As someone who grew up with The Simpsons, I wonder what would happen if the show were to launch in today’s day and age.* I’m not sure how the society that has produced such banger Tweets as “I don’t feel sorry for the man whose child was eaten by a gator, actually” or “measuring things is capitalism” would embrace Homer Simpson, whose fumbling foibles the audience is expected to find humorous, not enraging, because of the genuine love he has for his family and friends. If The Simpsons were to debut today, it would be to a chorus of thinkpieces about how Homer’s stable job at the power plant and enormous single-family home are the symbols of a mediocre man failing upward.
The show even capitalized on this trope with the third-season episode “Homer, Defined” in which Homer saved the power plant from meltdown through sheer dumb luck, leading to the phrase “Pulling a Homer”—the early progenitor of “failing upward”—becoming part of Simpsons lore and a greater cultural touchpoint.
(*what do you mean it’s still on the air, no it’s not)
Today the Mariners Pulled a Homer by defeating the White Sox 5-1 despite striking out 18 times against White Sox pitching, including 16 times against starter Lance Lynn. Those 16 strikeouts were Lynn’s career high—in a career that spans 12 seasons—and tie a team high for the White Sox, a record that’s stood since 1954.
Lynn has struggled this season, but not today. Lynn worked all around the corners, making very few mistakes on the plate. Look at the donut hole in the pitches in his swinging strikes.
But Kate, I can hear you saying, those are the swinging strikes. Surely there are pitches that were in the happy part of the zone that batters swung at and made contact with? Okay, sure. Let’s add in the pitches that were put in play for outs, or put in play for hits/runs. There aren’t many in the middle of the plate, so we can go over them all:
The topmost bright red dot is an actual mistake—a first-pitch fastball to Cal Raleigh that he harmlessly popped into right field. The blue dot is a juicy curveball to Ty France, after Lynn had worked him up and away in the at-bat, that resulted in a harmless, inning-ending pop out to catcher Yasmani Grandal. The two dark red dots are cutters to Julio and Jarred that both resulted in soft flyouts and it wouldn’t matter where Lynn put his cutter—batters flailed after it all day. The other two red dots, the fastballs, are interesting. One is Lynn’s only real mistake on the day. After Cal Raleigh had singled (the green changeup at the bottom left and a very fine piece of hitting by Cal) to lead off the inning, two batters later J.P. Crawford worked a two-out walk, bringing up Julio. After throwing a fastball high, Lynn let that second fastball leak right into the middle of the plate, and suffered the consequences:
This is a very nice piece of hitting by Julio, as well, and gave the Mariners a 2-0 lead that would have been enough to win the game, but more on that later.
First, let’s talk about that second red fastball, just above the first one, right in the juicy part of the plate. That pitch was Lance Lynn’s 114th pitch of the game, a pitch count that belongs more in the era of when The Simpsons first debuted. With Lynn chasing the franchise lead for strikeouts, the White Sox sent him out to begin the top of the eighth against Kolten Wong, who immediately took this first-pitch single and bunted it for a base hit. In a vacuum, I’m happy for Lynn, who has been struggling this year and facing some harsh criticism. Also, I’m always happy to see people from team “Bigger People Are Athletes Too” thriving. But in a bigger vacuum, I’m happier for Kolten Wong saying “f your record” and refusing to be part of someone else’s history. And overall, in the context of the Mariners’ 2023, I don’t mind Lynn playing Frank Grimes to the Mariners’ Homer.
Lynn would then be lifted for Reynaldo Lopez, who would proceed to get two outs but then load the bases by walking Ty France and Teoscar Hernández, bringing up Jarred Kelenic to give the Mariners a bit of much-needed insurance:
Jarred Kelenic, 3⃣ bagger with swagger ... his second triple of the year, and this one clears the bases. pic.twitter.com/fJSdthc3DK— Daniel Kramer (@DKramer_) June 18, 2023
This was very much the “B” plot of the episode, but we love it nonetheless.
The other main part of this game, and the reason the Mariners didn’t technically need the cushion of those extra runs (although it is always, always important to have), was the continued excellent performance of the Mariners’ pitching staff. Sun hat award to Justin Topa for working a scoreless top of the eighth with the Mariners clinging to a one-run lead, and to rookie Ty Adcock for working a scoreless ninth despite giving up a double to Luis Robert Jr. that was allllllmost a home run and a single, but the Marge Simpson of the game was Bryce Miller.
As much as Marge’s hyper-competence balances Homer’s incompetence, so too did the rookie Miller balance the Mariners’ offensive rake-stepping by matching the veteran Lynn—in results if not in whiffs and strikeouts, although six Ks over seven innings is nothing to sneeze at.
It’s the seven innings that is the real standout part of Miller’s line today. Just as Marge cares for the whole family, Miller looked after his entire team—not just the offense, by keeping the White Sox to just one run (in the sixth, Elvis Andrus ambushed a first-pitch slider in the middle of the plate for a double, and a rejuvenated Andrew Benintendi drove him home on a ground-ball single, also going after a first-pitch fastball); Miller also looked after the rest of the pitching staff, going deep into the game and saving Seattle’s exhausted bullpen.
Miller also achieved this feat despite getting struck with a 107.3 mph comebacker off the bat of Jake Burger in the third inning, dealing with the pain for the rest of the game. Later he told his skipper he’d thankfully been doing some “calf raises” so he felt like he was okay. Always do your calf raises, kids.
On the surface, it’s pretty tough to see that “L” next to Lance Lynn’s name after his pitching performance, having watched the Mariners hitters flail after his pitches all afternoon. But on the other hand, the Mariners have been putting together better at-bats recently with poor outcomes. They have seen would-be homers taken away or fall just short of the wall, none more painfully than Eugenio Suárez’s would-be game-tying grand slam last Wednesday. And they lost a game yesterday they probably should have won from a process standpoint, except for the emergency substitution of a journeyman minor-leaguer who had a dream debut.
These last two games maybe represent the most whiplash “well that’s baseball sometimes” diptych so far of the season. Sometimes you’re the Frank Grimes, and sometimes you’re the Homer Simpson. And sometimes you’re the Ned Flanders, keeping a pos-diddly-ositive outlook no matter what life throws at you, from the destruction of your house to the failure of your business (RIP to the Leftorium, a place I always wanted to shop) to the death of your wife by t-shirt cannon. Maybe that’s the route the Mariners will go for the rest of this season. They certainly are working on the mustaches part of it.