“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Arthur C. Clarke’s oft-quoted third law in part captures how what we observe is often more explainable than it would seem, more measurable. As baseball has evolved there are more efforts than ever to measure the reasons behind the seemingly random. Yet, there are still aspects of it that seem nebulous, that escape measure. There are still those moments of Chaos in the 2022 Seattle Mariners, but even though their 4-2 victory today over the Texas Rangers may have felt like magic, it was far from illusion.
Even the measured can feel magic, or at least feel like some kind of trick we’re unable to decipher the true logic behind. Enter Marco Gonzales. Coming into tonight’s game, Marco was sporting some truly head-scratching season numbers that were anything but confidence inspiring. His ERA of 3.74 sat against an xERA of 4.82 and a FIP and xFIP of 5.27 and 5.01, respectively; his K-BB% sat at an absolutely dismal 4.4%, by far the worst it’s been in his career with the Mariners.
Marco’s location today was also far from ideal. That didn’t stop him from going seven innings, striking out five, only walking one, and giving up only two earned runs on four hits. Fifty-six of his eighty-eight pitches were thrown for strikes, as he leaned heavily on his changeup throwing it 40% of the time. Yes, there was a little help from the home plate ump, but nothing egregious, and certainly the Mariners stellar defense played a factor, but today Marco was once again a workhorse pitcher who posted a quality start and then some much better than the pitcher he appears to be on paper. His location may have been far from ideal overall, but all five of his strikeouts came from pitches perfectly dotting the edges of the zone.
As good as Marco was today, the Rangers had an easy answer in their starter Jon Gray. He used his slider more than any other pitch, and most of the time it looked unhittable, generating whiffs (10) on 63% of swings. His fastball was reaching 99 mph, an upward trend in velocity that has been season long. Still, the three-pitch monte he was working was not enough to fool the Mariners away from getting on the board first, and early.
In the bottom of the second J.P. Crawford managed to drop a hanger into shallow center field for a single, setting up Adam Frazier, who laid down a bunt as perfect as can be.
Next up to bat? Sam Haggerty. The very same Haggerty who has been a threat on the basepaths, coming in with clutch hits, and absolutely fighting off any conversation about him getting sent back down to AAA. THE Sam Haggerty who stayed ahead in the count, and fought off a 98 MPH fastball on the inside edge of the zone for an RBI double down the left field line to give the Mariners an early lead.
The bunt single was Frazier’s only hit for the night, but Crawford and Haggerty both had strong games, each going 2-for-3 and Crawford also working a walk. Both of Haggerty’s hits were doubles, and his batting average for the season now sits at a cool .303 with a .843 OPS.
Unfortunately for the Mariners it was all the damage they would do that inning, and Gray settled in nicely for the next several innings. By the time Gray came into the seventh, he had seven strikeouts under his belt, and had not given up any more hits since the three he allowed in the second. He had also allowed three walks in the game so far, and it was another one to start the seventh that would start to be his undoing this game.
After Torrens had struck out in his two at-bats, he was pinch-hit for Cal Raleigh. Beloved Cal Raleigh, who remained patient and drew the walk. Perfect set up for what else, than another Sam Haggerty double, this time down the right field line.
Julio Rodríguez was the next up, and even though he’s having an elite rookie season, it is easy to forget that he really is a rookie. Coming into the inning he was hitless, and had an ugly strikeout chasing a slider in the dirt. It’s easy to forget, because Julio keeps doing things like this:
A three-run, 108.5 mph bomb that gave the Mariners a 4-2 lead, and off of a Jon Gray slider no less. It was all the Mariners would get, and all they would need, to cruise from there to victory.
Marco’s quality start got them through seven, Swanson and Muñoz combined for a scoreless eighth, and Matt Festa came in and shut the door after getting into a little bit of trouble with a hit and a walk. The pitching set up the trick, and Haggerty and Julio provided The Prestige.
The magic of this year’s team, the unexplainable beauty of it, goes far beyond the story the metrics will tell you. For example, this gem of a story from Servais on the change Julio made for the home run.
omg Julio took a different bat up to the plate when he hit the home run because his usual one "was sleeping, it's a day game" pic.twitter.com/ATT66iEWVn— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) July 27, 2022
The magic in this team lies not in what the team is on paper, although they are markedly better in that way than many years recent, but rather in the spirit that embodies the players that make it up. I’m sure there is some sufficiently advanced science that explains exactly why this team keeps finding so many unlikely heroes, or why Julio is just so damned naturally good at baseball. We don’t need to see the reasons though to acknowledge the obvious. This team has discovered a mojo that Seattle has not seen in decades, and it truly feels like magic to watch them sweep perfectly competent opponents in the Texas Rangers like they did today.