We’re still not used to winning, you know? I mean this on a physiological level: if you, like me, have lived your life (or a long part of it) as a Mariners fan, your nervous system is calibrated for losing. Scott Servais says we watched a doubleheader today, with Game One being the first eight innings and Game Two being the ninth. As Game One wrapped up, I had a recap planned that focused on the ways our nervous systems are mis-calibrated for the playoffs, and what we can do about it. But then Game Two happened and let’s face it: no one’s calibrated for a day like this. We just won a thrilling contest against a good baseball team (whose fans think we are a good baseball team!) and in doing so won our series against the reigning MLB champions. In the span of one game we won, and then we lost, and then we won again, and the future blossomed before our eyes. You can’t prepare for a game like today’s, you just have to savor it. So here we go.
The story of the first eight innings is Marco Gonzales; in a year where he’s solidified his standing as Not The Pitcher He Used To Be, Marco spun a beauty today, going six innings with 91 pitches, just two hits, one run, no walks, and five strikeouts. He was mixing his pitches well, throwing his four-seamer more often than he has in his last few starts and getting success from his cutter and curveball as well. He located well through all six innings and looked comfortable while working fast. The Braves’ powerful lineup was unable to make much good contact and whiffed eleven times in the first six innings. Dave Sims called Marco’s performance today “cagey,” presumably referring to the evasive way his pitches were fooling hitters:
Marco’s only earned run was a solo homer off the bat of Austin Riley in the third. It was fitting start to finish off a good week for Gonzales, in which he was named the Mariners’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award and launched a limited edition wine to raise money to combat multiple systems atrophy. Let today’s performance be a warning to us all not to write Marco off too soon:
Brash in to start the 7th.— Shannon Drayer (@shannondrayer) September 11, 2022
Line for Marco 6IP 2H 1R 5K 91/62, 11 swing and miss.
Some of you had some very bad Tweets this morning. You know who you are.
Update…#Mariners quality starts in 2022…— Luke Arkins (@luke_arkins) September 11, 2022
Robbie Ray - 17
Marco Gonzales - 17
Luis Castillo* - 15
Logan Gilbert - 14
George Kirby - 9
Chris Flexen - 9
* Includes time with Reds
Unlike in many of Marco’s quality starts for the M’s, he was backed up by some offense (and some defense, shout out Sam Haggerty, Folk Hero). Julio Rodriguez didn’t make Marco wait for this assurance, taking Jake Odorizzi’s second pitch for a 392 foot ride over the fence:
That didn’t take long. #SeaUsRise pic.twitter.com/Z7pecJ72Fd— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) September 11, 2022
While the Mariners did occasionally Mariner in this one (leaving Suárez and Frazier on in the first and second innings, for example), they also looked like a team with multiple players who can come through in the clutch. Determined not to give up the lead for more than half an inning at any point, the M’s offense rallied in the fourth after Riley’s home run. Cal Raleigh and Carlos Santana drew back-to-back walks off of Odorizzi, who had some trouble with command this afternoon and didn’t finish the inning. Adam Frazier got the year wrong today and showed up in his 2021 form, much to M’s fan’s delight; he came to bat with Raleigh and Santana on in the fourth and waited patiently for his pitch. When it came, he slapped it into center field for a triple, scoring both his teammates. Frazier would come around to score two batters later on a base hit by Folk Hero Ham Swaggerty:
Adam and Sam playing add on pic.twitter.com/btmFFLM3UU— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) September 11, 2022
LL Podcast Producer Evan James notes that with a single Tuesday, Haggerty would be the best-hitting Mariner by fWAR of players with 150+ plate appearances. At what point is he legit good enough that we have to stop saying “Folk Hero”?
It was Former Astros Day on the mound for the Braves, who brought in Collin McHugh to finish the fourth and pitch the fifth. I swear, McHugh has one of the familiar-est looking faces in baseball, and apparently Suárez thought so too, because he recognized the pitch he wanted and took McHugh deep for his 29th home run of the season.
coming for that october baseball like pic.twitter.com/570c9d28dO— Lydia Cruz (@TheLydiaCruz) September 11, 2022
In the bottom of the sixth the M’s scored again when Frazier walked and J.P. Crawford drove him in with a double. Though there were concerns to be had (the M’s left runners at first and third, and Haniger exited the game with tightness in his lower back), there was growing excitement and optimism at T-Mobile Park, in my living room, and possibly in yours. Despite my lingering imposter syndrome and expectation management about this series, it really looked like we were going to win this one. Could it finally be that luck doesn’t have to break our way for us to win? Even against last year’s World Series winners? Autumn is beginning to take on the possibilities of new meanings in the caverns of my mind, despite my best efforts and decades of training. Matt Brash strikes out three in the seventh, the Braves buckling against his 99MPH fastball, his slider, his knuckle curve. Erik Swanson comes in for the eighth, not looking great, and gives up a home run to likely NL Rookie of the Year Michael Harris II. Ah, well, it’s just one measly run, and we’re still up 6-2 with good arms left in the bullpen. Andrés Muñoz relieves Swanson and shuts them down. One more inning and this one’s in the bag.
