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Mariners get to work late, find can of offense on storeroom shelf, win 8-3

better late than never, as they say

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Seattle Mariners Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most alienating feeling things is having to work while everyone else is off having a good time. You’re stuck at work and your feed is blowing up with pictures of lakeside swims, cabin trips, people laying out on towels or hoisting fruity drinks in the air, all smiles and sunglasses and good times, and meanwhile you’re trying to explain to someone that no, they’re not actually eligible for Angel Premium Plus. Today the Mariners stuck a skeleton crew of players with the hard work early before showing up with reinforcements to cruise to what would turn out to be an easy win over the Rays, 8-3.

George Kirby was the harried shift manager faced with a 50% off weekend sale who should be doing inventory but instead had to ring because half his staff called out. He battled the pesky Rays from the start, using fifteen pitches alone on the first two hitters of the game, earning a strikeout of Yandy Díaz but losing an eight-pitch battle against Wander Franco, who stubbornly refused to expand the zone at all and earned a rare walk. That walk didn’t go anywhere, even though Randy Arozarena pounced on a first-pitch fastball from Kirby thanks to a fine running catch from Jarred Kelenic, one of several he made on the day, but that—and a later walk he would issue—ticked Kirby off enough to keep his rage silently simmering all game long.

Kirby brought the house against the Rays, keeping the best-hitting team in the AL wrong-footed with his most extensive mix of pitches, featuring his fastball and two-seamer heavily, of course, but also mixing in all of his secondaries: the slider, curveball, and splitter (per Kirby, the pitch labeled a changeup—you’ll know which one—was actually a splitter).

While he didn’t get a ton of whiffs from the contact-heavy Rays, who fouled off a ton of pitches (24 of the 101 pitches he threw today), those foul balls did put hitters into poor counts and force them to offer at less-ideal pitches in the strike zone, leading to easily played outs. The old saw is “put the ball and play and usually something good will happen,” but of the 16 balls the Rays put in play against Kirby, nothing good happened until the sixth inning, when Yandy Díaz got the Rays’ first hit of the day by poking a well-located splitter just fair down the left-field line for a “double” with an xBA of .090. That put a runner on for Luke Raley to take a poorly-located splitter just over the right field fence for a two-run home run, eliminating a two-run lead the Mariners had been protecting since the third inning, and royally ticking off Kirby.

“It’s not a pleasant experience, talking to George after he gives up a home run,” deadpanned his manager postgame.

But Kirby didn’t earn his spot as manager/likely Mariners’ All-Star representative by buckling under pressure. After disappearing straight into the tunnel to have some stern words with his glove, Kirby came back out in the seventh and knocked the Rays down in order, ending his day on two swinging strikeouts to Jose Lowe and Jose Siri to bring his total to seven Ks for the day.

“I like it when players show emotion,” said Servais postgame. “I think it allows the players playing behind them to feed off it and to feel it, and they certainly do when George takes the mound. They know it’s on, and they should.”

If George Kirby is the manager, J.P. Crawford is the long-tenured floor captain who knows the ropes and can always be depended on to show up on time and do his job. J.P. led off the game with a double, only to have the next three batters see seven pitches between them—one more than J.P. saw in his at-bat—to retire the side quietly.

It felt like potential deja ewww all over again when Jarred Kelenic came up in the second with two outs and hit a double off a hanging curveball, a rare mistake from Rays starter Tyler Glasnow, bringing up recent transfer Mike Ford. But Mike Ford is not interested in going back to the Tacoma store just yet, as the commute to T-Mobile Park is much nicer:

Then J.P. stepped up once again to do his duty. Glasnow struck out 11 Mariners today, and at the time of this writing leads all of baseball today with 23 whiffs. But J.P. had read the memo from corporate that says “lefties will hit Tyler Glasnow” and started gunning for that Employee of the Month award early.

Eventually, some other Mariners trickled into work. After the Rays tied it up, the Mariners clawed ahead in the sixth, starting with a Teoscar Hernández one-out double. Cal Raleigh struck out for the second out of the inning, but Suárez worked a long at-bat against Glasnow, eventually reaching on a hit by pitch. Trainee Jarred Kelenic has had some struggles early but you can’t fault his preparedness, as he too had read up on the lefty memo:

Then Mike Ford, wanting to be a good team player, did his second good thing of the day, earning a walk that would force Glasnow out of the game. The inning would end without the Mariners scoring again, but getting into the Rays bullpen would pay dividends in the next innings, as with Glasnow out, the rest of the offense decided it was time to start working and collectively ganged up on the Rays’ pen. Jalen Beeks and Robert Stephenson surrendered five combined runs over the game’s final 2.1 innings, making this game feel like a much easier win than it actually was.

Despite the lead, things got a little clench-y in the eighth, as Justin Topa continued to be the World’s Unluckiest Boy on Batted Balls and gave up some ground balls that found holes. Paul Sewald came in to try to quench the fire and gave up a single to Wander Franco to make the score 6-3, but induced a clutch ground ball double play from Raley to end the inning without further damage. Ground balls from Paul Sewald in this econonmy? We’ll take it. As the night cleaning crew, Sewald swept aside the Rays with ease in the top of the ninth, striking out the side to earn his 15th save and send the crowd of 35,546 fans home happy. Always appreciate the folks who keep the floors clean even when people go around littering like this:

With a team this young, it’s been interesting watching who will step up as a captain, and how. J.P. Crawford and Jarred Kelenic took their roles seriously today as Lefty Leaders against Glasnow, but the clear team leader was George Kirby, whose dominance inspires great play from his teammates. George would never buy himself this mug, but maybe his teammates should consider it.