“Failing upwards” is how we say it in polite company, but my dad is fond of the expression “fell into a vat of $h!t and came out with a gold watch” to describe someone who succeeds, improbably, despite their own blunders. Tonight the Mariners blundered about on the baseball field some, but also did enough good things while taking advantage of the Angels’ own mistakes in order to emerge clutching the golden timepiece in tonight’s contest.
To their credit, it wasn’t all luck. The Mariners hitters came out putting pressure on Angels pitcher Patrick Sandoval, working longer counts against the often-wild lefty and putting balls in play—they had a base runner in each of the first three innings, with a Julio single in the first, an Eugenio Suárez single in the second, and a J.P. Crawford single in the third. Just when it looked like the Mariners were going to run into their old friend of bad sequencing, though, Julio stepped up to bring both J.P. and himself home on this majestic shot, making a nice adjustment on Sandoval’s changeup after both whiffing at it and fouling it off earlier in the at-bat.
The Mariners would then daisy-chain another run on with a Ty France double followed by a Teoscar Hernández RBI single, with Teo also making a nice adjustment to lay off a changeup outside—a pitch he’d swung at earlier in the at-bat and also struck out against in his first at-bat—and getting a slider he could handle that wound up in the middle of the plate. It wasn’t a perfect at-bat, and he’d go out to strike out again on the changeup in the fifth, but it was enough—literally, as the Mariners would go on to score more runs in the evening, but they wouldn’t technically need any more than that third one driven in by Teo. Also imperfect: the inning ended with Teoscar being picked off, having wandered off first like an elderly relative at a swap meet. Can Perry Hill teach baserunning too?
The reason the Mariners needed three runs, though, is that in the very next inning rookie starter Bryan Woo—off to a much sharper start than his last outing, to say the least—made a couple of mistakes that proved to be costly. First, he got into a protracted battle with Angels rookie Zach Neto; after having him down 0-2 on a pair of called strikes, Woo repeatedly challenged Neto on the plate, as the rookie fouled away four straight pitches before taking a two-seamer well off the plate. Woo came back on the plate but couldn’t sneak yet another four-seamer past Neto, who punched it into right field. That brought up Shohei Ohtani and Woo, after getting Ohtani swinging over a slider in, decided to return to that same spot with the exact same pitch, and Ohtani—who loves looping a slider off his shoetops, we’ve seen that on loop for the past several years—was ready, destroying the pitch over the right-field fence. That cut the Mariners lead to 3-2, and made Teo’s TOOTBLAN look even worse.
To his credit, Woo rebounded from the Ohtani home run by striking out Mike Trout for the second time, and followed that up with a 1-2-3 fourth. He almost cleared the fifth, except for a silly little ground ball single off Gio Urshela’s bat that just evaded the webbing of J.P. Crawford’s glove, and two batters later, a ground-rule double from Mickey Moniak, putting runners at second and third, ended his night and unfortunately kept him from earning his first big-league win. Still, seven strikeouts and just two runs over 4.2 innings is a huge improvement over his last outing. Woo remains far from a perfect pitcher—the slider isn’t a reliable enough weapon yet while facing big-league batters, and when hitters do make contact with it, they hit it pretty hard—but tonight showed how well the fastball can play with the two-seamer when he’s able to spin the one up in the zone and sink the other.
Gabe Speier came on to try to get the final out of the inning and preserve what was by then a three-run lead for the Mariners, which happened to be Ohtani, and he was also a little inconsistent, getting Ohtani 1-2 but then throwing a pair of noncompetitive strikes to push the count full. The at-bat wore on until a borderline call on a slider ended Ohtani’s at-bat, the inning, and also manager Phil Nevin’s night, as he was ejected after doing his best Mike Scioscia cosplay, including turning full-on tomato red to match the festive “Christmas in June” promotion at the ballpark. Here’s the pitch; it’s a borderline call for sure, but probably looks less like a strike frozen like this than it did in motion, with the way Speier’s slider sweeps across the zone. Phil Nevin absolutely lost his marbles over it; you can watch the whole meltdown here, if you’re into that sort of thing.
That would turn out to be a pivotal moment in the game, as it did cost the Angels a chance to have Mike Trout come up with the bases loaded and the Mariners with a modest but assailable 5-2 lead—they’d picked up the two extra runs in the bottom of the fourth, when Eugenio Suárez led off with a little Bermuda Triangle single, as the baseball gods continue to toy with Geno, who had three hard-hit balls last night and nothing to show for it. An AJ Pollock single would push him to second, and then a Tom Murphy single would bring him home; a J.P. Crawford single would then bring Pollock home. But Mike Trout and the bases loaded would have chewed into or evaporated entirely that lead. Always swing the bat when it’s close, kids.
The Mariners got themselves into grand-slam-to-tie it territory in the seventh, when Jarred Kelenic doubled, moving Teoscar—on base with a fielder’s choice swapping the lead-footed Ty France, who took his daily hit by pitch, for the speedier Teo, thank you—to third base. It almost wasn’t, though, as Kelenic, who was a little slow getting out of the box (maybe thinking he’d cleared the wall in right field?) overslid second and had to scramble back. The Angels challenged the tag at second but the call was upheld (not “confirmed”), and Teoscar would later score on another single from Eugenio Suárez to make it 6-2, where the game would stay.
Part of the reason the Angels didn’t score any more: Andrés Muñoz came in to put out a little bit of a fire in the bottom of the seventh, as Justin Topa, in his second inning of work, had walked Hunter Renfroe and allowed a single to the pesky Neto. Muñoz came in and got Moniak to ground out, needing just two pitches, and then crushed the top of the Angels order in the eighth, striking out Ohtani, Trout, and Rendon. In a night where not every Mariner was their sharpest—I didn’t even have time to get into AJ Pollock’s inexplicable TOOTBLAN with Julio up to bat!—Muñoz was impeccable.
Andrés Muñoz with a very sick 8th inning, striking out Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon in order -- all on the slider... pic.twitter.com/aDmHJjD7DL— Daniel Kramer (@DKramer_) June 11, 2023
That allowed Paul Sewald to deal with the decidedly more mid part of the Angels lineup, and while he wasn’t as shutdown as Muñoz, he was still the SeaWall, although not without a little help from his outfielders, as Jarred Kelenic sacrificed his body trying to get Gio Urshela to foul out and AJ Pollock, making up for his earlier TOOTBLAN, actually did get Hunter Renfroe out with an incredible diving catch, reminding you that his Gold Glove might have come way back in 2015, but he’s still quite the capable fielder, thankyouverymuch.
HOLY SHIT WHAT A CATCH BY AJ POLLOCK pic.twitter.com/cWnNemI2zH— Gravel (@Gravel_sense) June 11, 2023
Some nights you have to play perfect, crisp baseball, and other nights you can be a little sloppy and still get the W. The Mariners were far from perfect tonight: they worked Sandoval some but still struck out eight times against him, 13 times in total; they made a couple boneheaded baserunning mistakes; they left double-digit men on base; the pitching staff made mistakes (not you Andrés you are perfect). But they also got a 4-for-5 night out of their leadoff hitter, a three-hit night from their young superstar including a homer, and every batter but one recorded at least one hit (and the one that didn’t is the guy coming off the IL who didn’t have a spring training); the 16 hits tonight tie a season high. That’s the kind of a beautiful mess I can get behind.