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Mariners need one, get one, emerge with 1-0 victory

walkoffs are more fun!

MLB: New York Yankees at Seattle Mariners Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into tonight, the vibes surrounding this homestand finale were tepid at best. Getting blown out two nights in a row against a direct Wild Card competitor when you send a pair of strong young pitchers out to the mound tends to do that. Yes, George Kirby was starting tonight, but coming off those two dumpsterings? I’d understand if you were checked out, especially once the lineup dropped sans José Caballero.

Kirby, though, was anything but. Coming right out of the gate firing flaming four-seamers and slinging sizzling sinkers, he needed just eleven pitches to cruise through the top of the first, making Gleyber Torres look absolutely silly flailing at a 1-2 sinker out of the zone at 99 (!!!) MPH and - perhaps more impressively - getting Aaron Judge out on a hard grounder to short. It was a similar story through the second and third frames, too; George carved through the first time through the Yankees’ lineup without anything leaving the infield, racking up another trio of strikeouts against old ~friend Jake Bauers, promising rookie shortstop Anthony Volpe, and Greg Allen. Allen actually put the longest fight, battling him for six pitches before Kirby wrapped up the third inning with a perfectly placed 2-2 curveball.

Hopes of seeing something truly special were dashed leading off the fourth, as Gleyber muscled an inside sinker into right field for New York’s first hit. Although Aaron Judge loomed large as always, coming off of two two-dinger games, the Kirbmeister was as unflappable as ever. After falling behind Judge 2-0, he came back with three vicious fastballs, and a called strike and two whiffs later, we could breathe again. Torres was even erased trying to steal second before Willie Calhoun harmlessly grounded out, and while it’s no perfecto or no-no, facing the minimum through four is always lovely to see.

Alas, for as dynamite as Kirby was out of the gates, the Mariner bats were barely party snaps against Yankee starter Clarke Schmidt. Kolten Wong ended up being Seattle’s first baserunner, working a two-out walk in the third before J.P. Crawford put any worries about being on the wrong end of history to bed with a clean base hit up the middle, but a groundout from Ty France ended any chance of grabbing the lead. It was a similar story in the fourth, with Julio getting things started with an infield hit and swiping second, but none of Jarred Kelenic, Eugenio Suárez, or Raleigh could drive him in.

George Kirby, however, was predictably unfazed. Breezing through the fifth on a dozen pitches, Kyle Higashioka tagged him for a one-out single in the sixth inning before Greg Allen laid down an unintentional sac bunt moved him into scoring position - the first time of the evening the Yankees found themselves in that scenario. With the lineup turning over for the second time, tensions ran high as Gleyber Torres fought hard to a full count. Kirby dug in, threw an inside sinker that caught juuuust a bit too much of the plate, and Gleyber put a good swing on it.

Not good enough to evade J.P., though!

Unfortunately, Schmidt continued to do his thing, matching Kirby with a perfect fifth before being the beneficiary of some poor replay review. With one out in the bottom of the sixth, France hammered a first-pitch breaking ball down the line in right field, initially ruled foul before Scott Servais opted to challenge. As close as the call was in real time, replays showed a clear puff of chalk upon the ball touching the ground, settling on the left field wall. Despite this evidence, you can probably guess what happened.

Ty would go down swinging, and while Julio checked in with his second hit of the game, it felt bittersweet knowing there was a solid chance that had the call been properly overturned, we could have been looking at a lead. Aaron Boone went to his bullpen with Kelenic due up by bringing in lefty (drink!) Wandy Peralta, who got the job done by striking out Jarred. Kirby marched on, getting Judge out for the third time of the game by way of a flyout to left opening the seventh, and worked around a two-out knock from DL LeMahieu to keep the scoreless tie. Ayyyyyugenio would lead off the bottom of the frame with an oppo double, but he too was stranded as none of Calboy, Teoscar Hernández, and pinch-hitter AJ Pollock could finish the job.

The eighth inning proved to be George’s last, and it was arguably his most hellacious. After running a brutal two-seam on the inside corner to turn away Bauers, Volpe grounded out to Wong on the first pitch, and Higashioka wildly swung through a 97 MPH four-seamer at the top of the zone to put a feather in his seventh strikeout. Kirby’s game score tonight stood at a mighty 83, a new career best for him - a good thirteen points better than his showstopping performance in the playoffs last year. Wouldn’t it be nice to get him a win for all his troubles?

Those hopes would prove futile, as a failed drag bunt from Wong and strikeouts of J.P. and Ty brought in Paul Sewald for the ninth. Smartly putting Judge on after two easy outs, Calhoun hit a line drive right to Jarred, and the watch for a walkoff was on. Clay Holmes, though, had other plans, easily setting down Julio and Kelenic - the former looking particularly rough - before getting a groundout from Suárez to send the game into extras. It was Justin Topa’s turn to work out of a jam, as Crawford made a rare fielding error off the bat of LeMahieu to put runners on the corners with nary an out. Although Isiah Kiner-Falefa popped out, Bauers made his last plate appearance in Seattle an annoying one, walking to load the bases. Paul may not have been pitching, but the Sea Wall had to hold here.

Volpe chopped a ground ball to Eugenio, who fired home for the forceout, and Franchy Cordero was on to pinch hit. As you may recall if you haven’t repressed that entire series, this was the fella who put the bow on the Red Sox’ four-game sweep of the M’s in Fenway by way of a walkoff grand slam. You would be forgiven if you were clenching even harder than before, especially after Cordero worked a full count. A strike, any strike was desperately needed.

Phew! After that kind of tension, any quick release would be more than welcome, and the Mariners had just the guy. José Caballero took over as the Manfred man, and on 2-2 changeup, Cal Raleigh pulled out his best Luis Torrens impression.

After a pair of frustrating, maddening, uncharacteristic blowout losses, a game like tonight felt like a return to form. Sure, the bats weren’t great (thirteen strikeouts to a lone walk is, uh, not dominating the zone), but we’re used to that. Back-to-back poor outings from Bryce Miller and Logan Gilbert, though? That went down worse than motor oil. Although Kirby didn’t end up notching the win (Justin Topa did for his first in the big leagues - congrats, Justin!), he was on another level tonight - an absolute joy to see after a tough outing against Pittsburgh on Friday. The M’s also closed out the homestand at 7-3 and May at 17-11 as the first two months of the season are officially in the books. While we bask in the glow of a win during tomorrow’s off-day, a big weekend series against the first-place Rangers lurks in the background. With pitching performances like this, though, I think the M’s will be just fine.