The idea that “familiarity breeds contempt” is one that’s been around for thousands of years - the ancient Roman prose writer Apuleius is believed to have first used it in his work De Deo Socratis. In other words, the more you truly know something or something, the less you come to appreciate or tolerate it. It’s a cynical phrase, to be sure, and while it’s never a fun feeling to experience, contempt is something many of us have dealt with following this familiar team over the years (“José López is hitting cleanup AGAIN?! GOD!” “Why oh why is Yovani Gallardo still getting starts in July??”).
As we charge into the second half with the M’s in a playoff spot no matter the result of tonight, I’ve noticed that concept bubbling up again in regards to Marco Gonzales. Yes, he and Mitch Haniger are the sole Mariners that were around in 2017 - just five years ago - and yes, he was a stabilizing force in the rotation at the end of the Canó/Cruz era and the start of the rebuild, but his last handful of starts have been... not great. This is a fact. The decision to move Chris Flexen rather than Marco to the bullpen to shorten up the rotation was puzzling to some at the time. Now, though? I’m guessing that may have been the wrong move.
Despite all this, however, Marco’s familiarity remains one of my favorite things about him. Since coming aboard LL as a writer before the 2018 season, I had recapped sixteen Marco Gonzales starts before tonight, easily the most of any Mariners starter. He is often a delight to chart: I appreciate any pitcher that works quickly and whose pitches are easy to differentiate to my eye. For the first three innings, he was just that, needing just under 40 pitches to breeze through the first time through the Rangers’ lineup. Ezequiel Durán did lead off the third with a double, but Marco bounced back by striking out Bubba Thompson before retiring Elier Hernández and Marcus Semien on a combined four pitches. This felt familiar. Just the one strikeout over three isn’t what you want to see, but this felt nice, like a favorite T-shirt that’s starting to get some holes but you can’t bear to throw it out.
The bats also pulled their weight through the first three, really making Texas starter Dane Dunning labor. Julio led off the game with a high chopper that was easily beat out for an infield hit on his fastest sprint speed yet, and Ty France flicked another one of his patented singles into right field. Mitch Haniger moved them both over, Jesse Winker worked a walk, and a wild pitch and a sac fly from Eugenio Suárez combined to stake a 2-0 lead before Marco even stepped on the mound.
They tacked on another run in the second, too, after Cal Raleigh led off the frame with a scorcher of an opposite field double, moving to third on a J.P. Crawford groundout and scoring on a fly ball from Sam Haggerty. Small ball may not always be analytically sound, but I must admit it’s satisfying to see it pulled off. Besides, a 3-0 lead the way Marco’s been cruising? With Dunning needing almost 25 pitches for each of those two innings? Things were looking good, even after Dunning settled down and got through the third and fourth without any further damage.
But that bottom of the fourth, my friends. Oh, was it cursed.
It started out innocently enough, with Corey Seager harmlessly flying out on an 0-1 fastball, but perhaps the quick at-bat was a harbinger of things to come. Just three pitches later, Texas had a run in and two men on the corners, thanks to back-to-back doubles from Mariner thorns Adolis García and Jonah Heim followed by a bloop single from Nathaniel Lowe. I gotta be honest, though: Heim’s should have been held to a single. Leaving the bat at a hard-but-not-blistering 99.4, the ball split Eugenio and J.P., but Jesse allowed it to get all the way to the left field corner. Not that it would have prevented the speedy García from scoring, but Lowe’s hit wouldn’t have brought him to third, and maybe this next sequence doesn’t happen. Marco fell behind 3-1 to Charlie Culberson, got his soft ground ball to third, but Suárez botched the probably unnecessary throw to first, bringing in another run and leaving the baserunner situation unchanged.
Durán struck again with a clean single up the middle - again on the first pitch - to tie things up, and the lightning-quick Thompson laid down a safety squeeze to take the lead. Good feelings gone. Gonzales got out of the inning without any further trouble, and did get through five complete innings, though not without giving up a true bomb to Kyle Seager’s brother to make it 5-3 Rangers. His defense may have let him down in the fourth, but the truth is those high fastballs and low offspeed were not fooling anybody by then: Heim’s double and Durán’s game-tying hit were both first-pitch changeups on the lower edge. That hole in the collar looks bigger than when you last wore this shirt.
There was thankfully one last bit of joy to be had in the sixth inning: Eugenio Suárez became Ayyyyyugenio Suárez with a leadoff blast to pull the M’s back within a run. A couple commenters in the game thread noted that he often follows up any mistakes in the field with some production at the plate, and I, for one, am grateful to our Good Vibes king for that.
I meant it when I said that was the last bit of joy tonight, too. Penn Murfee had a rare tough outing tonight, working a shaky sixth and allowing another run to score on a knock from pinch-hitter Josh H. Smith. Chris Flexen, making his first appearance out of the bullpen since 2019, was even shakier, walking four hitters across his two innings of work and giving up Texas’s seventh and final run thanks to a fielder’s choice from García. I’m sure that Flex’s routine was just thrown off a bit coming in as a reliever for the first time since COVID was a thought, but nonetheless, it was a bit concerning. Better to work out the kinks in a blah game like tonight, I guess.
So that wasn’t very fun, especially now that the M’s are no longer in the lead Wild Card spot with a Blue Jays victory earlier today. Given the much-ballyhooed soft schedule the Mariners are facing here on out, it’s hard not to feel frustrated with any individual loss. These nights where it feels like a team effort of sloppiness (even Julio wasn’t immune, striking out three times after that leadoff hit) absolutely sting as they’re happening, and I don’t blame anyone for some GTE. In truth, things remain just fine, and a series win is still well within reach. Even though Martín Pérez will likely be a tough customer tomorrow, he’s no one the M’s haven’t faced and defeated several times over the years. What was that about familiarity breeding contempt again? The Mariners might want to take a page out of Apuleius’s book for the rubber match.