T-MOBILE PARK - Between the Mariners’ clubhouse and the dugout, on the ceiling on your way through the tunnel, there’s a slogan enshrined in huge lettering: “Doesn’t Matter, Get Better.”
Now, you’ve heard all the slogans before. “Sea Us Rise,” “Two Outs So What,” or even the remarkably lazy “Good.” (My love for Ted Lasso prevents me from including “Believe” in this group, even though, well, it belongs in the less-inspired category.) The M’s have other slogans emblazoned near the clubhouse, too, but this is the one every player sees as he heads out to the field.
In a season full of valleys, tonight’s game felt like an apex, a moment where the team rallied together. Doesn’t matter, get better.
The Mariners of a month ago — let’s be honest, the Mariners of much of the franchise’s 46-season history — would likely have rolled over, unable to improve and unable to stay focused. Doesn’t matter, get better.
It would have been easy to blame the 32,398 fans, many of whom came from across the border and loudly allowed their Canadian patriotism to shine through, as an obstacle. Not this team, however. Not this time. Doesn’t matter, get better.
And in the end, while it was the younger players who dominated much of the game’s airwaves, it was one of the clubhouse veterans — the inimitable Eugenio Suárez — who recorded a breakthrough of his own, hitting a towering blast down the left field line for his first walk-off homer of his career, giving the Mariners a 5–2 win and sending the team to its sixth straight victory.
Facing the Blue Jays’ lineup is a tall task for any pitcher, much less a rookie making the 12th start of his career. George Kirby — the aforementioned rookie — didn’t necessarily have his best stuff today (vertical break and spin rate were down a tick from his season averages on most of his pitches), so his lesson of the day was on how to succeed even amidst that adversity.
Across 4.1 innings, Kirby scattered 10 hits and a walk, striking out four and allowing two runs. Like I said: not pretty! But the New York native got the outs when he needed them, including three different strikeouts (shown below) with runners in scoring position:
Kirby also continued a trend of increased curveball usage that’s persisted over his past five starts. Over his first seven starts, Kirby was using the curve only sparingly (9.2%); recently, however, he’s up to 20.7% curveball usage. It remains to be seen if this increased usage is intentional or even a positive — Kirby collected zero swings-and-misses on the curve tonight — but regardless, the fact that he’s making adjustments and working through jams is a promising sign.
If you’re reading this, you probably don’t need any reminders about how thoroughly fantastic the Austin Nola trade was for the Mariners. One piece of that deal, Ty France, is currently on his way (most likely) to the All-Star Game. Another, Taylor Trammell, combines an infectious smile with a 126 wRC+ this year, albeit in a short 94 PA sample size.
But the latest example — and the second-youngest player on the team roster — continued to show off today, demonstrating why he just keeps getting better week to week.
Andrés Muñoz, born in literally 1999, had a rough start to the season. Between Opening Day and June 10 (an admittedly arbitrary end date picked solely to make my case), Muñoz was nigh unpitchable with a dollop of bad luck:
Andres Muñoz through June 10
Since then, he’s been nigh unhittable:
Andres Muñoz, June 11 to now
He added to those numbers tonight: four batters faced, three strikeouts, zero runs. It was a virtuoso performance from the Mexican native, and he has clearly taken the “doesn’t matter, get better” mantra to heart.
Julio needs no introduction. He may be the youngest player on the roster, but his energy, his enthusiasm, and his ridiculously high level of play make him stand out no matter what.
The man of the hour, Eugenio Suárez, on Julio Rodríguez:— Grant Bronsdon (@gbronsdon) July 9, 2022
“Everything he does is special.”
Perhaps it’s that exact precociousness that triggers surprise when Julio simply messes up.
But Julio is indomitable. He scored the Mariners’ second run of the game, making it home from first after a J.P. Crawford double into right, but his real highlight came in the field. With two on and nobody out, Santiago Espinal hit a frozen rope into center field. Julio faked as though he was going to catch it all the way, played the ball on a hop, and threw a 99.6 MPH laser to third to catch Lourdes Gurriel Jr. When I tell you this was something out of Star Wars...
Julio Rodríguez's 99.6 mph throw is the Mariners' fastest-tracked throw on an OF assist tracked by Statcast (since 2015) https://t.co/J3AHt51pH2— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) July 9, 2022
Sure, the youngster isn’t perfect: With a Zombie Runner on second in the 10th and a chance to walk it off, Rodríguez struck out, and while J.P. Crawford singled following a Ty France intentional walk, Gurriel’s throw home nailed Abraham Toro by 20 feet, sending the game to the 11th. (When asked post-game about the decision to pinch-hit for Sam Haggerty in the 9th with the notably slower Toro, Servais simply replied, “I’m trying to win the game in nine.”)
Talk about something that’s gotten better. Despite some significant early-season struggles, the bullpen was lights-out tonight. Time and again, it was a different character — Murfee, Muñoz, Castillo, Sewald, and Borucki — who came in clutch, whether with vital strikeouts or excellent situational pitching.
Across 6.1 innings, the bullpen allowed no runs, two hits, and garnered eight strikeouts. Even while the offense failed to get much going against Ross Stripling or the Blue Jays’ bullpen, the Mariners’ relievers kept them in it and set the table for...
Geno, as everybody seems to call the 30-year-old slugger, took a nasty slide right into his leg on Julio’s throw back in the 4th. He could have come out of the game at that point, or pointed to that injury as an explanation for any resulting struggles.
Doesn’t matter, get better.
Instead, Geno focused on the things he could control. In his words, “I know Romo.” And tonight, in Geno’s eighth MLB season, with two men on, 207 home runs under his belt, and looking for something middle-in, he delivered his first career walk-off homer and put the finishing touches on a 5–2 dub. Bedlam.
Tomorrow, of course, is another day, full of distractions and loud music just like the clubhouse was post-dinger. Another chance for something to stand in the Mariners’ way.
Doesn’t matter, get better.