In October of 1943, the American submarine USS Puffer found itself in danger. It was the second year of full-scale submarine deployment in the Pacific, and Puffer was attacking a Japanese convoy in the Makassar Strait between two Indonesian islands. At ten in the morning, Puffer sighted a large Japanese cargo ship being escorted by a destroyer. With just one ship in escort, the massive cargo vessel looked like an easy prize. Submarines were crucial in crippling Japan’s imperial economy by sinking cargo ships and not letting them get to the Japanese mainland. Knowing this, Puffer fired 8 torpedoes at the cargo ship, but only two hit; American torpedoes at the start of the war were terrible. In between WWI and WWII, the US had barely improved their torpedo technology. While the cargo ship seemed to be sinking, the captain of Puffer wanted to close in and fire another volley to be sure. That was a mistake.
Early on, things seemed well in order for a casual Mariners win. George Kirby on the mound is enough to make anyone optimistic, and while he did get tagged for a run, he was remarkably consistent for the rest of his outing. You have to adjust your expectations when facing the contact freaks in Cleveland. They are the kings of seeing-eye base hits and line drive singles. It is commendable, then, that in his six innings of work, George scattered five hits. Kirby’s single earned run came in the bottom of the first when a line drive from Steven Kwan got bast A.J. Pollock in left field and rolled all the way to the corner for a triple. Kwan scored on a J-Ram sac fly to centerfield.
The only multi-hit inning had was the sixth where a pair of singles put runners on the corner with one out. In this jam, all George did was strike out the next two hitters he faced and strand em both.
You’ll notice in that clip that the Mariners had two runs. Here’s why.
First of the year for Big Dumper! #SeaUsRise pic.twitter.com/eyEPR0ezpd— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) April 9, 2023
The first Big Dump of the year put the M’s on top in the first inning. Another way this game was set to be a nice Easter Sunday win.
Greed was Puffer’s problem. The two initial torpedo hits would have sunk the cargo ship. But the captain wanted to be sure, so that he could add the ship’s tonnage to his bragging rights. But the Japanese destroyer got a lucky depth charge hit while Puffer was aiming its next volley. Unlike the Americans, the Japanese spent the interwar period improving their naval weaponry, and Japanese depth charges were weapons to be feared. Half of US submarines lost in WWII were to depth charges. In that first volley, the destroyer had caused Puffer to spring a leak, either oil or air. Using that, they were able to track the Puffer, no matter what evasive maneuvers the submarine performed.
The Mariners actually got another run in the top of the ninth. With one out, pinch hitter Tommy La Stella hit a hard groundout to first, and when Bell tried to throw to second to double up Kelenic, he chucked the ball into the outfield allowing Teoscar Hernandez to score from third.
Unfortunately, bad defense proved to be infectious. With the bullpen empty, it was up to Matt Brash in the top of the 9th to close out the game. After quickly striking out Jose Ramirez (J-Ram stayed on his feet, barely, this time), Brash’s famous command problem reared its ugly head yet again. A walk to Josh Naylor and single to Andres Gimenez put two on with one out. Matt knuckled down, and got Josh Bell to chase a slider well below the zone to make the second out. And then, the Mariners started leaking.
Get silly, Willy.#ForTheLand pic.twitter.com/xgqqs1wX3F— Cleveland Guardians (@CleGuardians) April 9, 2023
Finally, Puffer’s captain realized the danger that he was in. A depth charge went off too close for comfort near the submarine, and caused water to rush in to the conning tower and torpedo room. To make matters worse, the currents in the straight were buffeting the sub and making it difficult to maneuver. What followed was an incredibly long, nerve racking retreat as the Japanese destroyer dropped depth charge on the submarine’s position. In the words of the captain’s log, “It is impossible to shake this fellow. The manner in which he keeps on us is uncanny.”
Name a more iconic duo than the Mariners and extra-innings games against Cleveland. The tenth was as quiet as extras can be, with neither team scoring despite moving the ghost runner to third. But in the top of the eleventh, Jarred Kelenic, who’s previous plate appearance was a very impressive walk, smoked this ball to the right-center gap.
