It’s a common refrain, and one that can understandably fall by the wayside in an honest-to-God playoff race, but a short memory is key in this sport. The Mariners got just one hit - and even that was debatable - against the worst team in the AL last night, dropping four of their last five? Who cares! Luis Castillo continued his baffling struggles against these A’s? Whatever, they’re not in the playoffs! Last night sucked, but with James Kaprielian on the mound for Oakland, and Robbie Ray coming into tonight on the verge of 200 strikeouts, it was easy to see how the bad vibes could be flushed away.
We should have known better.
Although he set down Julio and Ty France with a combined six pitches, any worries of being no-hit were thankfully banished thanks to a solid two-out single to left from Mitch Haniger. Unfortunately, the M’s couldn’t capitalize, as Kaprielian dug in and struck out Carlos Santana after a seven-pitch battle. Still, though, things seemed okay - the bats made him throw eighteen pitches, which regardless of any runs scoring, I will take in the first inning. Ray also got off to a nice start, setting down Tony Kemp and Jonah Bride on seven pitches, including a nifty strikeout of Bride.
He wobbled with back-to-back walks to Sean Murphy and Chad Pinder, but battled through his wavering fastball command to get Dermis García looking, escaping any further jams - albeit with an inflated pitch count of 27.
The next, oh I don’t know, hour and a half of the game was truly dull - the dull that makes any non-baseball fan ask “Why are you still watching this?!”. That might strike some readers as harsh, but you look at an absolutely moribund Coliseum (the announced attendance was a hair over 4,000, and frankly it seemed like half that in the crowd shots) combined with watching two anemic offensive performances and tell me that this wasn’t baseball NyQuil. Cal Raleigh worked a one-out walk in the second inning only for Adam Frazier to hit into an easy double play, Kaprielian was dialed in. Setting down the next eleven Seattle hitters before Julio smacked a two-out single in the sixth inning, he pitched seven complete frames, striking out six. His game score (an older - though a personal favorite - descriptive stat) of 78 was a new career high for him, besting the 75 he put up on May 26, 2021 against... the Mariners. At times like this, sometimes all you can do is laugh.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw some love Robbie Ray’s way, though. Needing just 74 pitches to get through his next five, Ray rarely ran into trouble after the first inning. Although his sinker usage dipped a bit to 14%, his slider was working wonderfully, generating nine swings-and-misses, including this one to Cristian Pache leading off the fifth that secured his 200th strikeout.
Sadly, we know how this story ended. Erik Swanson came on in relief in the seventh and was unlucky enough to draw one of a tiny handful of bad outings this year. Walking actual child Jordan Díaz on four pitches to start the frame? Yeah, no. Vimael Machín came in to pinch-hit for Neuse, and laced a 1-2 high fastball into the left field corner. Díaz is no burner: even with Jesse Winker’s glove out in left, the odds of a run scoring here were pretty low. Or so we thought.
Look, I’m not a Winker hater, regardless of how frustrating his first year here has been on both sides of the ball. I think there’s a decent chance his bat bounces back in 2023 thanks to the impending shift limitations, and DH stands a good chance at being up for grabs. This play, though, was easily his defensive nadir. The failure to cut off the ball, the bobble in the corner, the fact that this was the first run scored in the game... why Jarred Kelenic didn’t take over in the third act of the game will keep me up tonight. Pache followed up with a bloop hit (which would have scored Díaz even if Winker had fielded the double cleanly. I understand if that’s not enough of a silver lining), and Swanson was lifted in favor of Andrés Muñoz - the latter’s first appearance in a week. He showed no signs of rust after striking out other actual child Nick Allen on a wicked slider, but Tony Kemp continued his reign of terror against Mariner pitching with a crisp single to center to bring home Machín and double the lead. Muñoz got out of the inning with no further damage, but something had to give for the offense, and quickly.
As it turns out, the Mariners had just the guy for the job.
That was a patented Luis Torrens oppo home run right out of 2021! It’s been a wild season for him - I mean, how often does someone get DFA’d after notching the walk-off hit in one of the wildest wins in recent team history? Thanks to Curt Casali’s impending paternity leave, though, he’s back for one last ride. Could a Tacoma stint have fixed him for the second straight year? If this dinger was any indication, there’s a good chance it may have. I, for one, could not have been more thrilled, and it made the top of the ninth where a leadoff Julio infield single was quickly wiped away by a France double play and Haniger strikeout go down ever-so-slightly easier.
So yeah, once again that game sucked overall. Panic, however irrational, might be creeping in for even the most stalwart optimists. I get it! I’d be lying if I said I’ve never had the thought that they’d blow it, no matter how fleeting. In the grand scheme of the playoff picture, though, today could have gone much worse. The magic number remains at ten with an Orioles win over Detroit (after they dropped the first two games of the series), but the M’s still got some scoreboard help by way of losses to the Rays, Blue Jays, and White Sox. It undoubtedly sucks not to capitalize on good opportunities, but the M’s have a great chance to cleanse the bitter taste of the past couple days tomorrow afternoon with George Kirby on the hill. For all of our sakes, here’s hoping they seize it.