Mariners players and fans alike had heard tell of the ancient city of Ribby, where offense runs like water and even an eight-hole hitter can bathe in the bounty of the RISP river, but so far this mysterious land has been out of reach for the 2023 Mariners. Despite being captained by some strong arms in their rotation, again and again the footsoldiers in the batters’ box have come up short in their search to discover the bounty of runs other teams seem to find easily.
But tonight George Kirby led an expedition deep into a game against the Texas Rangers and his teammates rewarded him with actual run support, shutting out the hot-hitting Texas Rangers 5-0 and getting the Mariners back up to the .500 mark.
Kirby was once again brilliant. Perhaps inspired by Logan Gilbert’s utter domination of the zone yesterday, Kirby refused to be shown up by his rotation-mate. I’m the king of commanding the zone around these parts, you could almost hear him thinking. He pitched a strong seven innings, throwing 75 of his 101 pitches for strikes, which even a math dumdum like me knows is 75%, which is excellent. He of course walked no one, and struck out a season-high nine batters (tying his career high), while scattering just six hits, and only one extra-base hit. He threw 21 out of 27 first-pitch strikes and continually controlled the counts, rarely working behind hitters and only getting to two three-ball counts. While all of his pitches looked good tonight, the slider was especially excellent, with sharp, late break. While Kirby got the majority of his strikeouts on his fastball/two-seamer, he also recorded one on the curve and two on the slider.
The only real trouble Kirby got into was in the third inning, when, with one out, Josh H. Smith snuck a ground ball through the 5/6 hole; he was later erased on a Marcus Semien force out, but then Semien was able to take third on an Ezequiel Duran single that was ruled to have been trapped by left fielder Jarred Kelenic. With runners on the corners and two outs, Kirby was able to get Nathaniel Lowe to ground out, getting him to jam an easy groundball to shortstop Jose Caballero on a perfectly-located inside 95 mph fastball.
With Kirby cruising against a powerful Texas lineup, the onus fell to the lineup to provide some run support for their starter, and this time, they actually did. After an uninspiring first two innings where Andrew Heaney sat down six hitters on 25 total pitches, the bottom of the offense broke through in the third—answering Texas’s own threat in that inning—with Tom Murphy leading off with a solid double of a changeup at the bottom of the zone. Sam Haggerty, making his first start in what feels like weeks, then hit a solid single to Adolis García in right field. Manny Acta, knowing the power of García’s arm, smartly held up Murphy at third base as the throw sailed in past the cutoff man in the direction of home plate, and then Haggerty, even more smartly, took second on the overthrow. These are the kinds of small, smart baseball moves it seems like the team has been missing this season, and it’s great to see a return to some solid fundamentals.
Also great to see returning: two-out clutch Ty France RBI hits.
Speaking of old friends returning, there was a little bit of good ol-fashion Chaos Ball on that play, as the throw home struck the bat that no one had bothered to clear from the running lane (“Jonah Heim has no one to blame for that but himself,” said Angie, crushing it as usual), and Haggerty deftly stepped around the wayward lumber to slide home. 2-0 Mariners.
Sam Haggerty, poetry in motion... He sees the throw to the plate ricochet off Ty France's bat, then he slides around the lumber and between Jonah Heim's legs to cap a two-run double.— Daniel Kramer (@DKramer_) May 10, 2023
The Mariners are on the board, 2-0, in the 3rd inning. pic.twitter.com/JqUFYdsAg1
But the Hitting Hero tonight was clearly Tom Murphy, who is definitely the person I would want on my side if we were exploring a mysterious dark possibly haunted cave in search of treasure. One thing that we haven’t been seeing this Mariners team as a whole do enough this year is punish mistakes, but that trend started to reverse in the seventh inning. The Rangers sent Andrew Heaney back out again to face the bottom of the order, and AJ Pollock immediately capitalized on a mistake by reaching on a throwing error by Josh Jung. Heaney then hung a changeup directly in the middle of the plate for Murphy, and he did not miss the mistake pitch.
TOM TIME ⏱️— ROOT SPORTS™ | NW (@ROOTSPORTS_NW) May 10, 2023
Tom Murphy with a 2-run home run to extend the Mariners lead! pic.twitter.com/SxdxVDtZHH
The Mariners would tack on another run in the eighth off Ian Kennedy, who allowed a leadoff single to Ty France; Kelenic and Teo followed with two excellent at-bats, with Kelenic earning a double and Teo a walk to load the bases, and a sac fly from AJ Pollock brought home the Mariners’ fifth run of the night. Walks! Pesky at-bats! Getting the runner home with sac flies! Smart baserunning! These are the fundamental baseball things we love to see and would love to see more of.
Five runs was more than enough to pilot the Mariners to a win, but the bullpen is a prideful bunch, and Justin Topa and Juan Then combined to keep the shutout going. Then looked strong tonight, striking out Josh Jung and Jonah Heim and allowing just one bad-luck infield hit to Taveras before getting Brad Miller to ground out to end the game (and prompt a very cute moment where Murphy guided the rookie through his first victory dance celebration).
“Work is the only thing I know,” Murphy said in a postgame interview when asked about how he stays ready despite not getting regular starts. Tonight that work fearlessly led the Mariners into some strange and exciting new territory. I’m sure glad he’s on our side.