Three outs and it’ll be over and we’ll have won the series. Diego Castillo’s coming in- that’s a little nerve-wracking, but he can get three outs, right? We’re up by four, and that’s a lot, right?
Castillo walks Austin Riley on four pitches. Yikes, please throw a strike.
Castillo walks the Olson Formerly Known as Oakland Matt. Double yikes.
William Contreras grounds out, but the runners advance to second and third. It’s just two more outs. We’ll still be up two even if both runners score. My stomach starts to knot.
Vaughn Grissom strikes out. Okay, one more out. Maybe Castillo has this in him. Maybe I was overreacting; I’m just not used to winning, it’s fine. My emotions feel a threat, but my brain argues that we’re still very likely to pull through this one.
Michael Harris II hits a three-run home run. Now it’s 6-5 Mariners and my brain’s not so sure either. To be fair to Castillo, the pitch wasn’t terrible, and this one’s a credit to MH2 as much or more as it is to the pitcher.
Scott Servais goes to the bullpen and brings in Paul Sewald. My shoulders relax and my breathing slows. I trust Sewald, and he just has to get one out. As I start to think through worst case scenarios, I reassure myself: even a run here only ties it, we’re unlikely to give up the lead.
On a 1-2 count, Sewald gives up a single to pinch-hitter Eddie Rosario. Up comes Robbie Grossman. A swinging strike. Just two more of those and the game is over. Sewald throws a slider low and inside and Grossman hit it over the right field fence, scoring two and giving the Braves a 7-6 lead. Sewald follows that up by hitting Ronald Acuña, Jr. with a pitch and finally inducing a groundout to end the inning.
I close my recap document, needing a minute before I can stomach erasing my draft and starting over. I know how to love a losing team. I can enjoy a Mariners loss with the best of them. But I’m not used to losing when I know we could have won.
At this point, most of my heart gave this one up for lost. The tiny fraction that didn’t, which was lodged somewhere in my subconscious, must have remembered that part of what makes this team good is their (forgive me) chemistry. To be more specific, this Mariners team is good— transcends good to be truly joyful— because they built relationships with one another, because they have mutual respect and mutual reliance, because they celebrate together and practice their celebrations and it turns out that relationship is the foundation for hope.
Julio on the #Mariners— Shannon Drayer (@shannondrayer) September 12, 2022
"We have the guys to compete against anybody. We all play for each other. Even if somebody is down, we all have that brotherhood. If you don't do it, I'm going to help you out, I'm going to pick you up. It's pretty cool to have what we have now."
The Braves send Kenley Jansen to pitch the bottom of the ninth, facing the Mariners’ 9-1-2 hitters. Ham Swaggerty grounds out with a bunt, and Julio steps up to the plate. Julio, who despite his bravado clearly places relationship first and foremost in his approach to this game. If you are somehow coming into this recap not knowing exactly what happens next, I’m not sure what to tell you:
.@JRODshow44 coming up CLUTCH. #SeaUsRise pic.twitter.com/LAAm64L9Zm— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) September 11, 2022
Eyes start to prickle and breaths release. There’s a chance. Ty France pinch hits for Taylor Trammell and pops out for the second out of the ninth. I gird myself for extras. This is thrilling and wonderful and I feel like an old rubber band that’s more likely to snap than to stretch. Eugenio Suárez comes up to bat, and he too knows that a good team means good relationships, or in other words, vibes.
It ain't over til it's over! #SeaUsRise pic.twitter.com/fTWdsDOfk1— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) September 11, 2022
An emotional Paul Sewald on the Mariners' bats backing him:— Daniel Kramer (@DKramer_) September 12, 2022
"Every single guy said the same thing: 'You've saved us 25 times this year. Every once in a while, it's OK for us to save you.' So I'm very appreciative of the fact that they hit those two homers in the 9th."
The Mariners won this game, for each other, and we ride the waves of catharsis and anxiety and joy. If you didn’t get a chance to watch this one, I highly recommend watching the rebroadcast at 8:30 tonight on ROOT, seeking out some highlight videos, or tuning in to the radio tomorrow morning to hear the highlights. This is a rare kind of game, that takes us on such a dynamic emotional journey and ends with such a payoff.
Hopefully there are more of these this year, and some after game 162. However, playoffs or not, winter approaches. Summer is fading into the smoke and then the cool air, and this particular team in this instantiation won’t come round the same way again. If the game thread is any indication, this afternoon’s game has reminded us to savor this team while they’re here, as we savor the last fruits and last warm nights of summer. How lucky we are to measure our days by this beautiful game, and to do so with each other.
I leave you with my favorite poem about summer, and savoring.
“From Blossoms” by Li-Young Lee (emphasis my own).
From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.
From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.
O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.