Most nights, with this pitching staff, six runs would be more than enough to win the game. Prior to tonight’s game, the Mariners had only lost two games this season where they scored six runs, both under deeply cursed circumstances: one was the Cubs game (that happily became the de facto birthplace of Bryce Miller’s MLB career), and the other was the extra-innings Sunday day game against the Guardians that the Mariners lost on a Josh Bell walkoff. And now we can add City Connects Part 2 to that illustrious list.
This game was weird from the jump. George Kirby was not his usual sharp self, opening the game by allowing a solo homer to Andrew McCutcheon and following that up by walking Bryan Reynolds on six pitches. That would set the tone of the evening: after a long, cold spring where T-Mobile has held in seemingly every hard-hit ball, tonight the Magenta Lady kicked off her high-laced boots, cracked open a big bottle of Dingerteuse, and gave herself a heavy pour. And then eight more. Unfortunately, the Mariners came up short when the bottom of the bottle was reached, with the kind of poor results that usually come with emptied bottles: they hit just two homers to the Pirates’ franchise-record-tying seven (!) (that’s a hella old franchise! You must appreciate the history). Perhaps that Dingerteuse was cut with a heavy dose of Pirate rum.
The Pirates’ game approach was to wait out Kirby and try to get him on the plate or at least damage his pitch count, and as far as that went, mission accomplished: he was at 69 pitches (not nice) through four, having to skate around trouble in all but one inning, including another solo home run to Carlos Santana. The Pirates were simply not baffled by Kirby’s stuff, and they forced him on to the plate, where they did damage.
Here are the pitches that were put in play for runs. There are some rough ones in there—that blue dot in the center is a hung curveball to Bryan Reynolds that resulted in a triple that scored two runs. The red pitch is the first-inning fastball that McCutcheon homered on and the yellow is the slider Santana homered on; both of them are maybe a little too much in each batter’s respective kitchens, but they’re not egregiously bad pitches.
But Kirby’s pitches just weren’t toothsome enough for the Pirates hitters to chase, as they had no problems laying off outside the zone and made a lot of contact when he put it on the plate. Every pitch but the two-seamer for Kirby tonight had a CSW% of around 20, well below the high 30s we’re used to from a sterling Kirby outing. 4.1 innings is his shortest start of the year so far; the three homers he gave up equal the number of homers he’s surrendered all season; and the seven earned runs he surrendered equal the number of runs he gave up in his last four outings combined. Everyone’s entitled to a stinker once in a while, but it was more than a little disarming to see the normally sangfroid Kirby scrape and struggle. Turns out despite his general Benjamin Button/portrait in the attic aura, he too is human.
Usually the Mariners bullpen can be relied upon to right the ship when the starter begins to take on water, but perhaps tonight they were as wrong-footed by Kirby’s uncharacteristically bad outing as everyone else. Tayler Saucedo, who’s been on an upswing lately, earning his way into higher-leverage spots, got touched up for a run on a pair of hits, while Juan Then had his first legitimately ugly-looking outing, giving up two mammoth home runs to Jack Suwinski, who had been ice-cold coming into tonight, and Tucupita Marcano, playing in place of the injured Oneil Cruz. Flexen also gave up a home run, but at that point the barn doors weren’t so much open as they had been blasted into the next dimension.
To their credit, the Mariners offense—often sluggish—tried to keep the game close, even with possible Cy Young contender Mitch Keller on the mound. Julio Rodríguez answered Cutch’s first-inning solo shot with one of his own, and T-Mobile lit up like a slot machine paying out:
They followed that up in the second inning with some bottom-of-the-order production. Early BP-takers Cal Raleigh and Taylor Trammell teamed up for a double and single, respectively, with Cal making a smart read on the ball and aggressively running home after Pirates centerfielder Jack Suwinski bobbled the ball. That wouldn’t be the first time Cal did that tonight; he’d stretch a single into a double in the sixth inning, again when the less-sure-handed Suwinski misplayed a ball. Servais talked pregame about the importance of fundamental baseball in this series, and Cal certainly seemed to have taken that to heart. Servais also projected this series to be a low-scoring one and this game especially because, well, man plans and Trevor Gott laughs. (Trevor I’m sorry I know you weren’t involved in this debacle but you know. Wordplay.)
Unfortunately, that lead would be short-lived, because, you know [flaps hands at homers leaving the park like seagulls when all the night’s garlic fries are gone]. But the offense did not quit! In the fifth, J.P. Crawford singled, pushing Kolten Wong, who had walked, to second; Ty France was then hit by a pitch because even in this weird oppositionally-defiant game some things have to remain the same, and Julio came up with this bit of two-out magic:
That would draw the game tantalizingly within reach, at 7-4, but much like the home runs that barely snuck over the wall out of the reach of left fielder Trammell tonight, the Mariners would never quite get there, even when J.P. decided to bend the lack of a marine layer to his advantage.
This, to me, is cinema.
All lighthearted japes aside, the offense was still a few hits away from doing anything this game. Kolten Wong walked twice, which for him is like a multihit game, J.P. was productive at the top of the lineup, and Julio and Cal both looked great. I’ll take that going forward. But the load needs to be shared, and Ty France, Jarred Kelenic, Eugenio Suárez, and Teoscar Hernández all went hitless tonight, although encouragingly everyone in that group who doesn’t have the initials JK only struck out once, which we call progress. Less progressive: Jarred had a three-strikeout night, his third three-strikeout performance in a week, which is something to watch going forward. Also, could someone be a buddy and tell Teoscar that apparently the marine layer went camping for the long weekend and he can go back to hitting those deep fly balls that stubbornly weren’t going out earlier this season?
Look, losing a game is never fun. But it can be funny, and the Pirates coming into the famously homer-stingy T-Mobile Park and absolutely wrecking shop is actually deeply funny if you’re able to speed up the “comedy = tragedy + time” equation to nine innings. Let’s just not make, uh, like a regular habit of this? And maybe the cleaners could accidentally “lose” the City Connect unis for a little while. At least until the weather cools down some.