I am not a church-goer, but when I read poetry, for me, that is an expression of faith. Every new poem is unfamiliar land, with me grasping for purchase, but I struggle on, trusting that eventually the author’s meaning will come clear, that an epiphany is just around the corner, that the last line will strike an arrow into my heart. It doesn’t happen always—not every experience will necessarily end in communion with the divine—but I know there is a good chance of this happening, because I am a frequent reader of poetry, and this is an experience I’ve had many times before. Yet, in those first few lines, struggling to pull some sense out of this world, there’s always an uncertainty, a question: will the magic work this time?
It’s not an experience unlike watching the Mariners of recent vintage. In 2021 we had the comforting specter of Chaos Ball: the improbable happened so often it became probable; likely, even. One-run games were comfortable territory, a familiar landscape, a script where we almost always knew the ending. This 2022 team is different: more talented, probably, but less regularly chaotic; a team that rattled off 14 wins in a row only to be swept by the Astros. They’re still a team we’re learning, full of rookies and reclamation projects; they seem to have only recently come into their own, identity-wise.
Tonight’s game illustrated how thin our hold on this team’s identity is. The Mariners galloped out to a 2-0 lead that felt more comfortable than it actually was, largely because of the strong start from George Kirby. I wasn’t sure how things would go for the rookie, who had a rough go during his one start in Triple-A, who was on a tight innings limit/pitch count tonight. It seemed like the Mariners weren’t, either, judging from Scott Servais’s pregame comments, where he projected four innings or 65-70 pitches for Kirby, whichever came first.
George Kirby, though, seemed to have a pretty firm idea of how his night was going to go. He carved through Texas’s lineup like a hot knife through butter, aided by the fact that Texas’s scouting report clearly instructed hitters to swing early and often against the strike-throwing Kirby. But Kirby wasn’t just throwing meatballs over the fat part of the plate, he was throwing quality strikes, brushing the edges with his fastball and mixing in a two-seamer heavily that showed an outstanding amount of horizontal break (16 inches on average!), starting off at a hitter’s elbows and then bending across the plate:
Kirby throwing a nasty sinker/two-seam tonight, part of the reason he’s cut through Texas’s lineup tonight like a hot knife through butter. @RealZachMason’s take: “I’m trying to find words to describe that pitch without being disrespectful” pic.twitter.com/Ps62QvtSyF— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) July 27, 2022
Also don’t let that velo reading fool you (that’s Dunning’s 88); Kirby throws the two-seamer at just a tick off his fastball, so imagine, as a batter, that not only does that pitch look pointed directly at your elbow, but also it’s traveling at 95 MPH. Hitting is hard! But Kirby made pitching look easy tonight, blowing past his four-inning limit and pitching five complete on just 51 pitches. Servais acknowledged in the post-game presser how hard it was to take Kirby out, but emphasized the importance of being disciplined with players and sticking to the plan in order to help Kirby get all the way to the end of the season after a long layoff, not just in the majors but from pitching, period.
Kirby was also pitching with a lead thanks to the Mariners laying down two runs early, one on this Julio home run to start off the game, which he hit like he was trying to knock the “should he have done the derby” questions into the stratosphere:
No more questions!
The Mariners would also get another run that inning after Dane Dunning, fresh off a trip to the IL and not looking incredibly sharp, walked Suárez and Winker with two outs, and then Kyle Lewis singled to score Suárez. J.P. followed that up with a single and it would have been real nice to add on, especially considering what would come later, but Cal Raleigh grounded out to end the inning. Have faith—he gets a redemption arc—but at the time it felt a little womp-womp-y to add another three LOBsters to the pot.
With Kirby out of the game, Matt Festa took over and pitched one very good inning, but then Servais, making the first of what would be a few questionable managerial decisions on the night (we’re not counting lifting Kirby early, as much as we’d like to), got greedy and sent Festa out for another inning. After getting one out, Festa allowed the Rangers’ first ball hit with an exit velocity over 100 MPH—one of two—on an Adolis García double, forcing Servais to summon Ryan Borucki mid-inning. Borucki then suffered the first of what would be a string of bad luck for Mariners pitching, when Nathaniel Lowe fought off a well-located 96 MPH fastball and dunked it into center field, scoring García. Exit velocity: a grand 64.4 MPH. That cut the Mariners’ lead in half, but Borucki and Penn Murfee—who needed all of one pitch to retire pinch-hitter Ezequiel Duran—gutted it through with the lead intact.
