I’m hanging orange lights for fall tonight while watching the game. The sun is going down earlier, fall is officially here; it’s time to succumb to the allure of crisp air, the turning of the leaves, pumpkin spice everything. The heavier duvet is on my bed, poised and primed for action. And the Mariners, on the screen, are doing what I’m accustomed to them doing, every fall: going gentle into these shorter nights. Tonight it’s a sleepy, 5-1 loss to the Royals, a night that feels like so many other late September nights. If you didn’t show me the standings, I wouldn’t believe this team was in it; they don’t look like they deserve to be in it, sleepwalking through this roadtrip, coming up short against theoretically lesser teams again and again. The orange lights twinkle and glow against the fast-falling dark, their steady comfort reminding me of the rhythms of fall. Pumpkins emerge at the same time the Mariners season winds down. These are the rhythms I know, have known, and despite all the evidence to the contrary, feels like I will know. Fall always feels like a reckoning, a time to put away the sun-soaked excesses of summer, to retire things like fifteen-dollar beers at the ballpark and skiving off work for a day game. This year was supposed to be different. Currently, it doesn’t feel like it.
What makes tonight’s loss different from all other losses? is a question I find myself, uncomfortably, asking again and again. Tonight it was this: absent their young star, Julio Rodríguez, on the IL with a lower back strain (possibly caused by carrying this team on his back for the better part of the year), the Mariners were outgunned in the starpower department by Kansas City’s young core. Brady Singer, age 26, might not make Pitching Ninja’s “best pitchers under 25” list, but he continues to improve in his second full season (or third, depending on how you want to count 2020). Tonight the Mariners were utterly defeated by his slider, whiffing at it again and again for a total of eight strikeouts. Defensively, damage was done by the stellar infield play of Bobby Witt Jr. (age 22), who also got to the Mariners with an RBI double. Salvador Pérez’s heir-in-waiting, MJ Melendez, had another two hits and an RBI. Top prospect not-named-Witt Vinnie Pasquantino also contributed two hits and two RBI. Up and down the lineup, the Royals’ young core dominated the Mariners’ young-ish core. For all the young promise we’ve been sold with the Mariners, tonight they looked like the elder statesmen at trivia getting boatraced by teams of Zoomers answering questions about Ariana Grande hits and viral Tiktoks.
The Mariners had opportunities in this game, is the kicker. They had traffic in every inning except one, including three leadoff doubles, none of which scored. The killer tonight was Mitch Haniger, hitting in the two-hole, who grounded into double plays twice, and struck out twice. It was easily the worst game I’ve ever seen a theoretically-healthy Mitch Haniger play. Ty France going 0-for-4 certainly didn’t help, and Jesse Winker’s 0-for-3, including a key strikeout in the fourth inning with runners on the corners, was possibly worse from a LOBsters standpoint, even if Winker worked a walk. Overall, the Mariners wound up with an egregious 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, and seven left on base overall. Gross. Gross gross gross.
Marco Gonzales surrendered four runs but only three were earned, thanks to some sloppy play in the field—the Mariners committed two errors in this game, possibly three, because why just be inept on one side of the ball? It wasn’t the world’s best performance but I have a hard time assigning Marco a ton of fault for tonight’s loss when he was out there battling not just the Royals hitters but his own defenders and inept offense.
Bless Carlos Santana, who struck out twice but did try to bail the team out with a double, and Cal Raleigh, who also struck out twice but also walked and accounted for the Mariners’ lone run tonight, with his 24th homer of the year. Cold comfort, but some comfort.
Also, moderated praise must be offered to Abraham Toro, who did commit an error in the field but also collected two hits, more than any other Mariner, including a double, and Jarred Kelenic, who struck out twice, including once in a key spot, but also doubled. But despite their highly-touted youth, tonight the Mariners looked old, sad, tired, flat next to their Royal counterparts.
I know this year is different. The standings tell me so. But tonight, as I set out decorative gourds and spiderwebbed candles and hang lights against the impending Big Dark, it all feels very much the same, the chill comfort etched in every Mariner fan’s bones.