“Few will guess how sad one had to be in order to resuscitate Carthage” - Gustave Flaubert
Tonight the Mariners debuted their City Connect uniforms, which many people like quite a bit, outside of the pants, which are largely reviled (staffer Zach Gottschalk says it makes them look like valets, which, yes). Prior to the debut of the uniforms I created a matrix for how the City Connects have largely gone: some have been big swings and successes (Colorado, Washington), while others have played it safe and somehow still bombed (Dodgers, Arizona). My guess was the Mariners would play it safe and turn out something that was fine, and that’s what they did, paying homage to the Seattle Pilots among other Seattle baseball teams who, as you know, etc. It’s a story we’ve all heard many times before, on various turn-back-the-clock and throwback nights, so many times that many fans accurately pre-guessed the blue-gold color scheme and heavy use of the trident motif.
It’s a story we’ve heard before because it’s largely the only story we have to tell about this team: an expansion team that can’t claim the same rich history as those there at baseball’s dawn; a team with no World Series titles to its name and only a sparse handful of playoff appearances; a team that has been an afterthought in the larger baseball landscape for most of its existence, outside of a brief few halcyon seasons.
In that way, it’s a team that mirrors the history of its city, which, before wresting a place in the center of the aviation space/grunge counterculture/tech boom, lurked on the fringes of mainstream American consciousness for the first hundred-odd years of its existence. It’s also a story that can’t be told without acknowledging the people who were here first and systematically deprived of their land, language, and culture, a people literally starved to death by the restructuring of the river that now, renamed, features heavily in promotional shots of the city. But that story doesn’t make for a zippy jersey.
Instead, the Mariners tell a familiar, sanitized story with the City Connect jersey, and tonight on the field they told another familiar story: a loss against the division rival Houston Astros in front of a large (roughly 33,000) home crowd, many clutching bags fresh from the team store containing new City Connect gear. To their credit, they didn’t lose in the same way we’ve seen the Mariners lose to the Astros, not exactly; at times this game felt downright winnable, which is a change from the shutout thrashings at the hands of Justin Verlander and a powerful Astros lineup. But in the end, it’s the same story, just dressed up in slightly different clothing.
Luis Castillo was shaky out of the gate tonight before rounding back into form. He struggled early to land his breaking pitches either for strikes or as tasty enough offerings to get swings and misses, and had a few bad misses on the fastball outside of the zone. Jake Meyers led off the third inning with a double that just snuck down the line, because that’s what it’s like to play on a Friday night against the Astros. Castillo then got the next two outs before walking Alex Bregman despite being ahead of him in the count, showing some clear frustration with his misses, which brought up Yordan Álvarez who...well, you know how Yordan Álvarez at-bats go when he gets anything anywhere near the zone. That’s a history we know. This isn’t a pitch you want to throw any major league hitter, but especially not Álvarez. 3-0 Astros.
The Astros pushed their lead to 4-0 in the fourth with a double steal; Cal Raleigh was able to nail Peña attempting to steal second but Kyle Tucker, who led off the inning with another double, came home on the play—at least the second time I can remember seeing such a scheme deployed against the Mariners successfully this season. Perhaps we could game plan against that, fellas! Or at least figure out how to do that ourselves?
However, such trickery requires baserunners, and it took until the fifth inning for the Mariners to get a hit against Javier, as Cal Raleigh and Teoscar Hernández recorded back-to-back singles to lead off the bottom of the fifth, and Taylor Trammell walked to load the bases. Kolten Wong then came up, and here we step for a moment out of our regular narrative and have a moment of appreciation for Kolten Wong, a nice guy who’s having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad season so far, but who is apparently unpoisoned by the history between the Mariners and Astros, and delivered his biggest hit as a Mariner so far:
However, the Mariners wouldn’t add on there as Julio Rodríguez and Ty France each made outs to quell the threat, leaving them trailing 3-4 and again skirting the kind of big inning this team needs to string together in order to start collecting some wins. Going to need that top of the order to start top of the ordering again stat, please.
After some deft work by Castillo to lock in and give a solid seven innings after his early struggles, and a combo-shutout eighth from Trevor Gott and Gabe Speier, the Mariners had another chance in the eighth against Bryan Abreu, who gave up base hits to France and Kelenic. With two outs and the entire building chanting GE-NO, Suárez delivered an RBI single to tie the game.
Sadly, the good vibes would come to a screeching halt there. Matt Brash came on to try to preserve the tie against the top of the Astros order and promptly walked the struggling José Abreu. Unfortunately, that wildness cost him in an at-bat against Kyle Tucker, where a very good pitch on the edge didn’t get ruled strike three, leading to a Tucker home run. You can get mad about this, and it is a blown call on home plate umpire Shane Livensparger, earning Scott Servais his first ejection of the year, but look at the pitches in the Abreu at-bat:
The zone needs to be the zone, but these just aren’t close. Brash isn’t earning himself any benefit of the doubt with edge pitches there, and it cost him in the next at-bat. Yes, Tucker should have been struck out, but also, Livensparger didn’t hang a slider middle-middle:
That would put the Astros up 6-4, and the Mariners would fail to score against Ryan Pressley in the bottom of the ninth, largely because Teoscar Hernández made a costly baserunning error but also because this is the story the Mariners know how to tell best: a marquee game loss against a division rival. That’s the history Mariners fans wear not across their chests but buried deep inside it, and it’s a history more immediate and salient than a team that was here for a single season a half-century ago. But hey. I hear Carthage is beautiful this time of year.