather thanks to the skill of the combined efforts of Ty France and Carlos Santana, they were not down for long. Ty France reached base on a line drive single to right-center, and Carlos Slamtana sent him home with a two-run 105 MPH bomb, giving the Mariners a 2-1 lead.
The run given up by Gilbert in the second inning was the only one, and he finished the day with a very respectable line of four strikeouts, no walks, and just the one run on four hits over five innings. He allowed a lot of hard contact today, and you can choose to think of him as lucky. That of course would bely the effort of the defense behind him which has been one of the best in baseball, and the sophomore pitcher’s own ability to keep his head in the game and not let mistakes shake him.
Even so, this game was a nail biter. The Rangers spent a lot of money in the off-season to upgrade their arsenal, and although they now sit seven-and-a-half games behind the M’s in the AL West standings, they can be rather pesky. Their starting pitcher Spencer Howard was pesky in his own way today as well, only giving up five hits in five innings, and only allowing runs to score off of the Santana home run. He only struck out three and walked five, but still managed to escape damage. In fact, there were many times it looked like Texas pitching was going to buckle, but the Mariners were only able to manage a measly 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position.
The Mariners didn’t just have an ace up their sleeve though in Logan Gilbert, they had the whole suit of thirteen cards to play with an elite bullpen. All Mariners pitchers today combined for twelve strikeouts, and only allowed one walk. Andrés Muñoz was the first to take over for LoGi, striking out two in his inning of work. Erik Swanson did allow a double and a single to bring the game tied in the seventh, but picked up a strikeout of his own, and remained attentive to the basepaths and was able to get out of the inning by picking off rookie Elier Hernandez at first. It was a Hernandez single that tied the game up, so it was fine justice from Swanson to get him out and keep the Rangers from pulling ahead.
Paul Sewald and Diego Castillo worked the next two innings, picking up a strikeout apiece, and the only runner was a walk from Castillo. The ninth inning ended with the game tied, and if I’m being completely honest, it felt as if the Mariners’ luck may have finally ran out. This was despite the nature of how the ninth inning ended, a liner straight to Dylan Moore at first for the unassisted double play.
Had that ball gotten into the outfield, the Rangers almost certainly would have had a walk-off win. If I was listening to my head and not my heart, I might have remembered that this team got to twelve wins before today not through luck, but because nearly every member on the team had been contributing. It wasn’t luck that Dylan Moore was able to make that grab, he’s simply a great multi-position defender and that’s why he’s been a key utility piece.
When the game went into extras, the Mariners were not going to rely simply on chance. Sam Haggerty, and his elite speed, came in as a pinch runner as the Manfred Man on second base. They weren’t going to luck their way into destiny, they were firmly grasping it, when they had Haggerty swipe third base in such a way that there wasn’t even an attempt to get him out. It perfectly set up what came next, and Crawford didn’t have to hit it hard or deep, when he hit a chopping RBI single past Lowe at first to score Haggerty and put the mariners up 3-2.
They further threatened when Raleigh singled to move Crawford to second with only the one out, but unfortunately Frazier, who had a two hit night already, grounded into a double play.
My heart sank. It was only a one run lead, and Leody Taveras was the runner on second for the Rangers. Like I said, they are pesky, and between yesterday and today’s game our strongest weapons in the bullpen were spent. I don’t know many people that would pick Matt Festa as their first choice for this kind of high leverage situation. Truthfully, it wouldn’t be the first name to come to my mind either. Shame on them, and shame on me.
This team isn’t lucky, after thirteen wins in a row that is more than clear. They don’t suffer from triskaidekaphobia, in fact I doubt they fear any number, or any team in the league right now. This team is good by design. Matt Festa was absolutely the right choice in this situation. He struck out not one, not two, but all three batters swinging to secure the save and the Mariners thirteenth win in a row.