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Imperfectly perfect Mariners defeat A’s, 5-4, to set franchise record

The art of baseball and kintsugi

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Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Over this hot stretch the Mariners have been on, an argument has surfaced in the fanbase—because Mariners fans don’t know how to be just a little bit miserable at all times—where those who claim to have never doubted the team assert superiority over those who had misgivings over the team’s construction, beginning in the off-season and stretching into the first part of a season that carried such promise and yet fell so flat, an undeniably talented roster that nonetheless wasn’t delivering the on-field results. No matter what side of the debate you fall on, it’s obvious this team has had bumps and bruises on the path that’s led them nonetheless to some rarefied air: a franchise-record 21 wins in a single month, and a share of first place in the AL West. As Scott Servais said, virally: “we may screw some shit up, but we don’t give up.”

After dropping a game to the lowly A’s last night where the offense failed to show up, the Mariners were in danger of dropping an entire series to the A’s today, and losing more ground in the AL West race. Once again Bryce Miller struggled early today, needing 44 pitches to clear just two innings, bogged down by a 34-pitch second inning. He fought through traffic in three of his first four innings as the Athletics hitters managed to get wood to a tremendous number of his pitches, fouling pitches off and hanging out in long counts that eventually toppled into their favor, like an eight-pitch at-bat to lead off the second to Jordan Díaz that ended in a single, only for him to score when Lawrence Butler ambushed a fastball in the middle of the plate for a two-run home run. A six-pitch at-bat to Esteury Ruíz ended in a single in the same inning, and Ruíz scored when Noda, who seems to see Miller well, again cracked a double to put the A’s up 3-0 before many fans were settled in their seats.

To his credit, Miller hung tough, coming back with a 1-2-3 inning in the third and working around a leadoff base hit in the fourth (that probably is caught if Julio is in center) and a solid base hit putting two on with none out, coaxing a double play ball from Aledmys Díaz on a sweeping slider before getting an inning-ending lineout to a well-positioned Josh Rojas. Miller got a little help in the fifth with a seven-pitch inning, including two hitters going down first-pitch swinging on soft flyouts—and some more help from Dylan Moore, this time covering some serious distance to make a diving grab. But what really stands out in that inning is Miller’s sequence to leadoff against power threat Ryan Noda, who’d made solid contact against Miller’s fastball in his previous two at-bats: this time, Miller started him off with sliders and his first changeup of the day before expanding the zone up top for a swinging strikeout, his fifth of the day.

After looking like he might not be able to clear four-plus in today’s game with an exhausted bullpen, Miller rectified his early mistakes and was able to make it a full six innings, getting close to 100 pitches and allowing just those three runs on seven hits, striking out five and walking none. Miller’s success largely came through adjusting his pitch mix, getting the heater-hunting A’s off his fastball by throwing his slider more—especially his sweeping slider— early in the count, using it 10 times as a first pitch and getting strikes or outs on seven of those 10 pitches, including the double-play ball. “It’s trending in a good direction,” said the always-reflective Miller about his sliders, noting his hard slider was better than his last outing but his sweeping slider wasn’t quite as well-located as it had been against the Angels. Miller remains an imperfect pitcher, a work in progress, and yet he maintains an ironclad belief that he can get the job done and continue to learn on the fly, as he did today.

Meanwhile, the offense—as has so often been the case this season—started out flat once again without their sparkplug Julio, stranding runners and struggling to string together meaningful at-bats against Athletics starter Zach Neal and his “age of an average first grader” ERA. Things took a turn in the Mariners’ favor in the third when Eugenio Suárez managed a two-out walk—his second time on base already after singling in the first—and Cal doubled deep into the right field corner to push Eugenio to third. However, with two outs, the Mariners needed something out of Teoscar Hernández to ensure they wouldn’t again walk away empty-handed—and they got it, in a big way.

Teo now has a nine-game hitting streak during which he’s batting .395 and is batting .365 in August, his highest batting average for any month in his career. However, that wouldn’t be the last Heroscar moment of the day. Justin Topa, who has been nails this season, gave up back-to-back doubles in the seventh, allowing the A’s to go ahead 4-3; the damage could have been worse but Teo nailed Estuary Ruíz, who had stolen third, trying to score on a fairly deep sac fly. Go Go Teo Arm!

While we’re talking Teo records, that his 12th assist of the season, which leads all American League outfielders.

Then the screw-up-but-don’t-give-up Mariners answered the A’s go-ahead run back in the bottom of the seventh and did them one better, beating up Kirby Snead for two runs. Dom Doubles Canzone led off with, you guessed it, a double, and Mike Ford singled to put runners at the corners for DMo, who...walked. Well they can’t all be spectacular. Nor was Josh Rojas’s ghastly three-pitch-all-looking strikeout, but that’s okay because J.P. Crawford took the first pitch he saw, a sinker in his lefty loop zone, for a two-run, go-ahead single. (Note that J.P. Crawford, who is perfect, is excepted from the “screwing up” narrative.)

The Mariners weren’t able to add on against new pitcher Dany Jiménez, so on came Matt Brash in the eighth to protect a one-run lead. Brash utterly flummoxed Zach Gelof, who looked like his bat had been replaced with a surfboard, and then worked around a walk-wild pitch-advance to third on groundout combo to strike out pinch-hitter Tony Kemp. The duality of Matt Brash!

Spencer Patton dismissed the Mariners handily in his inning of work, meaning it was time for the eighth-inning redux, this time with Andrés Muñoz. Merciful Muñoz made quick work of the A’s, getting a groundout, strikeout, and flyout to lock away the historic 21st win of the month and preserve their tie atop the AL West.

The 2023 Mariners have been as imperfectly perfect as a self-confidence influencer’s Instagram post. They’ve been frustrating to watch at times, and brilliant at others, and yet through it all have never stopped doubting their ability as a team to get to this place, hanging together in the clubhouse and maintaining the good vibes. It’s fitting, then, that their historic win came on “Death Cabby for Cutie” day, a crossover event celebrating utilityman José Caballero (on his birthday!) and the band Death Cab for Cutie, inspired by our own Brenbee Everfolly’s epic piece knotting the two together and capturing the band’s attention. One of Death Cab’s albums is titled Kintsugi, named for the Japanese art of mending broken pottery with gold to emphasize that imperfection is part of an object’s story, a source of beauty rather than brokenness. It’s not quite as snappy as Servais’s quote, but it sums up these 2023 Mariners pretty well, nonetheless.