On a smoky, hazy night in Seattle, one night after the Mariners failed to measure up against the defending World Series champs, this young Mariners team bounced back, led by their young stars, and their young-adjacent stars, and their star-adjacent, young-adjacent stars-to-us.
Because if it hasn’t been said before, it should be said now: George Kirby is a star. Connor said in the game thread that if it wasn’t for Julio Rodríguez’s presence on this team, we’d be getting out our fainting couches daily for the Westchester Wizard (trademark ZAM), enlisting our heaviest-duty fans for the Rye Wrecking Ball (trademark me, and be nice, I’ve been at the park for nine hours). Kirby himself is more of the strong, silent type, but even he couldn’t help but be a little gleeful in the description of his two-seamer, which now apparently he can move to either side with that incredible run. Oh, and by the way, tonight his four-seam averaged 95 MPH; his two-seam averaged 94 MPH. Good luck, hitters.
“Probably the best feeling,” he said with a little grin, talking about that two-seamer.
But it wasn’t just the two-seamer Kirby had working tonight as he flexed over a powerful Atlanta lineup. His slider and changeup both produced their fair share of whiffs, along with the fastball, and all of them produced some pretty weak contact. Kirby allowed one (1) ball hit over 100 MPH to Atlanta’s sluggers, and it was a seventh-inning single that was on a well-located two-seamer right at the top of the zone that Dansby Swanson, who produced 2⁄3 of Atlanta’s hits tonight, found to his liking.
Also, Kirby heard there was a young opposing pitcher on the mound tonight with a pretty good curveball so he decided to apply for the job himself:
With Kirby rolling, it felt like all the Mariners would need would be one run to win. Facing Kirby, however, was Atlanta’s own young star pitcher, Max Fried, and tonight he brought with him a nasty changeup in addition to his plus curveball. The curve actually didn’t trap the Mariners hitters all that much; five of Fried’s six strikeouts came on the changeup (the other one was a nasty, perfectly placed fastball on the corner to Cal Raleigh to end the sixth inning and a Mariners scoring threat). But, as Servais said postgame, “we threw a little Swaggerty at them.”
Give ‘em the old razzle—
Swaggerty on both sides of the ball pic.twitter.com/mNAmONSxQA— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) September 11, 2022
always keep your eye on the ball pic.twitter.com/fYOigpLRwb— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) September 11, 2022
That old Swaggerty magic. “He’s got a little way about him,” said Servais after the game, and if that isn’t the best way to describe our Magical Baseball Elf I don’t know what is. Haggerty spoke postgame about how, with regular reps, he’s becoming more comfortable as an outfielder; he actually feels like he started transitioning into a more full-time outfielder starting in 2019, and seems to recognize on this team, it’s his quickest route to regular playing time. And it’s pretty hard to argue that he shouldn’t currently be getting starts over Jesse Winker, whose bat unfortunately remains locked in cryogenic slumber, especially as he continues to acquit himself on both sides of the ball.
And Eugenio can’t see someone else hit a home run and not want to hit one, too:
No. 2️⃣8️⃣ for No. 2️⃣8️⃣! pic.twitter.com/uaSllCBXLY— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) September 11, 2022
This blast (107.4 off the bat, the hardest-hit ball of the game) gave the Mariners a doughty 2-0 lead that looked insurmountable, especially with Kirby dealing like he was.
In this swirling haze of good Mariners plays, there was also a nifty leaping catch by Abraham Toro that should not go unremarked upon. Unfortunately, the haze seems to have also trapped some of the Mariners’ bad defense from last Wednesday in the confines of T-Mobile, and there was also an error by J.P., which led to the Braves getting their first run of the night. Remember how Swanson had the hardest-hit ball against Kirby of the night in the seventh inning? The other hardest-hit ball against Kirby (98.9 MPH) also came in that seventh inning. After his velo was down to 93 on the two-seamer and 95 on the four-seamer in that first at-bat, Austin Riley ambushed a first-pitch slider that should have gone for a bases-clearing double play, but J.P. Crawford fumbled the ball. This caused Servais to signal for Andrés Muñoz to protect what was a two-run lead, which became a one-run lead after Familiar Pest Matt Olson hit into a fielder’s choice to score a run. At this point the Atlanta fans in a packed (45K+) T-Mobile started making their presence known, only to be immediately and loudly shouted down by the Mariners fans in attendance. Good job, everyone. Especially you, Person In Yellow Hat. You did a great job.
I truly believe the surge in crowd noise shouting “let’s go Mariners” fueled Muñoz here:
The charged-up Mariners would answer Atlanta’s lone run immediately. Julio Rodríguez continued to make his case for Rookie of the Year, smoking a double (106 MPH!) off old friend Jesse Chavez in the bottom of the seventh that scored Adam Frazier, who had walked, with the ease of a polymath sitting the SATs. That 3-1 lead would provide to be an air-conditioned room with an air purifier, fast internet and a squashy couch for Erik Swanson and Paul Sewald, who lounged about like the kings of the desert/frozen tundra they are and set down the bottom and top, respectively, of Atlanta’s lineup without incident; Sewald recorded another two strikeouts, just to put a little bow on things for the home faithful who stayed and cheered all throughout.
It was the perfect end to a perfect night at the ballpark, aside from the hazy clouds above. More importantly, it was like looking forward a little bit at what could be, with this combination of ingredients the Mariners have assembled for their playoff potion: a young emerging ace pitcher; a young superstar signed to wear your team’s colors for a long time; consistent performance from a key veteran acquisition; a lock-down bullpen; and a generous helping of that magic that special teams have, a potion that seems to only grow more potent as the postseason draws near.