For most of the past 20 years, the ultimate outcomes of Seattle Mariners games have felt preordained, or at least expected. Was it a surprise when the mid-2000s teams lost without scoring runs? Was it a surprise when Chone Figgins didn’t come through in the clutch, or when the 2019 Mariners couldn’t find a third starting pitcher to string together a handful of competent innings? No.
Even the most absurd moments — your Eric Byrnes biking out of the clubhouse, your Ken Griffey Jr. naps — felt reasonable, or at least par for the course.
What, then, to make of the Mariners winning their eighth straight game tonight against the Chicago White Sox by a 6–3 score? Eight-game winning streaks don’t exactly grow on trees: In the last 20 seasons, the Mariners have won at least eight in a row just seven other times. Each win in a streak like this should be a celebration, a triumph, a glorious example of things breaking right and a team that’s taken things into another gear.
But this isn’t just the second eight-game winning streak of the season, it’s the second one of the month. The month! They’ve done this twice in a month! This is, quite literally, familiar territory!
Not only that, the M’s were coming off a spectacular romp last night, one where there was a never-ending parade of baserunners. These hapless White Sox fired their top two baseball ops execs earlier today, two gentlemen who had been with the organizations since 1992 and 2002. (For context: Ken Williams joined the White Sox in 1992, the same year that Jeff Smulyan announced a sale of the Mariners to Hiroshi Yamauchi and Nintendo of America.)
So you can’t blame the White Sox for appearing lifeless tonight. Perhaps that’s why today felt like another preordained outcome, a fait accompli. Even when the Sox strung together a walk and a couple hits to get on the scoreboard in the first, I don’t think a single soul in Seattle was worried — and, indeed, Bryan Woo settled down.
The rookie threw just four innings, presumably as part of the plan to limit his innings, but managed to miss bats. He stayed away from his slider tonight, instead relying on his cutter: Fifteen of his 65 pitchers were cutters (23%), up from 9.5% on the season. Those cutters generated eight swings and five whiffs, part of Woo’s three strikeouts on the night.
Though the bullpen cobbled together five solid innings post-Woo, the star of the show tonight was someone in a very different place in his career: Josh Rojas.
Let’s be clear here. I’ve been down on Josh Rojas from the start. His acquisition felt a day late and a dollar short, a half-assed replacement at second base who only counted as an improvement because Kolten Wong decided to use a wiffleball bat this year. And, even worse, he started out his M’s career on an 0-for-13 slump.
But Rojas has been on a (small) tear of late, slashing .353/.389/.588 in his last 10 games, with the latest highlight coming at the expense of controversial White Sox starter Mike Clevinger.
Giddy up annnnd gone— ROOT SPORTS™ | NW (@ROOTSPORTS_NW) August 23, 2023
Josh Rojas with a 2-run home run in the 4th! pic.twitter.com/CDW9hEaDRw
It wasn’t just Rojas bringing the offense, of course. Four second-inning singles put the M’s on top for good, and a hit-by-pitch plus a few walks turned into a couple runs in the sixth, thanks to the latest edition of “Hits That Should Have Been Errors.”
The other highlight that defines this game for the South Siders — really, that defines this season — is the sheer ridiculousness of Luis Robert Jr.’s foul ball in the fifth. This wasn’t just any foul ball, of course, and watching this saga impresses upon me the difficulty of running in-game sound and fireworks.
It may be difficult, but it’s still hilarious from this side of the grandstands:
And so, even with a splash of drama in the ninth that resulted in Andres Muñoz coming in to seal the deal, the Mariners came away with a 6–3 win.
Where does all this leave us? At press time, though the Blue Jays and Astros came away with wins, it’s worth noting that the Anaheim Angels fell 4–3 to the Reds (they’re now a full 10 games behind the M’s) and Sewald Saves made another appearance, shutting down the Rangers 6–3 and putting your Seattle Mariners within spitting distance of the division lead.
Today is August 22. On May 22 — heck, even June 22, and maybe even July 22 — I would not have believed this team had it in them. I don’t really know how the back half of this lineup is producing, or how Jerry Dipoto keeps pulling relievers out of his socks.
Well, I believe it now. And I love that, true to Mariners history, outcomes feel almost preordained once again, but this time in the best way.