There’s something primal, buried deep in the limbic system, about the desire to protect something you care about deeply. The famous example is parents gaining superhuman strength and lifting cars out of the way of their offspring, but it shows up in quieter ways, too, like a gentle, animal-loving soul become Death, destroyer of squirrels and moles, when one’s dearly tended garden is being ripped up. It can also show up as a flow state, like when you’re nursing a narrow lead at darts against your frenemy Alex and suddenly the only thing that matters is playing the best game of darts that’s ever been played and everything else falls away as your consciousness shrinks to a pinprick, a bullseye. It’s something each of us staffers have experienced at LL over the years with players to whom we’ve become attached (I might fistfight the next person who brings up Julio’s GQ cover in a disparaging manner). Tonight the Mariners—and the 15,646 fans at the ballpark—together protected a baby lead in its infancy, nurtured over the course of several innings, and roared back when it was threatened by the Athletics.
It was a rough start to the game tonight for Marco Gonzales, as the A’s hitters were—at least initially—surprisingly patient, letting him get into good counts early but then working things in their favor. A six-pitch at-bat to Esteury Ruíz to lead off the game ended with the diminutive centerfielder punching a single into left field; a solid throw in by Jarred Kelenic kept him at first but he’d swipe second anyway two batters later. With one out, Marco had Ramón Laureano in a 1-1 count when he took a well-located curveball into right field, allowing the speedy Ruíz to score. Marco then had to battle Jesús Aguilar for seven pitches before getting him to ground out, with Laureano aggressively taking third on the play; Carlos Pérez then worked a six-pitch at-bat before splitting the distance between J.P. and Eugenio for another run-scoring single to give the A’s an early 2-0 lead.
However, that’s where the damage would stop for the next eight innings. Marco made quality pitches the A’s hitters had to offer at, and started getting some weak contact outs. After needing 27 pitches to get through the first inning, he only needed 14 in the second, 15 in the third, 9 in the fourth, and 13 in the fifth.
Meanwhile, the Mariners hitters struggled against the unknown quantity of Luis Medina. Julio managed a two-out single in the first, smartly shutting it down against Laureano’s strong arm in right, but Jarred was rung up on a check swing against an 89.6 mph four seam fastball from Medina—almost ten miles slower than the 98.2 mph four-seamer he’d just seen. In the second, a four-pitch walk to lead off the inning to Eugenio Suárez also went nowhere, as did a one-out walk to J.P. Crawford in the third. The Mariners were attempting to wait out Medina, who suffers bouts of wildness, but too often his pitches that wound up on the plate weren’t punished, and he was able to get multiple Mariners batters down in 0-2 counts before putting them away with the slider.
With Marco having settled in, and Tom Murphy having led off the fifth with a double, J.P. decided that Marco’s good work should not go unrewarded, and teed off on this tasty 95 mph middle-in fastball, clobbering this ball 104.2 mph just over the wall for a game-tying homer.
J.P. is not a power hitter by nature, and he doesn’t have to be, but the work he put in at Driveline this off-season is perfectly encapsulated on this swing, with the slightly more relaxed stance Zach talked about allowing his hands to whip through the zone. Postgame, J.P. talked about how this is the best he’s ever felt at the plate, and visually, you can see it: J.P.’s swing finally fits his personality, easy and effortlessly cool.
J.P. has been often joined in his mischief and mayhem by his good buddy Ty France, and tonight the two pals paired up for a little back-to-back home run action. Like best friends do.
Ty France makes this no longer a tie game. pic.twitter.com/cJwAPUUxYs— Daniel Kramer (@DKramer_) May 24, 2023
Ty’s homer knocked the X out of Texas. I’ll leave you to make your own jokes.
Ty France messed with Texas -- sorry Te as pic.twitter.com/Uxh8zAYOpf— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) May 24, 2023
Having been handed the narrowest of leads, Marco went out in the sixth and made that hold up, striking out Brent Rooker for the second time and surrendering a single to Laureano before getting Aguilar chasing after a first-pitch changeup for a tidy, inning-ending double play. That gave Marco an utterly Marco-like line of six innings pitched, with two runs on five hits, four strikeouts, and a walk. Postgame an enthused Marco talked about how he wasn’t going to let his one bad outing against Boston sour what he feels has been a solid year for him, and he did an admirable job tonight of making an adjustment, battening down the hatches, and keeping the Mariners in the game. It was vintage Marco, in the best way.
Trevor Gott did his part to protect the precious baby lead in the seventh, setting down the A’s 1-2-3 with two strikeouts, both on his cutter. Justin Topa did his part in the eighth to also keep the A’s hitters at bay, featuring a changeup that Scott Servais praised postgame.
A scary moment in the bottom of the eighth: Trevor May, freshly activated for tonight’s game, hit Ty France on the forearm with a 97 mph heater. Ty went down like a ton of bricks, in obvious pain, while May looked on, shaken. Ty stayed in and went to first, but was then replaced by pinch-runner Sam Haggerty during a lengthy delay during which the umpiring crew ruled a fan had interfered with Laureano attempting to catch a foul ball off the bat of Julio. Boos rained down on the umpiring crew (X-rays were, thankfully, negative for a fracture on France, but Servais said he doesn’t expect him to play tomorrow or maybe even the next day; J.P., citing France’s toughness, said he bets Ty is petitioning for playing time starting tomorrow). May then hit Eugenio Suárez, clearly unintentionally, as he looked anguished as the ball plunked Geno in the back, but the boos continued unabated. There were only 15K in the ballpark tonight as announced attendance, but every single one of those fans put on their angrypants in the bottom of the eighth and let the umpiring crew—and May—hear about it. The protection impulse was strong; unfortunately for May, who had been on the IL with anxiety issues, he was the car in the way of Mariners fans trying to protect their own.
However, the Mariners couldn’t make anything out of this chaos, handing the game over to Paul Sewald to protect that infant one-run lead in the ninth. After getting Rooker to fly out harmlessly, Sewald struck out Laureano and then pinch-hitter Ryan Noda, earning a loud, roar from the crowd—louder than one might expect on what was, famously, a Tuesday Night Against the A’s. But it was a roaring that was equal parts victorious and protective.