It’s getting to be football season, so tonight let’s roll an old football chestnut out of the mothballs they’ve been stored in all summer and say tonight’s game was a tale of two halves. Except they weren’t halves, really, they were the parts of the game where the starters were in and the parts where they weren’t, and also if anything approaching the chaos that occurred in tonight’s game happened on a football field and Cris Collinsworth had to describe it he would run away into the night, never to be heard from again. But first half things first!
It was a little surprising to see the relative lack of national attention paid to tonight’s game. All-Star against reigning MVP, Ace against ace, with Luis Castillo facing off against Shohei Ohtani in an AL West matchup, with the Mariners desperately struggling to break their historic playoff drought and the once high-flying Angels now greedily looking to play spoiler? Seems like a big deal to us but what do we know, MLB is Belle swirling through the streets of her provincial village singing about how this tiny little hamlet sucks, actually, and meanwhile we’re this lady:
Anyway, maybe it was right that there wasn’t a ton of hoopla built up to this game because for a battle of aces it was...a little bit of a letdown, actually. Neither Ohtani nor Castillo seemed to have their best stuff, and neither offense was exactly lighting the world on fire. The Mariners got on the board right away in this game when, with two outs, Jesse Winker heard you talking some mess:
Mitch Haniger followed with a single, but the Mariners weren’t able to do anything beyond that. What they were able to do was run up Ohtani’s pitch count, costing him 21 pitches in the first, largely driven up by an eight-pitch at-bat on Haniger’s single. Never leave us, Mitch.
Unfortunately, the Angels came right back in the bottom of the first. It looked like it would be a quick inning for Castillo after he got two quick groundouts, and extra-good news for the Mariners as Ohtani fouled a couple balls off in his at-bat, but Luis Rengifo jumped on Castillo’s first pitch—a 98 MPH fastball that caught too much plate—and after some unnecessary outfield hijinks where either Mitch or Julio could have caught the ball but neither did and then oops it was ruled a home run anyway, how I detest Angel Stadium, suddenly the game was a 1-1 tie. Same, Luis, same.
In the third, it looked like Julio had put the Mariners ahead on a ball that hooked over the fence into the right-field corner, but Phil Nevin couldn’t challenge it fast enough and after review it was ruled to be a foul ball (note I don’t say “shown” to be, as I’m still waiting for that visual confirmation), so of course he wound up striking out instead. Baseball gods, why do you hate fun. I don’t want to say the swing of going from a possible home run to a strikeout is a perfect metaphor for how poorly the Mariners have played so far in their so-called soft schedule, but also, if the strained metaphor fits. Ty France, still scuffling at the plate, then grounded out on the first pitch. Womp womp.
But then! Jesse Winker singled and Mitch Haniger worked a rare walk off Ohtani, bringing up J.P. Crawford. At this point it’s relevant to mention that there was a strong Mariners contingent in the building for the game, and they brought their “J.P.” chants, which is probably what propelled this two-out RBI single off the bat of J.P. Crawford, who continues to heat up after a strong showing an an otherwise disappointing Texas series. Adam Frazier then struck out to end the inning, but the inning pushed Ohtani’s pitch count to 61 through three.
But things didn’t get easier after that. The ever-pesky David Fletcher led off the third by pouncing on a hanging slider from Castillo, putting a runner on first immediately. Castillo then fell behind Ohtani 3-1 and things were looking grim before rebounding to strike him out with some perfectly painted 98 MPH heat.
Luis Rengifo then grounded into a double play to rescue Castillo from the inning with his pitch count intact, but the Mariners weren’t able to capitalize in the fourth despite a Jake Lamb double that missed being a homer by thismuch. To say again: I hate Angel Stadium and all its attendant accoutrements. Still, at 104.9 off the bat and an xBA of .800, that’s encouraging from Lamb.
Less encouraging: the bottom of the fourth. Taylor Ward started off the inning with a double on another poor slider from Castillo, and then Jared Walsh took a middle-middle fastball and singled him home and Ty France got sloppy on the relay, allowing the runner to advance to second. Ty, that’s fifty pushups from Perry Hill pre-game tomorrow. Castillo was able to escape the inning without further damage, including a nifty snare on a comebacker as if to show his infield this is how it’s done guys, but by this point, Ohtani was cruising, forcing Castillo right back out there. He got a soft start with Andrew Velazquez, literally only on this team because he has a shortstop glove, and then Castillo got right after David Fletcher, who I like to believe annoys La Piedra as much as he annoys me. Castillo got Fletcher 1-2, but then he worked the count full because Castillo might be La Piedra, but Fletcher is La Piedra en El Zapato, and chewed up a bunch more of Castillo’s pitches before singling up the middle. How I hate him. Again, Castillo wiggled out of trouble, but it felt like a nonstop slog uphill with his command tonight, with little to no backing from his offense.
Castillo fought through the sixth so both starters would clear six innings, but it wasn’t easy. He led off the inning by hitting Taylor Ward in a full count, and then another full count to Jared Walsh, who is just Plan A Reverse Taylor Ward, before striking him out. That pushed him to pitch 100 in an at-bat against Steven Duggar, significantly less efficient than we’ve seen Castillo in the past. Thanks to Laz Diaz being as good at umpiring as I am at writing a terse recap, Castillo had to throw five strikes to strike him out, getting Duggar chasing after a changeup for strike three and his eighth strikeout on the day, but also pushing his pitch count well into the red line zone. However, Servais opted to stick with Castillo against Max Stassi to try to finish off the sixth, and Castillo responded:
We love that! It’s so awesome to see that even on a night when Castillo doesn’t have his best stuff, he can bear down and execute when he has to; hopefully next time his offense will give him a little more run support so he doesn’t have to grind quite so hard.
