It’s easy to fall into a sort of default manner of existing. Going from one day to the next, routine forms the foundation of our lives. Our brain doesn’t need to focus that hard on making coffee, showering, taking the dog out, commuting, and all the other unglamorous fixtures of everyday life. So in order to save energy, it doesn’t focus.
That’s how you end up with hilarious anecdotes about the time you made fancy hot water by forgetting to put coffee in the machine, or less hilarious anecdotes about the time you put your phone in the toaster.
It’s also how today, I found myself thinking the same thoughts I’ve thought during every slow-starting Mariners game of the past decade.
Okay, the M’s are getting BABIP’d, at least that’s not sustainable.
1-0 down, but they had to score a run anyway.
Alright, 2-0, they probably had to score at least three anyway.
Okay, Civale’s at over 50 pitches through four innings. Maybe we can at least force him out soon and get to the bullpen.
I’m so sick of this shit.
They’re really gonna be 2-6. Why is this how I spend my time? Do I even like this?
And so on. The Mariners have instilled some very healthy thought patterns in their fans over the years.
You can look at the above and pretty much picture how the first four innings of today’s game went. That the Mariners couldn’t score wasn’t for lack of opportunities; the Mariners had baserunners in every inning. Or, should I say, baserunner in every inning, because they could never get a second one. Just more scatter luck to bemoan.
Logan Gilbert, on the other hand, struggled with his command from inning one. A strikeout of Steven Kwan set the tone right, but the next three batters all saw the first pitch for a ball. All three of them ended up with singles, loading the bases with one out.
Back-to-back strikeouts of Josh Bell and Oscar González would have masked Logan’s control issues were it not for a two-out slider in the dirt that kicked away from Cal Raleigh, allowing a run to score.
Logan dialed it in for the second inning, but the third and fourth innings saw more command issues, as well as a drop in his velocity below 94 MPH (after he’d started the day as high as 97). Two more runs scored, and both runners who scored them had reached base via the base-on-balls. Speculation ran rampant that something might be wrong with Logan. [Note: He hopefully quelled those concerns with his postgame comments, when he said that he feels fine, and was just trying to sync himself up in the cold weather.]
After four, the Mariners suddenly found themselves down 3-0. Aaron Civale, who had carved them up for seven scoreless innings just last weekend, was cruising. Logan Gilbert looked completely lost. I wouldn’t have blamed anyone who turned the game off and found something else to do with their Friday.
Yet, for all of the early-season bemoaning of who the Mariners have chosen to play at designated hitter, it makes sense that it was Cooper Hummel that led off the fifth inning with a line drive single. Up came J.P. Crawford, who slashed a line drive down the left field line. The ball snuck all the way into the corner, allowing Hummel to score from first.
Ty France, who’s as hot as anybody on the Mariners right now, cashed in J.P. from second base with a line drive single of his own. Ty will always live off the line drive, and he’s sure been living to start the year. The Mariners ended the inning having cut the lead to just one.
One inning later, Jarred Kelenic gutted out a tough at bat against Civale, fouling off multiple 0-2 pitches before turning on a cutter and ripping it for a base hit into the gap. Center fielder Myles Straw managed to cut off the ball, but Jarred was going for second base the whole way, and snuck in ahead of the errant throw.
Cooper Hummel struck out, leading every Mariners fan to lean into their instinctive thought process of: “oh, cool, time to waste another baserunner”.
Somebody must not have told J.P. Crawford about learned fatalism. The Mariners’ streaky shortstop quickly went down 0-2, but watched a cutter outside for ball one. A defensive swing sent another cutter away for a foul ball, and then a third cutter went outside for ball two. A curveball probably caught the upper outside corner, but Mike Zunino couldn’t sell the strike to the home plate ump. Ball three. Sorry, Mike. Can’t frame ‘em all.
Finally ahead in the count, J.P. was seeing cutter all the way, and he obliterated Civale’s sixth of the at bat into the gap. Jarred scored easily, and J.P. pumped his fist on second base. 3-3.
With Civale at 103 pitches and Julio Rodríguez stepping to the plate, Civale’s day was done. In came righty reliever Nick Sandlin to face Julio, who immediately watched a ball two inches above the zone get called a strike. An inauspicious start.
Julio didn’t seem to be fazed in the slightest. Like J.P., he worked his way back. Like J.P., he sat on an off-speed pitch all the way. Like J.P., he made the ball regret ever having been stitched.
The Mariners have seen so many high drives die at the warning track over the last week that I didn’t dare believe that this one was going over the fence until Kwan ran out of room at the wall. Suddenly the Mariners were ahead. Suddenly it was 5-3.
The only question that remained was whether the bullpen could hold the lead with four innings to go. Penn Murfee had already thrown a scoreless fifth, and Trevor Gott continued to ingratiate himself with a two-strikeout shutout sixth.
Cleveland had their 9-1-2 hitters coming up in the seventh. Seattle had Matt Brash in the pen. What Brash did to them stretched the boundaries of what can be considered fair in baseball.
First, a 2-2 fastball on the Corner froze Straw.
Then, Kwan waved helplessly at a 2-2 slider.
Finally, Rosario couldn’t stop himself from checking his swing at an 0-2 slider away.
Brash is already special. If he can lock in that command, he could be special special.
Andrés Muñoz drew the heart of the order in José Ramírez, Josh Naylor, and Josh Bell. It almost feels criminal not to give him the same due as Brash, but it shall have to suffice to say that he looked excellent. Ramírez did make good contact on a flyout that mercifully found its way to Teoscar Hernández’s glove, but Naylor was helpless before four straight sliders, and it was all Bell could do to put a 101 MPH fastball in play for a weak groundout.
Paul Sewald got three uneventful outs of his own to close out the ninth, and the Mariners are sitting at 3-5. 3-5 feels a lot better than 2-5. It’s hard not to like what we saw from the team today: the bullpen looks like the same world-beaters of the past two years. The top of the lineup continues to rake. Heck, there were encouraging signs from everyone. Even poor Kolton Wong had strong at bats and drew a walk.
It’s a long season. I guess that’s another thing I’ve learned to tell myself over the years. It’s a long season has tended to eventually morph into there’s reason for optimism next year, and it might take more than one playoff appearance to unlearn those thought patterns.
But it is a long season. And whether they win or lose tomorrow, today’s Mariners looked like they’ll need to look all year. It wasn’t just nice to see. It was nice to be jolted out of unjustified gloom, and back into the reality that the Mariners may very well be good.