Let’s be real: even though a lot of us were happy to avoid a sweep in Atlanta, yesterday was a bummer. Wasting a strong George Kirby start and dingers from Jarred Kelenic and José Caballero - the first of the latter’s career - is always gonna hurt. Yes, the M’s were coming back home to face the hapless Oakland A’s, and yeah, despite a shaky May, Luis Castillo still inspires confidence, but on a chilly late May game where it barely cracked 60 degrees all day in Seattle? Forgive me if my worries about the marine layer didn’t creep in as first pitch rolled around.
As it would turn out, La Piedra brought the heat from the very first pitch, inducing a harmless pop fly off the bat of Esteury Ruiz on a 96 MPH sinker. He cruised through the rest of the inning, getting Ryan Noda on another flyout before dismissing Brent Rooker on four pitches, and it was the bats’ turn to keep the warmth going. J.P. Crawford would ground out, but Ty France sowed the seeds of another hitting streak with a clean base hit to right-center. Julio threatened to let all the hot air out with a fielder’s choice, but Jarred Kelenic stepped up to the plate to unfurl a down comforter over T-Mobile Park.
Calling that a rocket shot, piss missle, or any other slang that comes to mind would be an understatement. Kelenic’s bomb left the bat at an even 112 MPH, traveled over 450 feet, and would have easily gone out in each and every Major League ballpark. And better yet, it was another dinger off of a lefty! Sure, Kyle Muller has fought dingeritis all season, but any time Jarred can put to bed doubts of him being a platoon player is a good time. The M’s would get no more, with Eugenio Suárez expressing visible frustration on an inning-ending strikeout, but Castillo stayed cruising. After a clean top of the second that ended with Jace Peterson staring at three called strikes, Cal Raleigh nudged the thermostat a little higher with a hard base hit through the left side. Teoscar Hernández went down on strikes, AJ Pollock drew a walk after falling behind 0-2, and José Caballero strolled up to the plate. Working the count to 2-1 with ease, Cabby pounced on a badly, and I mean badly, hung slider from Miller.
I mean, man alive. I’ve been a Caballero truther years before he ever sniffed the big league roster, but this kind of power? His second barrel in as many days, with this one also being gone in all thirty parks? Suffice it to say, Kolten Wong may have been sufficiently Pipp’d. Working with a comfortable 5-0 lead, Castillo cruised through the next three innings, effortlessly working around a leadoff double from Shea Langeliers in the third and sitting down Peterson for a second time with runners on first and second to end the fourth. Although no more runs pushed across for the Mariners despite a handful of hits and Caballero chewing up Muller for twelve pitches in the bottom of the fourth, there were more flowers to be had for Castillo. Leading off the fifth inning, he blew away Langeliers on a pair of high fastballs for his fifth strikeout of the night, but more importantly, the one thousandth of his career.
Look at that fist bump and genuine smile there! Love it! La Piedra would follow that sweet scene with another strikeout of Tony Kemp on a two-seamer with some absolutely unfair run before retiring Nick Allen on a grounder to J.P., and Julio and Jarred teamed up to gift Luis another run in the bottom of the frame. Julio gorked a fly ball into right field that neither Kemp nor Seth Brown could get a bead on, and turned on the afterburners to jet into second base for a leadoff double. Kelenic followed with a clean base hit up the middle to easily score Julio, and although Eugenio and Raleigh combined for over 800 feet of barreled outs before Teo flew out to end the frame, any time those two combine to score is a beautiful thing.
Castillo wobbled a bit in his sixth and final inning, loading the bases on a pair of singles and a walk, but skipped off the tightrope with no harm done thanks to a Peterson groundout to Ty. With an extra notch or two of velocity on both his fastballs, and his changeup and slider being extra hellacious, Luis coaxed 22 whiffs out of Oakland’s lineup, setting a Mariners-career best. After what could only be described as a disastrous outing in Fenway last week, a get-right start was sorely needed, and he accomplished that and more, with six innings of scoreless four-hit ball going down like the hottest cocoa.
The bats weren’t done playing add-on, either, with Julio smoking a two-out double into left field for his third hit of the night to bring home Pollock, who led off the frame with another walk off of new A’s pitcher Adrián Martínez.
Although Ty France, reaching on his second hit of the night, couldn’t score from first, Kelenic drew ball four to load the bases, and Suárez earned an infield hit that Allen made every effort to halt to push the score to 8-0. With the baseboard heaters roaring and the game firmly in garbage time territory, Juan Then came on to relieve Castillo. For a hot second, I was rooting for a three-inning save after Then worked a clean top of the seventh, but that was for naught as he led off the eighth with a base hit to Ruiz, a fairly uncompetitive walk to Noda, and a wild pitch moving them both up. Brent Rooker saved Oakland from a shutout by way of an RBI groundout, and Brown recreated the feat off of Gabe Speier, but again, garbage time. Both of them finished with a negative WPA tonight!
The run differential wouldn’t suffer, either, as the offense jumped on Shintaro Fujinami during his second inning of work. J.P. would go down on strikes, but France climbed aboard with a walk, Julio joined him by way of a nasty - though clearly unintentional - hit-by-pitch, and Jarred became the final duck on the pond with his third base hit of the night. Eugenio climbed in, battling Fujinami to a full count before swatting a clean line drive up the middle to push Seattle into double digits. For a guy who has worked hard to provide value in the field and made tweaks to climb out of a cold start at the plate, you simply love to see it.
A fielder’s choice from Cal brought home Seattle’s eleventh and final run, and Chris Flexen tossed a perfect ninth with a pair of Ks to seal a nice, warm, cozy win after a long, meandering East Coast road trip. Truth be told, everything about this game felt like putting on some fuzzy socks. The immediate early lead, a fantastic pitching performance with a milestone to boot, and the bats spraying hits all over the field? That’s a fun time any day of the week. Marco Gonzales will also look to right the ship tomorrow evening, and if the bats keep cranking the heat like they did tonight? I think we’ll be in for another warm night regardless of the weather.