JARRED IN THE CLUTCH! pic.twitter.com/lIN6mabh8p— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) April 9, 2023
Cal may have catcher speed, but even he can score off of that one. The good times didn’t end either, as Kelenic himself moved up to third on a wild pitch and scored on a Kolten Wong sac fly. Yet again the Mariners had a two run lead.
But not for long. The Guardians have an uncanny manner of manufacturing runs when they need to and keeping the pressure on their opponent. J.B. Bukauskas couldn’t keep up with that pressure, and served up a cookie in the form of a middle-middle 94mph fastball to Andres Gimenez. A one-run double wasn’t the end of the world but it didn’t help. But Cleveland knew exactly where to hit the ball thanks to the Mariners leaking, and a ground ball under Kolten Wong’s glove scored the tying run. Bukauskas did manage to get out of the jam eventually with a 3-2, bases loaded, two out strikeout of Amed Rosario to send the game to the twelfth.
It’s been 28 hours since Puffer submerged to fire on the Japanese cargo ship. The destroyer is still there, still dropping depth charges. To stay quiet, Puffer has turned off nearly all systems, including life support. It’s hot, over 100 degrees fahrenheit, and because air cycling systems are loud enough to be heard by surface sonar, carbon dioxide is building up in the cabins. The crew is dizzy and exhausted. At one point, the captain suggests surfacing and attacking the destroyer with the submarine’s deck guns. In the desperate situation, he puts it to a vote, and his senior officers elect to stay below water.
The Mariners got another run on a Teoscar Hernandez single to score Julio, the ghost runner, from second. But a one-run lead in the era of the ghost runner is not safe, and everyone knew the peril awaiting the M’s in the bottom of the inning. With the bullpen completely empty, the Mariners were forced to send out Penn Murfee. Having already pitched in both of the games before this, Penn was exhausted, and clearly didn’t have his best stuff. An errant pickoff attempt at second moved up the tying run to third and the go-ahead run to second. Josh Naylor smoked a ground ball to Ty France, who could only take the force out and allow the tying run to score.
Josh Bell followed that up by smoking a ball on the ground to Wong. The second baseman fired home, but the throw was off-line and J-Ram just got in before the tag. Ballgame. The Mariners cracked under the pressure.
By some miracle, Puffer did not sink that day. After 35 hours of barrage, the Japanese destroyer gave up the hunt. Puffer withstood the pressure and limped into port, battered, hypoxic, and exhausted, but alive. It was the longest depth charge assault that any submarine survived in the war.
Unlucky me, I recap a lot of losses. And this is usually the spot where I’d put something romantic, cheesy, and hopeful. The good news is that Jarred, despite striking out twice at the start of the game, put together some really solid plate appearances later. Teoscar Hernandez seems to have arrived, as his barrels are starting to drop in for base hits. Eugenio Suarez, despite still being homerless, extended his hitting streak. All good things.
But, I think more importantly, the Mariners need to see this game as a lesson. Cleveland is likely going to be one of the M’s playoff rivals at the end of the year, and they need to take a page out of the US Navy’s submarine department and adapt to their opponent. After the Puffer incident, the Navy made two key changes to the way they used submarines. The first was completely replacing the existing torpedo, and a massive increase in torpedo production. For the rest of the war, American submarine torpedoes were twice as effective, and captains were more sure of their kills without having to risk their ship to get off another volley.
The second change was tactical. American subs started operating in groups of three called “wolfpacks.” These wolfpacks were so effective that they struck fear into Japanese admirals. In fact later, although the IJN carrier Shinano was facing just one sub, the admiral in charge refused to let his escort chase it down out of fear of others in the water. Because of that, the American sub was able to take advantage of his opponent's mistake and sink the largest carrier built during the war.
The Mariners need to steal both of those adaptations. For one, they need to overhaul their offensive capabilities. Basically, the ball needs to start going out. Talk about Seattle’s cold all you want, but too many are dying on the warning track. Second, they need to start working together. Too many times this season have we seen a collision or near-collision in the outfield. Too many times have we seen rallies go nowhere. I know it’s early days, but right now it feels like the team is playing independently of each other.
These M’s need to form their own wolfpacks. Once they do, they’ll strike fear into the hearts of other teams, and rally together to win in the ways that we know they can.