Seattle’s struggles so far on the season have felt overwhelming for its fanbase, drowning out much of the residual fun from last year’s drought breaking run, but truth be told these struggles are much more akin to treading water as their last several games they have hovered right around the .500 mark. Today the sea did rise and they returned to an even record, easily washing over the Detroit Tigers with a 9-2 win.
The team element that has continuously helped them stay afloat has been the starting pitching. La Piedra, of course, and the new rising Cerberus of Gilbert, Kirby, and Miller, but also a rotation mainstay that is often overlooked and undervalued in the wider conversation, even after all these years of solid service. I’m talking of course about Marco Gonzales, who has been a buoy on the back end of the rotation, putting in solid performances that keep his team in the game. With a final line of six innings pitched, only five hits and two earned runs, and one walk and two strikeouts.
The only damaging mistakes Marco made all night came in the fifth inning, when he first walked Miguel Cabrera on four pitches, and then when Jake Rogers came up to bat he served a high heater that was served back high and out over the left field wall. The home run came off of a high-for-Marco-these-days 89.8 mph fastball, and he even topped out at 91.8 mph. Gonzales recovered and a few batters later was able to end the inning with a swinging strikeout from Riley Greene, who chased a diving changeup, and then worked a clean sixth inning to wrap up his night.
If the starting pitching has been what is helping the team stay afloat, then the offense has been the hole in the boat. At some point a wave came and took their Control the Zone philosophy and washed it overboard, and an undercurrent of flailing swings for strikeouts engulfed their offensive output. Their walk rate as a whole, somewhere in the Marianas Trench.
When the Good Ship Mariner made its voyage to Detroit, they must have sailed past their lost Control the Zone philosophy, speared it with the home run trident, and made sure to keep it secret and keep it safe for today’s game. As a team they only had four strikeouts total, and eclipsed that number with five walks. It certainly helped that former Mariner pitcher Matthew Boyd did not have his stuff at all tonight. Unable to find the zone, let alone live on the edges, he allowed four of the Mariners five walks in just 1.1 innings of work. In the first he lead off with a four pitch walk of JP Crawford, followed by a Ty France line drive single, and a pop out from Julio after he worked the count 3-2. One Jarred Kelenic single up the middle later, and Seattle had an early lead.
One Kelenic TOOTBLAN and one soft infield chopper from Eugenio Suárez later, and Boyd was out of the inning only giving up the one run, but needing 22 pitches to do it.
Then came the second inning. Boyd started out well enough, getting Teoscar Hernández to chase a 1-2 pitch down and away for a swinging strikeout. It was the only out Boyd would get. Tom Murphy worked a 3-2 count, and drew the walk. It was so much fun that A.J. Pollock decided to do it as well, working a 3-2 count and drawing the walk, but he decided to have a little more fun with it first and fouled a couple full count pitches off before he took first. José Caballero, ever The Gentleman, hit a soft liner into right field for a single, loading the bases with only one out. That brought up leadoff hitter, Captain JP Crawford, to navigate the dangerous waters that are particularly dangerous to the minds of Mariners fans: the rocky shoals known as “bases loaded, one out”.
Ty France was next up and started out an easy 3-0, and after falling to a full count, drew the walk, scoring a run and keeping them loaded with one out. Julio was up for his second time of the night. If ever the Mariners needed a rising tide to raise all ships, it was tonight, it was with Julio. This was a big moment, the kind that fans have learned to watch with bated breath. Hoping that this rising tide will raise us, raise Julio, and not crash him into the shore, grounding our hopes hard into the dirt.
The Mariners were now up 5-0, and Matt Boyd was chased out of the game. Getting to the bullpen early is not only a boon for a game, but in game one of three, bodes well for the series as a whole. One more run would score in the second on an error, France coming home from third when a throw to first sailed high and wide after an easy grounder from Kelenic.
The offense wasn’t satisfied with just one big inning or a good start, and they would get on the board again in both the seventh and the ninth. In the seventh against Detroit reliever Tyler Holton, Julio worked a 3-2 count before looping one into left field for a single, Kelenic worked a full count before popping out, and Suárez hit a soft liner into shallow center for a single, moving JRod to second. One pitching change to José Cisnero and a Teoscar Hernández single through the left field gap later, the Mariners now lead 7-2. With that single from Teo the entire lineup had reached base, with everyone but Pollock collecting at least one hit, and Pollock having reached on the walk earlier.
The Tigers were down, but they would threaten again in the eighth inning against reliever Justin Topa. First, Topa allowed Riley Greene to sneak one through the middle for a single. Then Spencer Torkelson hit an easy hopper to Topa, but when he went to throw it to second to start the double play he threw it wide into the outfield. Instead of two outs there were now runners on first and third, and Topa had nobody to blame but himself.
Oh, Topa? I wouldn’t be too worried. He may not have been in gem pitcher Topaz mode tonight, but the defense behind him was money. Akil Baddoo flew out to Julio in center who made the catch running, and the runners were smart not to attempt to advance because Julio gunned it to the cutoff man. Runners on the corners and one out is better than no outs, but what the Mariners really needed here was a double play.
Eric Haase hit a 1-2 pitch just slow enough to Caballero that the play was going to be really close, but a back hand pitch to Crawford at second and a Captain Crawford cannon shot to first later, and the Mariners were out of the inning with no damage.
Going into the ninth, it was easy sailing. Carrying a 7-2 lead, and the team firing on all cylinders, it would have been easy to be joyous at the fortunes of the Mariners. To the perfectionist, to those versed in the discourse around the offense, something still felt like it was... missing. Yes, walking more than striking out was huge, and the lineup contributing top to bottom is always welcome. Yet, something was needed to seal the deal, to provide some oomph.
Flow. Flow. Flow...
There is a lot of power potential in the Seattle lineup, but they haven’t been showing it. Julio answered some of the concerns around him lately already in this game with a multi-hit day, but his third hit for the night being an emphatic blast was a punctuation mark, a reminder of the raw talent he carries.
Tayler Saucedo came in the bottom of the ninth inning to wrap it up. An easy grounder, a less easy what-a-throw-by-JP grounder, and a swinging strikeout later and the game was over and the Mariners were back to .500 with a 19-19 record. The ebb and flow they have done in the last few weeks has come against some tough teams, and with a struggling offense. They have the best pitching staff in baseball, and if the offense can continue the rising motion of today, that ebb and flow may just become a flood for their opponents.
The sea will rise, and the sea will sink
Let the waves carry, give in to the moment
Do not get lost, and avoid the brink
The Mariner someday, will rise the Trident
And with that staff the storm will part
The path now lit, the way now known
The tide will rise to the beat of their heart
The Mariner, now risen above ebb and flow