Then Cal Raleigh, who felt bad about grounding out with the bases loaded earlier, decided to give the Mariners a little extra breathing room:
Cal Raleigh leaves the yard! pic.twitter.com/4s5axqhp9C— ROOT SPORTS™ | NW (@ROOTSPORTS_NW) July 27, 2022
A couple things about that: Matt Moore, despite being a Pitcher of Somewhat Advanced Age, has pretty well owned the Mariners this season, which is true of him overall, as he’s allowed a microscopic 1.62 ERA this season. He also hadn’t given up a home run in 50 innings—until Cal Raleigh got a hold on this pitch.
Permit me a brief digression: I have, in these electronic pages, argued many times that Cal Raleigh was being slept on by the prospect-evaluating community in general; that he would be as good or better than the much higher-rated Joey Bart; and ultimately, if you’ll allow it, that Cal Raleigh Is Good. But I admit: when Cal Raleigh was up in April, I wondered if my faith in him had been misplaced. His at-bats did not look like major-league-quality at-bats. I wondered if he would be able to put it together at this level. Even the most faithful suffer moments of doubt.
That doubt would come roaring to the forefront in the 8th, when Texas roared back against Paul Sewald, who just did not have it tonight. Maybe it was too hot for Paul to get a good grip on the ball because his pitches were uncharacteristically nowhere close, and despite getting two quick outs, he walked the next two batters he faced, bringing up Adolis García, who “doubled” on this pitch to tie the game:
The hardest hit game-tying double you'll ever see. pic.twitter.com/binGdAjnpE— Texas Rangers (@Rangers) July 27, 2022
I guess this is what it means when they say “walks will haunt” because that ball was literally haunted. The Mariners had a chance to go ahead in the bottom of the inning, against Matt Bush: with two outs, Jesse Winker walked and pinch-runner Sam Haggerty executed a steal that was so perfect it belongs in the Louvre, but Servais had pinch-hit Dylan Moore with Abraham Toro, who of course popped out harmlessly, stranding the Swaggy Ham at second. I told you there were questionable managerial decisions tonight.
Instead, it was the Rangers who went ahead, as Erik Swanson also did not have his ace-level stuff tonight, and also, get this new dad some sleep, stat, and also get this North Dakota native an ice bath, my man is not built for this heat.
It’s not that Swanson’s stuff was bad; he was again victim to the BABIP curse that stalked the Mariners pitching staff all night, giving up a leadoff single on some light contact, followed by a sacrifice bunt, and then another not-impressively-struck line drive that scored the go-ahead run.
Things could have been worse, but Sam Haggerty, who apparently gets this highlight on MLB Film Room and not his beautiful steal, was able to cut down Duran trying to take second. Things could have been worse! They also could have been better.
The Mariners had one final chance. Facing Brett Martin, J.P. led off the bottom of the ninth with a shift-beater single, which brought up Cal Raleigh, who as you’ll remember already homered once in this game. Once again, I admit to a failure of faith. It seemed so improbable, having leaned on Cal so heavily through this game (including an amazing pick of a wayward Sewald pitch that would have easily advanced the runner and done more damage had it gotten through)—through this season, really, so much pressure on someone so young who never even made a Top-100 prospect list—it seemed like so much to ask of one Beef Boy. And yet.
A sac bunt from Frazier moved Calboy to third, and then the Rangers intentionally walked both Julio and Ty France, because why wouldn’t you, I guess, bringing up Carlos Santana with the bases loaded. Carlos Santana then did what he’s been doing ever since he donned a Mariners uniform: came up clutch.
(Shout-out to CalTrain motoring home on that. Beef Boys can run, don’t ever say they can’t.)
Mary Oliver, as a poet, is not much given to long titles or overt meditations on faith, although that is present in how she deals with the natural world, but one of my favorites of hers has the clunkiest title: “Little Summer Poem Touching the Subject of Faith.” In it, the speaker agonizes over how deaf and blind they are to the natural world as change comes with every season: “I fail as a witness,” bemoans the speaker, “all of it happening/beyond any seeable proof, or hearable hum.” Even when the proof is right before one’s eyes, the hum of 25,000 on a stifling hot Tuesday night in the ballpark, it can be so difficult to find that faith. But, the poem closes with an invitation, a widening of spirit:
And, therefore, let the immeasurable come.
Let the unknowable touch the buckle of my spine.
Let the wind turn in the trees,
and the mystery hidden in the dirt
swing through the air.
How could I look at anything in this world
and tremble, and grip my hands over my heart?
What should I fear?
in the leafy green ocean
the honeycomb of the corn’s beautiful body
is sure to be there.
How can I look at these Seattle Mariners, and tremble, and grip my hands over my heart? What should I fear? It will be there. It is sure to be there. Let the immeasurable come.