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Mariners falter in finale, spring fails to materialize in bleak matinee

I know there’s gonna be good times

Michael Thomas Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

I write this as sunlight pours through my window. Despite this, the baseboard heater still creaks and groans, battling futilely against geography, trying to make the inside of my home feel like what April should feel like.

Winter is over, but Washington hasn’t gotten the memo. Nobody dares leave home without a coat, no matter how tantalizing the sunshine. My bare hands turn pale as I walk to school in the morning, and then quickly become pink and mottled as blood re-perfuses them once I’m indoors.

I, for one, am sick of this! We say it every year: this winter dragged on, and on, and on. It feels like we did our time, we’ve suffered enough, and it should be 70 degrees outside, doggone it. It has reached the point, as it always does, that I get legitimately angry at the weather when I walk outside and it bites my nose.

Baseball is supposed to mark the beginning of the end of winter. Tens of thousands of fans poured into T-Mobile Park this weekend, braving the bitter cold to celebrate the end of winter and the return of the drought-breakers. An immediate victory warmed the crowd and the city, inspiring visions of sunny days and pennant chases. Four straight losses plunged us back into the frigid darkness, as if to say “not yet”.

While yesterday’s overwhelming win was a mighty relief, it didn’t fully heal the frostbite of the losing streak. With today’s rubber match set to be decided by Shohei Ohtani and Chris Flexen, there was plenty of reason to stay bundled up in preparation for the series finale.

The first inning of today’s game started ominously enough: a Taylor Ward pop out was succeeded by back-to-back walks by Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. Flexen’s game plan was obvious — stay above the zone to Trout...

...and off the plate to Ohtani.

The plan for Hunter Renfroe and Brandon Drury was a little more effective: make them hit the ball. Flexen executed. Renfroe and Drury did not.

It may well be bad karma to write this, but it’s hard to see the Angels being significant threats if teams can just walk Trout and Ohtani with relative impunity. I know Anthony Rendon will be returning soon, but it’s not clear that he’s still a threat at the plate.

Having escaped the top of the frame, the Mariners didn’t take long to get to Ohtani (pitching version). Ohtani struggled with his command from the start, walking Julio Rodríguez, spiking a wild pitch, and then walking Ty France. Eugenio Suárez punished Ohtani instantly, slicing a liner into right field and scoring Julio. Renfroe came up hard on the ball and sent an errant throw to third base. Unfortunately, the ball bounced directly back to third baseman Gio Urshela, who easily nabbed Ty France at the plate.

As has so often been the case this season, it felt as if the out on the base paths might come back to haunt the Mariners. Twin strikeouts from Cal Raleigh and Teoscar Hernández ended the inning and allowed Ohtani to escape having thrown just 21 pitches.

The Angels answered back in the second, with rookie Logan O’Hoppe hitting a mammoth two-run dinger over the bullpen to put the Angels in front for what would prove to be for good. O’Hoppe, I’m sorry to say, promises to cause headaches for the Mariners for years to come.

Ohtani continued to struggle with his command, and the Mariners continued to fail to punish him. Julio was jammed into a groundout to end the second inning and strand two runners. AJ Pollock, on the other hand, was caught trying to pull an outside sweeper, grounding out feebly to strand the bases loaded in the third. J.P. Crawford grounded into a double play in the fourth.

Having finally gotten Ohtani’s pitch count near 90, it seemed the Mariners’ top of the order were primed to feast on him in the fifth and sixth. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Mariners were retired in order in both innings, letting an Ohtani with middling command escape with six innings pitched of one-run baseball.

To his credit, Flexen kept the Angels to just two runs through five innings before being relieved by Matt Brash in the sixth. Brash repeated Flexen’s extremely funny feat of walking both Trout and Ohtani before striking out Renfroe and Drury (and also getting Jake Lamb to fly out) to end the inning. Unfortunately, it was in the seventh that the wheels came off a bit.

Diego Castillo allowed a leadoff double, got two outs, and then walked Taylor Ward to bring up Mike Trout. Understandably, Scott Servais brought in his best reliever to face Trout: Andrés Muñoz. Muñoz threw a nasty tailing fastball inside to Trout, who was thoroughly jammed by the pitch. He made poor contact, hitting the ball 68 MPH straight into the ground. Baseball Savant gave the contact a 27% chance of producing a hit.

Produce a hit, it did. The ball bounced slowly toward J.P. Crawford. Crawford charged, barehanded the ball, and had no play, scoring a run.

Okay, it’s just one run. Bear down, and execute to Ohtani. Execute, Muñoz did. A tailing 1-2 slider to Ohtani forced a late swing, again producing a weakly hit ball at just 68 MPH. This one had just a 15% chance of producing a hit. And yet...

Muñoz came in and executed according to plan, but two insurance runs scored. He then got out of the inning by striking out Drury for the third time, but the damage was done. Those two insurance runs would prove to be meaningful.

With the Angels bringing in the left-handed Matt Moore, Sam Haggerty pinch hit for Jarred Kelenic to begin the seventh. He beat out a weak ground ball of his own to reach base. Two outs later, Ty France laced a double down the line to score Haggerty from first, and Suárez yanked a liner of his own to score France. Unfortunately, Suárez was caught trying to take second on the throw, but with two runs having scored, the Mariners had to feel better about their chances.

More excellent relief work from Penn Murfee and Trevor Gott kept the M’s in the game, but they never did get that final run, despite two more baserunners in the eighth and ninth. A weak wave from Ty France at a high fastball sealed the deal in the ninth, stranding the tying run at first base in Julio Rodríguez.

Climate is (mostly) predictable, while yearly weather feels stochastic. I have no idea when I’ll be able to wear shorts to T-Mobile Park for the first time, blinding all in my general vicinity. Likewise, baseball seasons are (mostly) predictable, while individual games feel stochastic.

A couple of balls bounce a couple of inches differently, and we all feel incredibly optimistic with the Mariners at 3-4. The balls rolled the way they did, and here we are, staring at 2-5.

But despite the cold April wind that whips against my jacket as I walk my dog, I know that the warmth is coming at some point. And despite those balls that bounced a little wrong, I know that better bounces are coming. The weather will turn, and so will the Mariners.