For much of the season as the Seattle Mariners hovered around .500 ball I would often invoke how one frustration was that they were almost putting it together, almost making the dramatic comeback, but as Brandy told us in 1998, almost doesn’t count. Unless… it does count. Sort of. This weekend has been steeped in narrative, of the past and the future, and how the present is a bridge. On the weekend where Seattle celebrated one of their pitching legends, their next wave of talent in that arena was on full display, as the Mariners went head-to-head with the other hottest team in the American League, the Baltimore Orioles. To start the day the series was split at a game each, and while pitching took center stage for much of the game, it was late inning hitting heroics that stole the show and let the Orioles come out on top of the Mariners 5-3 in ten innings.
I’m not going to sell you on some grandiose idea that some bad luck in some close games is worth celebrating; a loss is a loss and it doesn’t feel good, a series loss even more so. If I were to say that today’s game felt good as it ended, you might balk at the idea. But in a game that arguably was one miscalled balk away from a different victor, it is not hard to defend that there was some silver lining to be gleaned.
Bryce Miller wasn’t nearly so sharp this time around as he has shown to be capable, but did more than enough to keep his team in it. His velocity was fine but his whiffs were down, unable to miss bats with the fastball which much of his success rides on. He twirled eighty-five pitches that landed for sixty strikes, across 5.2 innings, and he gave up one earned run on five hits, striking out two and walking two as well. Today was a more disappointing version of Miller than what we know he is capable of, but if today’s line is disappointing then that is almost worth being excited about.
All of today’s runs for the Seattle Mariners came directly as a result of players acquired from the Paul Sewald trade. Josh Rojas had his best game since joining the team. He reached on a walk in the bottom of the third inning, advanced to second on a Julio grounder, and came around to home when Eugenio Suárez singled him home. Rojas would once again score in the bottom of the fifth, first getting on base by looping one into center field for a single. Julio lined one into left field that had some run on the grass all the way to the wall, allowing Rodríguez to reach second safely and scoring Rojas all the way from first, and giving the Mariners the lead for the first (and only) time tonight. Rojas was of course rewarded for his 1-for-1, one walk, two run night with being pinch hit for by Tom Murphy in the seventh, only to strike out swinging.
It was a close game going into the ninth, and after a one run, ten inning loss the night before, it was almost perfect for the Mariners. But almost…
Andrés Muñoz came in to work the ninth inning and things started out well enough, getting Austin Hays to strike out on three pitches. From there Jordan Westburg hit a ground-rule double, James McCann walked on five pitches, and Adley Rutschman came up to bat. More dramatic swings in momentum would come later, but this might actually be where the Mariners lost the game most. As Muñoz delivered, third base umpire Adam Beck called a balk, advancing the runners to second and third with only one out. Now, the reaction I saw the most to this play was “what even is a balk?”, and while I won’t attempt to define it here, I can tell you that what Muñoz did was not a balk. Not even almost. Manager Scott Servais agrees.
It was bad enough that we received a rare appearance from Spicy Servais in the post-game presser where he described the balk call as “crazy”, adding “To call that in that situation, you’re looking to make an impact in the game”, and more wryly, “He made an impact in the game, the umpire did, for sure.” Sure enough, Adley Rutschman drops an infield grounder that would likely have been the inning ending double play, but instead scored a run with all runners safe. The play was fielded by Muñoz who sharply threw it home, where he almost got the out. There is that pesky almost word again. We’re almost done with it.
Seattle certainly tried to mount a comeback in the bottom of the ninth. After Teoscar Hernández led off the inning with a pop out, Ty France sent one 102.9 mph off of the bat 394 feet over the center field wall.
It was almost a home run, and it was a Cedric Mullins home run robbery. It would have tied the game and guaranteed a tenth inning. Next up was Dominic Canzone, and given his recent struggles at the plate I unabashedly made the quip, in a back and forth series of them, that “everyone always asks if he Can zone, but nobody ever asks if he Should zone.” Tonight the answer was yes, he should, and my ability to communicate the events of tonight’s game to you only survives because this is not an audio format, if it was you would be unable to hear me around all of the crow. Dominic Canzone hit his first home run as a Mariner, a no-doubter, a towering moonshot, 109.4 mph off the bat and soaring 402 feet.
On top of being a game-tying moment, and a cathartic moment for Canzone who is still finding his footing with his new team, it was also a next level bat drop. The whole game was almost worth it just for that bat drop. After the game, Canzone had this to say about the crowd reception, “It’s definitely special. Obviously wish we could have come out with a win today, but it’s definitely something I’ll never forget. And these fans are so passionate. I just appreciate it so much.” And when asked about how he’s fitting in with the club, “I think just exciting more than anything. It’s a club where you know they want you, and you’ve been given an opportunity. So I’m just so happy to be here, more than anything.” Even though the bat has mostly been cold for Canzone since joining the team, this was his second moment of late inning clutch, the first being getting on base to set up the Cade Marlowe grand slam last week. If he can continue to come up big in these moments, I think Seattle fans might be happy for him to be here, too.
The rally ended there after a Haggerty ground out, and the game went into extras. It was almost another chance at a dramatic series win, some might say that we almost had a high-leverage hot Sauce appearance. The reality was the Mariners sending out Trent Thornton, and with the automatic runner on base and one out, Cedric Mullins made sure he didn’t just rob France of a home run, but hit one of his own. Cedric Mullins wasn’t in the Orioles starting lineup, and Scott Servais made the post-game remark “I wish they would have left Cedric Mullins on the bench today.” Me too, Scott.
Today the Seattle Mariners almost made you love them, they almost made you cry (or perhaps did?). They almost made you happy… But everybody knows, almost doesn’t count. Unless they learn the lesson to turn today’s almost into tomorrow’s absolutely. Today almost had the energy of a playoff series, with two of the top American League teams going toe to toe across three games, and two of them ending in dramatic fashion in extra innings. Today was the final game in a mid-August series, whatever it almost felt like, and both teams have a lot of momentum to carry into their next series, and the Mariners almost won.