With Act I of this baseball game over, it’s time to move on to Act II, although really, it’s more like Act V, or wherever stuff starts going wrong for Shakespeare’s characters, who are in this case the Disgraced Former California Angels, playing appropriately enough, behind the proscenium arch of the most ersatz, shamelessly manufactured park in baseball. Diego Castillo shut the Angels down in the seventh despite some command we’ll call “effectively wild” and Andrés Muñoz shut the Angels down in his inning despite some garbagey little weak-contact hits, which brought the Mariners up to face Aaron Loup in the top of the ninth. Dave Sims’ comment on Loup was “I thought he got traded!” and well, that’s less an indictment on Sims and more on Loup and the Angels bullpen, or the Angels themselves, as like, a concept.
Loup may be wishing he got traded after tonight, because while the first half of this game/play followed a traditional, familiar arc—the battle of the aces, the batters trying to react and adjust—the top of the ninth was pure experimental theatre. Bertolt Brecht was off on the side saying, “hang on guys, this might be a little much.”
It started, like most good things do lately, with Sam Haggerty:
What made that even more incredible was only a couple of pitches before, Haggerty had swung and missed at a pitch that hit him on the ankle and spent a fair amount of time turtling around in the dirt at home plate before having to be helped up by Laz Díaz. But, fully embodying the “I lived” meme, Haggerty swiped second when Max Stassi got an itchy trigger finger behind the plate, sailing a ball into center after Haggerty faked a steal of second. Thank you very much for the free base, Max! Then Haggerty swiped third, because if you give a Swaggerty a base, he’s just going to want another one:
Okay, I thought, just gotta get a run here and pass it over to Sewald. But these chaos-y Mariners had other designs. First of all, Carlos Santana, batting for Jake Lamb, somehow cast his magic spell on Laz Diaz and convinced him it was a 3-1 count rather than a 2-2 count, eliciting a walk and a near-immediate pinch-runner for Santana in Dylan Moore. Then the Angels...I’m not sure how to describe this with words. I need hand puppets or an array of colorful scarves or a flock of carefully trained birds. But I’ll do my best.
First. Julio hit a ball at 107.5 MPH directly at Luis Rengifo, who understandably, drops it. DMo hesitates for a second, realizes he’s probably meat, and starts heading to second anyway, hoping they can get the run to score and maybe stay out of the double play.
The inning does not end on the double play. Instead, Rengifo, probably still seeing his life flash before his eyes, opts to throw home, to stop the run from scoring, since at this point the double play is probably out of order after he dropped the ball.
This causes Haggerty to get into a rundown between third and home, hoping to advance DMo, now:
Then at some point, like the Distracted Boyfriend meme, José Rojas gets more concerned about Dylan Moore taking third unabated, and also, there’s no one at home to throw to anyway because Aaron Loup has fallen down except for a hustling-in Jared Walsh, who has a devastating case of Toasterhands. “Aha,” thinks Rojas, “I shall at least cut down this one runner, and get a second out on the board.”
There would be no second out on the board, as Moore gets in safely. Spare a thought for Rengifo here, forced to watch first his life flash before his eyes, then his baseball team’s life.
Surrender Cobras all around.
I can only hope these fans left, because they seem to be at Maximum Displeasure, and I take no joy in telling these frozen stills of the past things are about to get much worse (I take absolute joy in this).
You know how in baseball, the old chestnut is that if you come to the ballpark every day, you’ll see something you’ve never seen before? Well sometimes you see exactly what you’ve just seen, on back-to-back plays. Ty France hit this ball—and unlike Julio’s this was no scorcher, a mere 86.6 MPH off the bat—that should have been a double play, except it can’t be, because Julio is practically standing on second before the fielder even has the ball.
So the Angels make the ill-advised attempt to do the impossible: make an out against the Mariners at home plate.
He’s out, right? DMo is so out here, he’s the outiest out that ever outed, he’s the Mayor of Outsville, Population Him.
Except, oops! The ball has hopped away like a naughty bunny in a picture book. The Very Reluctant Rabbit or something. That ball would eventually roll all the way to the backstop, putting runners on at second and third instead of two or even three outs on the board. Bad for the Angels. Great for us. 4-2 Mariners.
Jesse Winker then grounded out and the Angels actually capably fielded it, but it still scored another run, and then J.P. Crawford singled to bring in another run to bring it to 6-2 Mariners, and that’s where the fun would end, as the Angels dragged Jesse Chavez out of his cryogenic sleep chamber and forced him to finish the inning. Then Paul Sewald skipped out of the Mariners dugout, cheerily put away the Angels 1-2-3, and told us all to brush our teeth and go to bed, although not before he injected a little last-minute chaos himself, striking Jo Adell out on a pitch that seemed to hit him.
Was it a pretty win? No, not really. But it was a win, and a win that harkened back to the best times of last season, the wild but wonderful, anything-can-happen, Chaos Ball Mariners. This team is capable of inducing chaos the same way that team was: by grinding out at-bats, forcing the other team into making mistakes by disrupting things on the basepaths, playing clean defense themselves, and locking things down on the pitching side. It feels like magic, but it’s not, really. It’s opportunity, and it is knocking.