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About Last Night: the swaggy return of Chaos Ball

Or: The Adventures of Ham Swaggerty and the Mischievous Mariners

Seattle Mariners v Los Angeles Angels Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Some people, the uninformed, believe that baseball is boring. I know I don’t have to preach its merits here, as I’m sure the vast majority of us know that baseball can be bombastic, thrilling, and downright unpredictable. In a tied game with the division rival Angels, the Seattle Mariners were all of those things. There were several contributors, but arguably none more so than Sam Haggerty. For a break down of the entire affair, you can look no further than Kate’s recap of yesterday’s game. If you want to hear the ninth inning summarized by its biggest hero, Sam, he only needed one word.

Chaos. Chaos Ball. The defining term for the 2021 Seattle Mariners, that has reared its feisty, unpredictable head more than few times this season as well. Sam Haggerty has become a not-so-quiet contributor to this year’s success. Far exceeding expectations, although as site writer Isabelle Minasian recently pointed out, he’s always had believers, and every successful team needs a Sam Haggerty. His contributions, his style, even earned him a nickname from LL itself, that of Ham Swaggerty. He embodies that style so much, that the moniker has reached mainstream level, being invoked by Angie Mentink in last night’s post-game.

Ham Swaggerty started the ninth inning events last night, and it all started out very simply, with a one out single.

Only a single, and already one out. But good teams capitalize on that kind of momentum. Sometimes, lucky teams do, although they are not mutually exclusive as we were about to find out. Yes, what Angels catcher Max Stassi did next was lucky for the Mariners, but it should also be noted it was the type of luck that particularly favored Haggerty’s skills. As per Baseball Savant, he currently ranks 38th in all of baseball in sprint speed, at 29.2 ft/sec. (Julio is 15th at 29.6, but a little more on that later).

We might not ever know what exactly it was that caused Stassi to panic and throw it away like that when there didn’t appear to be any threat, except that maybe the league is finally taking notice of Haggerty’s success. After all, it was during a recent game during the Yankees they intentionally walked him twice. Or maybe it was this delightful little juke move Haggerty did right before the pitch that convinced Stassi he was going to run.

Whatever the reason, good teams, and good players, capitalize. So Sam Haggerty, being the good player that he is, wasted no time in taking advantage of Max Stassi’s sudden bout of confusion and stole third base. Because of course he did.

Luck and skill combined in a beautiful dance, but this wasn’t a one man performance, this quickly became a flash mob. First, Carlos Santana invoked the supernatural and convinced the home plate umpire to change the count entirely, then turned that advantage into a walk.

Next, Julio Rodríguez scorched the ball 107.5 mph off of the bat into Luis Rengifo for a fielder’s choice, but Rengifo was unable to field it and well, the Angels certainly made some choices.

If you have trouble following all of the chaos there, you can’t be blamed. A combination of Rengifo’s inability to glove the ball and Julio’s speed erased the opportunity for a double play, but they had Haggerty dead to rights in that rundown. That was until Stassi made the baffling decision to run right up to Haggerty when he tossed it to José Rojas, leaving home plate completely unmanned and letting Sam run by him with the ease that his elite speed allowed, scoring the go-ahead run and letting Moore (also noted for his great speed, and who was a pinch runner in for Santana) reach third.

Don’t feel too bad for Stassi, because the next play Ty France would hit an easy chopper and Max would have an opportunity to redeem himself with yet another runner dead to rights coming home.

I did say an opportunity, not that he would come through. If you had to ask me what the deciding factor was, I’m going to stick with my narrative that it was equal parts skill and luck, Dylan Moore’s speed was absolutely a factor, but what are the odds that Stassi would glove and attempt the tag so poorly? Chaos reigns.

And chaos was not done. The previous play had moved Julio to third, the third elite speed runner to reach that base this inning, and maybe that is why the Angels seemed shook. Still with only one out, it was Winker’s turn to come to the plate. Again the Mariners hit an easy infield grounder, and again the Angels had a defensive misplay, this time the culprit being Rojas.

What should have been a double play, turned into a sacrifice fielder’s choice, putting the Mariners up 5-2 in an inning they started out tied. It was thrilling, it was incomprehensible, it was insane. It was still not over. Cue J.P. Crawford, who wasn’t about to sit out on the fun. A well placed bloop to left field, and the Mariners moved ahead 6-2. Admittedly, there was very little chaos to this final run scored by the M’s this inning, other than it being the hilarious icing on the cake of everything that came before it.

Luck, skill, and chaos. Setting the luck and chaos aside though, believe it or not, this was by design. This is exactly how the Mariners drew it up. Obviously they couldn’t have predicted the specifics, but they have the players they do for situations just like this. This is why they have not one, not two, but three elite-speed baserunners in Julio, Haggerty, and Moore. Before they had the advantage of surprise. Julio was “just a rookie”, Haggerty and Moore were just “AAAA players at best”. The league is going to start taking notice though, the ones that haven’t already, just how unwise it is to underestimate the Seattle Mariners. This team knows how to take advantage of the openings opposing teams get them either way, and they are only getting better at it, even as team’s have begun to take notice of their skill set. This team last night hustled, and grinded, and invoked chaos.