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Mariners seize share of division lead, fans seize

For the first time in 20 years, the Mariners have a division lead in August

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

I wanted to write this recap about confidence.

I was going to talk about how different things seem when you have it versus when you don’t. How some people seem to just be born with confidence and others need time for it to develop. How we can disqualify ourselves from opportunities simply because we think we aren’t cut out for them. Because we think those opportunities are for other people.

The thing about confidence is that it doesn’t actually change anything — it just changes how you perceive things. You were just as capable of something when you weren’t confident, but unless you had the confidence to do it, you never would.

It was going to fit so perfectly. I’m normally wary of hackneyed narratives, and I have no real reason to believe that the Mariners’ recent run of excellent has been fueled by confidence any more than it has been by Klear hydrogen fuel (spoiler alert for Glass Onion). That said, the Mariners came out tonight with an attitude that calmly stated “we got this,” an attitude which seemed possible (and justified) only due to their recent run of success. It was an attitude that was further galvanized by losses earlier tonight by both the Astros and Rangers, giving the Mariners the opportunity to seize a share of the division lead.

It started with Bryce Miller in the first inning, who greeted the first three Royals hitters with a combined 10 strikes to just one ball. His early dominance was punctuated by this fastball upstairs to a hapless Michael Massey, who I recently learned is a Major League Baseball player.

The early moxie was matched, and perhaps even exceeded, by the Mariner hitters in the bottom half of the frame. J.P. Crawford took the very first pitch and deposited it further away from home plate than he’s ever deposited a baseball.

The Mariners’ plan against the shaky Brady Singer was clear from the beginning: swing early and often. Julio Rodríguez took the second pitch he saw the other way for an infield single before he was knocked in two batters later by Cal Raleigh to make it 2-0.

Things started to get a little less idyllic thereafter. The Royals, seemingly wise to Miller’s plan to be aggressive, got aggressive themselves. Miller stopped missing bats, and a few hard-hit balls saw the Royals score three runs of their own and take the lead.

Even still, it didn’t feel like it mattered. The team was confident. More bizarrely, the fans were confident. These were the Seattle Mariners, after all. Owners of the best record in baseball over the past thirty-something games. They were facing the putrid Kansas City Royals. A one-run lead wasn’t cause for concern. Certainly not like it used to be.

Indeed, despite a couple of stranded baserunners in the third inning, the Mariners once again found themselves with an opportunity in the fourth. Dominic Canzone (who has been excellent as a Mariner) singled to open the inning. After a couple of strikeouts, J.P. Crawford walked and Julio slashed an infield single off of first baseman Matt Beaty’s glove to load the bases.

This felt like an opportunity that twenty years of Mariners teams might have flubbed. Hell, this was an opportunity that last month’s Mariners might have flubbed. It wasn’t an opportunity that Eugenio Suárez flubbed. Not now.

Suárez lined the ball into left to score two, putting the Mariners back into the lead — as it would turn out, for good. The Mariners added a couple of insurance runs in the fifth via an Austin Cox wild pitch and a Josh Rojas single to make it 6-3. 6-3 against the Kansas City Royals. A share of the division lead was as good as the Mariners’, no?

Well, about that confidence.

Here, unfortunately, is where the hackneyed narrative falls apart. For as much confidence as I had, or wanted to have, in the Mariners, Bryce Miller was only able to give the Mariners four innings. The Mariners bullpen was fresh off of an off day, but despite the team’s recent run, they’ve had their struggles.

Isaiah Campbell was able to give the Mariners a clean inning, as was Gabe Speier.

Matt Brash was not. Brash, who has had spectacular peripheral stats throughout the year, has continually felt terrible to watch. While “effectively wild” is an apt descriptor, it’s been a lot easier to focus on the “wild” than the “effective”. Tonight, he was actually neither. Brash peppered the zone to the tune of 19 strikes versus just nine balls, but he simply couldn’t miss the Royals’ bats. A poorly placed fastball inside to Kyle Isbel was sent over the wall to make it 6-5. A Bobby Witt Jr. triple finally ended Brash’s day before Taylor Saucedo mercifully ended the threat with the lead intact.

Justin Topa turned in a clean eighth inning, and Suárez yet again clutched up for an RBI double to give the Mariners an insurance run going into the ninth. It was an insurance run that, while not actually necessary, might have saved Mariner fans a trip to the emergency room for chest pain.

Whatever was in Brash’s cereal this morning, Andrés Muñoz must have had some of it. Muñoz seemed plagued by the same curse: he seemingly couldn’t miss a bat. A single, a walk, and an intentional walk were interspersed by two groundouts, loading the bases for Royals backup catcher Freddy Fermín. The actual experience of getting to Fermín was miserable: it took maybe 15 minutes, during which the tension built up to an agonizing fever pitch. Finally, though, Muñoz delivered.

As confident as the Mariners might have felt coming into tonight, they were ultimately humbled by their bullpen. The Royals, who are allegedly one of the two worst teams in all of baseball, simply would not go quietly into the night. That early confidence evaporated, and the Mariners were forced to rely on the raw skills that have gotten them this far.

While confidence can carry you far, it’s ultimately an illusion. It doesn’t change what’s actually there. The Mariners didn’t win tonight because they were a confident baseball team, just as the Royals didn’t lose for whatever lack of confidence they might have had. No, the Mariners won because they’re good at baseball. The Mariners are tied for the division lead because they’re good at baseball.

The division isn’t for other teams. As of right now, it’s the Mariners’ for the taking. With just over a month to go, it seems like the only thing that might be able to stop them is themselves.