There’s a reason it’s worth having multiple (All-) stars.
With Julio Rodríguez once again sidelined as his wrist nears full health, Jesse Winker briefly waylaid with a rolled ankle, and Kyle Lewis still easing back into consistent usage, Seattle went with a throwback lineup, hearkening to the days of “Oops, All Second-Basemen” that I do not relish reliving. At times the defense bowed tonight, but it was not any of the erstwhile keystoners who struggled. An outfield of infielders behind fly ball connoisseur Chris Flexen was a creaky foundation to base a skid-stopping effort on, but lo, Adam Frazier fed me crow for supper and told me to lick the plate clean with a leaping catch against the wall early. Dylan Moore, Sam Haggerty, and Abraham Toro worked clean games on all balls in their direction. And Ty France? Well, he’s a first baseman.
Despite a couple early flubs on a wild pitch from Flexen ill-blocked by Cal Raleigh and an uncharacteristic throwing error by J.P. Crawford that extended the 3rd inning by a hitter, Seattle made efforts on the edges to ensure they secured the win tonight. Flexen gritted through an aggressive and powerful Rangers lineup for another quality start, lowering his ERA to 3.75 while his FIP now sits at 4.41, striking out five and walking two in six frames of high-quality, high-effort work. He sat just over 92 mph on his fastball, a tick above his usual as the heat and the importance of the game created the conditions for one of Flexen’s most important outings with the Seattle Mariners. He rose to the moment, and so did his team’s best hitter.
Ty France is the best hitter on the Mariners, as his 153 wRC+ proclaims loudly. It’s the 8th-best wRC+ in all of MLB, sandwiched between perennial MVP candidates like José Ramírez, Jose Altuve, and Juan Soto. Most of this year and last, the M’s have had a specific answer when a situation asked “who do you most want up?” It’s Ty France, whose laser single to left in the first nearly ripped the glove off third baseman Ezequiel Duran as it zipped by. It’s Ty France, whose lashed low liner to right out-paced the glove of first baseman Nathaniel Lowe to start the club’s first rally in the 4th, scoring on a Cal Raleigh single, in an inning where they took a 2-1 lead they’d never relinquish with an assist from the ever-majestic Eugenio Suárez.
It’s Ty France, whose obliteration of Glen Otto’s overexposed breaking ball stretched the lead to 3-1, affording Seattle the breathing room they’d later need.
I’m often taken by the idea of which hitters make me stop and watch, making me believe that against any pitcher, at any time, they could make something great happen. It’s a large part of what’s carried my fandom through dire seasons, knowing I’d get to watch Ichiro, Robinson Canó, or Nelson Cruz. For stretches, other players have hit this level: Mitch Haniger, Kyle Seager, Kyle Lewis, and of course now Julio Rodríguez. But almost surreptitiously, France has secured this space, after years of being expected to hit a wall or peter out against superior competition he simply has continued to dominate. Tonight he carried a shorthanded Mariners club over the Texas Rangers, even getting hit by a pitch to load the bases in the 7th which would lead to a vital 4th run. He did it all, but a few additional flowers still need their homes.
From that 7th inning, a massive credit to 36-year-old Carlos Santana. Would a sacrifice fly have been less troublesome? Certainly. But the veteran who has played a starring role in several of Seattle’s recent wins tonight was a scene-stealing extra. If Santana does not haul ass as he does on this play, they could still be playing right now. It’s a turn that is slow as molasses, but Santana does enough with his 13th percentile sprint speed to turn a GIDP into a FC 5-4, which means an RBI and a W.
Lastly, as if he knew we had an article coming in the morning about him, Erik Swanson managed to lower his ERA into the magical land where no number comes before the decimal. Entering in a rush to save an atypically slider-less Diego Castillo, Swanson took all of three pitches to slam the door on Texas with two on and just one out. Fastball - strike. Splitter - pop out. Slider - groundout. Ballgame. 0.98. 52-45. And a shoutout to Raleigh who not only delivered with the bat but made the right pitch calls to bring their ship safely into harbor.
They all count the same when you get to the end.