Half a mile from the space where one of their sporting neighbors has become famous for generating false starts, the 2023 Seattle Mariners are challenging for the title. In front of a rowdy (especially for a Tuesday night) crowd of 22,671, the night following a raucous, energizing comeback win, the Mariners once again managed to grab the balloon given to them by a teetering opponent and squeeze the air out of it, deflating their fans, their shot at winning, and their dwindling path past the rest of the American League.
Tuesday night’s 7-4 loss was not, at least from my vantage point in First Hill, the worst of the year. To me, that is still the Easton McGee game, or perhaps the catastrophic Cubs meltdown in Wrigley. All the same, it was a massive letdown to squander another solid outing from Bryan Woo, the promising rookie who was approximately 10th on the rotation depth chart at the outset of the season. Still, on the day that Chris Flexen was designated for assignment, it was once again the offense who shoulders responsibility for this missed chance to scrabble back to .500 once more.
It was not for lack of care or effort that Seattle found themselves on the losing end this evening. The evening was full of scraps with the moribund Nationals, including some feistiness between Cal Raleigh and Washington Nationals infielder Jeimer Candelario, who was doing an ‘Airplane!’ level routine attempting to (legally!) pass along where Raleigh was setting up while on second base.
From the @ROOTSPORTS_NW broadcast: A look at Jeimer Candelario sharing the pitch locations from second base, based on where Cal Raleigh was setting up.— Daniel Kramer (@DKramer_) June 28, 2023
That's what ignited the benches to briefly clear in the middle of the 5th inning. pic.twitter.com/fBYk1EOV8U
That came while the M’s still led, in a game that initially seemed as though it might be a slugfest. A sloppy toss from Woo led to Candelario scoring in the top of the 1st, but Teoscar Hernández stayed hot with a towering oppo blast that he knew he’d gotten all of well before most others.
That lead kept creeping up despite multiple incursions from the Nats, up to 3-1 and then, on a replay review of a Jarred Kelenic slide into home, 4-3. But Paul Sewald got a slider scooped into the right field seats by contact maven Keibert Ruiz, and Seattle could not scratch across runners late, forcing them to extras. Two shutout frames, first from Andrés Muñoz in the 9th and then Justin Topa in the 10th, presented the M’s with a gift. The bottom of the 10th against an atrocious Nationals bullpen that had already used most of its best healthy relievers en masse this evening and the night prior.
That meant Jordan Weems, who despite a solid ERA in small sample work, has bounced across three big league clubs in the past several years as a replacement level arm. His stuff is still potent, to be sure, but he has not been effective due to shaky command and a limited repertoire. After an intentional walk to J.P. Crawford, Julio Rodríguez, whose high-leverage plate appearances have been under some scrutiny, worked a four-pitch walk without chasing multiple sliders, aided by a pitch clock violation.
The bases were loaded. They did not score. By the time Trevor Gott allowed a walk and a pair of perfectly-placed grounders through to push the game out of reach, it hardly felt fair to expect more of the bullpen yet again.
It’s not easy to hit, we know this. And yet, as the M’s dropped their big leagues-leading 8th extra innings loss, it’s hard not to think back to last year, and the year prior. Seasons where the Mariners have pulled off games like this, been the ones screaming and dancing past the dumbstruck faces of a slack-jawed opponent who cannot reconcile the outcome they’ve just witnessed. Seattle had 13 walk-off wins last year and went 11-5 in extras. A year before, they had 10 walk offs and were 14-7 in extras. As we hover just before the midway point this year, they sit at just two in 2023, with a 4-8 line in extras that is no more indicative of true quality than the variances, the walk-off walks, errors, and wild pitches of the past two seasons, or the ill-placed line drives of this evening’s earlier innings are of a greater trend. But each individual failure has consequences, and tonight’s was another loss that will sting long past the next victory, whenever it may come.