“One must imagine Sisyphus happy” -Albert Camus
This is not the first time the philosopher Albert Camus has been mentioned in these electronic pages, nor will be it the last, because that’s what you sign up for when you sign up for Mariners fandom and Lookout Landing, baby: a lot of depressing philosophy. Personally I will admit I’ve never much trucked with Camus and the existentialists in general, but there’s something appealing about the idea of accepting absurdity as a way to cope with a difficult situation; something gleefully rebellious, even, about imagining Sisyphus, cursed to roll a boulder up a hill for all eternity, having the audacity to enjoy the task. We’ve watched the Mariners roll a lot of boulders up a lot of hills, over the years, only for it to sink back down and the task to begin anew, but tonight the offense bonded together to roll their rock—“La Piedra,” their ace—up to the top of the mountain of a 5-4 win.
“La Piedra” days are usually bankable wins, but even rocks are human (citation needed). Luis Castillo just didn’t have his best stuff today. He struggled with the zone, catching too much of the plate or missing well outside, and getting into long, grinding at-bats with Cardinals batters. The Cardinals are familiar with Castillo, a former member of their division with the Reds, and seemed to have a good game plan against him even if he’d had full command of his pitches. They fouled off 19 of the 100 pitches they forced him to throw over five innings—almost one-fifth!—and made a lot of contact with him in the zone.
Lars Nootbar led off the game by reaching out and poking a changeup well off the plate into left field, and Alec Burleson attacked the first pitch he saw, a sinker in the zone, to poke another single up the middle and send the speedy Nootbaar to third. Nolan Arenado redirected a changeup into right field, scoring Nootbaar, to give the Cardinals an early 1-0 lead. They’d add on in the third, which started on yet another hit on the changeup, this time from Burleson; he’d score on a Willson Contreras double on a four-seamer that caught too much plate, who would in turn score when Nolan Gorman ambushed a first-pitch fastball up in the zone but well in the middle for a ringing double for the Cardinals’ third run.
The Mariners offense, for their part, were mostly quiet against Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas. For the first five innings, their only run came on this reminder that even as the weather warms (ever so slightly), it remains Aprilenic:
The Mariners had a chance that inning to have the fabled “big inning” that has proved so elusive to the offense this year, as Kelenic’s blast was followed by a ringing double from AJ Pollock, and J.P. Crawford walked with two outs to turn things over, but a Julio groundout ended that rally. Kelenic also doubled in the fourth, but again, the Mariners weren’t able to get going anything around him. Jarred might have been running up that hill, but it seemed none of his teammates were willing to make a deal to run beside him.
Of course, part of that might have been the zone, which was atrocious tonight from home plate umpire Gabe Morales. Here’s Castillo’s called strikes:
And here are those of Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas:
Two of those dots—the yellow one in the bottom-right corner, and the orange one in the upper-middle extreme left—both belong to Teoscar Hernández, who was visibly frustrated to suddenly find himself in a 3-2 count instead of standing on first base after three straight bad misses from Mikolas. But Teoscar believes not in getting mad, but in getting even:
Postgame, Teoscar said his emotion on that home run was spurred because he’d been so intent on trying to get a rally going, only to see his chance to extend the inning with a walk taken away not once, but twice.
But sometimes, the universe isn’t full of absurdity, but tasty, tasty justice. Score that plus one point for Teo, and minus one point for both Camus and one John Trupin, as once again Teoscar defies him by hitting a pitch to the deepest part of T-Mobile Park, and out of it. Per Teo, that’s just where he hits a ball when he feels like his stroke is going well and he has his timing down: center or right-center. “I don’t think about how big the field is, or how the ball doesn’t travel a lot here,” he said. “I just try to put my best swing on it and see the results.” Why roll the rock when you can simply blast it into the stratosphere? Someone get Sisyphus on the phone, stat.
Matt Brash came on to work the seventh against the top of the Cardinals order and was able to strike out Nootbaar swinging before hitting Burleson with a curveball. However, he then got both Goldschmidt and Arenado swinging swords at his slider for strikeouts to end the inning. No fun to escape the Airbender just to run into Brash bending spoons, is it, fellas:
Matt Brash with three gnarly sliders to make Lars Nootbaar, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado look silly ... He strikes out the side here in the 7th inning. pic.twitter.com/30Y7PXKNC3— Daniel Kramer (@DKramer_) April 23, 2023
In the bottom of the seventh, the Mariners broke the tie and added two runs. Kolten Wong worked a walk off Zack Thompson, who’d come in the inning before to relieve Mikolas, and J.P. Crawford singled to put two on with none out. Giovanny Gallegos came on and got a quick two outs, but couldn’t get past Eugenio Suárez, who took 93 mph on the inside corner and lined it into left field to score both Wong and a fleet-footed, Hermes-like J.P. Crawford, taking off with the pitch.
Postgame, Luis Castillo, speaking in praise of his long-time teammate, said that when things are going poorly for him, the reason he’s able to stay focused is because he’s learned that skill from Suárez, who he calls the best teammate he’s ever had. Hestia, goddess of hearth and home, gets kind of overlooked among all the lightning and drama of the Greek gods, but it’s important to have someone looking after the vibes, and both Hestia and Eugenio know how to do that.
Justin Topa came on in the eighth to do his part to keep the Cardinals off the board, surrendering a base hit to Contreras but then getting Gorman to ground into a double play and striking out Tyler O’Neill to post a 0 for the inning. If La Piedra is The Rock, Topa(z) is The Gem of the Mariners’ off-season bullpen acquisitions.
Down to their last three outs, the Cardinals were hacking against Paul Sewald, on to work the ninth and try for his sixth save on the season. Sewald struck out Dylan Carlson on three pitches (getting a little help on an iffy edge call of his own), but then gave up a first-pitch home run to Tommy Edman to both bring the Cardinals within a run and turn the lineup over. Sewald punched out Nootbaar looking, and then Burleson, hacking away, flew out to Julio to end the game and give the Mariners a clutch come-from-behind victory—a one-run victory, even, the kind that was a hallmark of this team last year but has proved more elusive this year. Every time the Mariners bank a win like this, it’s a weight off the shoulders even Atlas would appreciate.
If the Sispyphus metaphor strikes you as grandiose, I invite you to remember that outside the sweep of the dismal Rockies, the last time the Mariners were able to string back-to-back wins together was April 7-8. These rocks have been rolling down the hill just as often as they’ve gone up in a season where, as yet, the team continues to search for an identity and struggles along at a .500-or-worse clip. They might be borrowing from a different part of mythology with the celebration trident, but hey: one must imagine Jarred happy.