The best show I’ve watched this past year is without a doubt Extraordinary (Hulu) a show that combines the well-worn territory of the “oh no we’re adults now” comedy ensemble (New Girl, Girls, etc.) with the equally well-worn territory of the superhero genre and comes up with something fresh, funny, and intensely watchable (RIP Powerless, gone too soon). I know “intensely watchable” hasn’t described the 2023 Mariners so far, but I promise I’m getting to that.
At its premise, Extraordinary asks viewers to accept a world where everyone has superpowers (except, of course, our hero Jen, who is still searching for her own power). That means some people get really cool powers, like flight or talking to the dead or bending time, and other people get more mundane or even inconvenient powers like being super-magnetic, breathing helium (useful for working at a party store), or being able to 3-D print anything* out of their butt (*smaller, aerodynamic objects only). In a way, it’s an analogy for how talent is distributed in the universe: some people are gifted easy wins, while others have to struggle to find their place.
This game featured a lot of pitching where the talent was of the “big, easy to recognize” variety. Logan Webb has been gifted the powers of flight and invisibility, which feels just unfair; he racked up 11 strikeouts against the Mariners while also getting a ton of ground ball outs. You know a guy has good stuff when he strikes out J.P. Crawford, one of the peskiest outs in baseball, on three straight pitches; tonight Webb did it twice.
To their credit and a happy symbol of this newfound offensive approach, the Mariners did engineer a fair amount of traffic against Webb, eventually loading the bases against him in the third and scoring a run on a wild pitch, but that was all the Mariners were able to get off Webb until the very end of his outing. Every other time the Mariners got runners on against Webb, he’d buckle down and strand those runners.
However, the Mariners had their own strong starter on the mound tonight. Bryan Woo might not yet have the repertoire of the superhero-like Webb, but his arsenal was enough to get him past a patched-together Giants lineup. In front over over a hundred friends and family, the Alameda-born Woo spun a gem, showcasing his powerful riding fastball and power sinker. Maybe a little amped up in front of the sell-out crowd in his hometown stadium, Woo threw several noncompetitive pitches, especially as he tried to get his secondary pitches—a slider, changeup, and cutter—working against the Giants batters, who were less than tempted. But when he needed to, Woo was able to rear back and throw his fastball for strikes, both called and swinging, and use his sinker to generate weak-contact outs.
Over six innings, Woo allowed just three hits, although he did walk two, both times when he was trying to get too fine with the secondary stuff against some of the Giants’ more veteran hitters. One of those walks was especially damaging, putting a runner on for one of Woo’s few mistake pitches of the night—a fastball up but in the middle of the plate he couldn’t sneak past Giants catcher Blake Sabol, who made capacious Oracle Park look small with a two-run blast that gave the Giants a 2-1 advantage they carried through the majority of this game. If Woo’s outing was a superpower, it would be something useful and impressive but with somewhat limited scope, like x-ray vision. Or something that can occasionally make people look very silly, like poor Luis Matos does here.
Bryan Woo, Wicked 84mph Slider...and Sword. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/N53lTF4mKE— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 4, 2023
Or Casey Schmitt here:
Bryan Woo, 96mph Expelliarmus Fastball. pic.twitter.com/LvU65wE6wC— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 4, 2023
Others have not been gifted so much, but have to make the most with what they’ve been given. Kolten Wong is no giant, but today he was key in the Mariners victory against the Giants, coming up with an important base hit off a tiring Webb in the seventh inning and then aggressively running to third on a J.P. Crawford single. Like Wong, Crawford is not necessarily the prototypical slugger who’s been gifted immense over-the-fence power. But like the helium-breather found a home at the party-supply store, J.P. has found his home on the diamond as a defensively-plus shortstop who puts up solid at-bats, like his single this inning that kept the line moving for Julio to hit an RBI fielder’s choice that tied the game and ended Webb’s outing.
But maybe there’s no Mariner who is closer to the main character of Extraordinary, the powerless Jen, than José Caballero. Born in Panama, not one of the major pipelines for MLB talent, Caballero has fought his way up through the minor leagues, battling injuries along the way, trying to carve out a role as a player who’s good at many things but not elite at anything. But—just like Jen’s “real” power is less important than her journey to be a good friend and daughter and less of a general, well, dirtbag— it turns out that maybe what Caballero is elite at is just existing in the game of baseball. Brought on in the ninth as a pinch-runner for Mike Ford (two hits and a walk today; his superpower is something not mind-blowing but very solid and helpful, like being able to turn water into any liquid he wants), Caballero stole second base. Then, noting the Giants had left third base unattended, he decided he’d steal that, too (Dave Sims had a great call on this: “he saw the free bag and said ‘that’s mineeeeee!’”). That set Caballero up to score on J.P.’s go-ahead sacrifice fly. Look how excited he is!
Back to those loud talents for a second. Camilo Doval is one of the best closers in baseball, armed with a fastball that kisses triple digits and a wicked slider. Julio Rodríguez is one of the brightest young talents in baseball. This was a strength-on-strength, superpower-vs-superpower matchup, and happily, Julio came out on top.
(Today was another encouraging day for Julio, who opened the game accepting a four-pitch walk from Webb, refusing to expand the zone. He did beat out what looked like a double play, but also stung a ball that might have been a hit in a less-spacious park, as well as this clutch two-run double, and he didn’t strike out once. And then he stole third, just for the fun of it.)
Teoscar Hernández might not have the gaudy power of Julio, but he definitely wasn’t behind the door when they were handing out superpowers; he’s got a cool one, like teleportation or the ability to throw up a force field. With the Mariners already comfortably ahead, he’d add one more against Doval with an RBI single of his own, scoring Julio, to put the Mariners up 6-2.
That extra run would turn out to be incredibly important. Andrés Muñoz, who definitely has the ability to manipulate time and space with his slider, was his usual dominant self against the Giants’ 9-1-2 hitters, leaving Paul Sewald to work the ninth against the 3-5 hitters. Unfortunately, the one thing that zaps superpowers is overuse, and Sewald, who was called upon for two straight saves against the Rays this weekend, just didn’t seem to be his normal sharp self. Sewald gave up a leadoff double to J.D. Davis and a one-out single to Mike Yastrzemski, but got Luis Matos to strike out for the second out of the inning. That brought up Blake Sabol, who ambushed a Sewald fastball that came in flat and way too much on the plate, knocking it over the fence to draw the Giants within a run.
However, Sewald was able to put away Brandon Crawford, who was Bryan Woo’s favorite player growing up, to end the game and preserve the one-run win, the second in two games for the Mariners. If the Mariners can find their team superpower again of winning in one-run games, the rest of the summer sets up to be...well, extraordinary.