The last two matchups between the Seattle Mariners and the Actually In Anaheim Angels embodied much more importance than just a second half division rival matchup. Multiple storylines have been converging in a head on collision, a cacophony of nervous energy, buzzing and blaring and bumping and blasting. So much so that when I wrote a piece about a pivotal game winning moment from game one, it was at least somewhat necessary to first discuss the importance of the Mariner’s rivalry with the Angels, the state of the division currently as a whole, and the importance of series such as this, played both last year and this year. All before digging into the heroics, the rookie catalyst who performed said heroics, and the immediate effect it was already having on Mariners fandom.
Last night's game continued to stitch together the collection of plot threads interweaving, and looming large. Narratives laced so tightly together that in Nick Vitalis' brilliant summary of the game he utilized not one, but three thematic styles; four if you count his using multiple styles as its own. But as the conversations of the divisional and wild card races, the Mariners/Angels rivalry, and the Ohtani of it all float throughout our head, surprisingly one focus that we normally would be fixated on this time of year has been pushed momentarily to the side. I speak of course about watching early dividends, or debts, moves at the trade deadline may have already begun to incur.
The Seattle Mariners made exactly one big deadline move. They pivoted an organizational strength in their pitching for a trio of position players with potential upside, and for two of three, potential impact at the major league level sooner rather than later. The return is still too early to judge, although it’s worth noting one of the players in Dominic Canzone did contribute to that game winning moment in game one. Rather, here we will concern ourselves with what the Mariners gave up. To the Diamondbacks went Seattle’s ever reliable closer Paul Sewald.
I won’t mince any words here. No matter the ability of the Mariners organization to churn out pitching prospects reaching close to their potential, and do the same with reclamation projects from other teams, it in no way lessens the loss of Sewald. On and off the field, he was everything good, great even. He was the poster child for Seattle’s pitching development, not just to the fans and the media, but the ambassador to all the other players that have followed in his footsteps. Him and his wife gave back to the community in unprecedented levels, and the care they have and continue to show in doing so is as inspiring as it is heartwarming. You don’t replace Paul Sewald. (If you happen to see this Paul, you are loved and missed and we wish you nothing but the best.) But... you do need to try and fill the hole he left in the bullpen, in particular his use in the highest leverage situations.
High leverage situations like facing a home team and division rival that was able to get to your ace starter and mount two separate comebacks to tie it at five, and then seven runs, respectively. Luis Castillo gave up runs in the first, third, and fifth innings (odd, for him) but managed to hang in there enough to do his team the favor of working a clean sixth inning, sparing as much of the bullpen as possible. Alas, three innings of work would be needed, and going into the seventh the game was tied at seven.
In comes Justin Topa for the Mariners. Topa played contact manager, inducing a pair of ground outs and a fly out, and needing only seven pitches to do it. Desperation, thy name is Angels. One inning down, two to go, and the Mariners offense still needed to prove they were not done. They weren’t. The top of the eighth rolled around and an Eugenio Suárez single brought Julio Rodríguez home to get a one run lead.
Next up to pitch for Seattle was lefty Tayler Saucedo. He started his outing with a strikeout of Eduardo Escobar, needing only four pitches, and getting the punch out with a slider that quite frankly caught too much of the plate. But all is well that ends well. Of course, the next thing he did was hit Hunter Renfroe with a sinker, giving him a free pass and allowing the go ahead run for the Angels to come to the plate in Chad Wallach. But like I just told you... all is well that ends well, and it is pretty unlikely he intentionally hit Renfroe to set up the grounder double play, but that’s what happened so we’re just going to pretend that’s how they drew it up. Cal Raleigh donated a souvenir to the Anaheim crowd in outfield and lifted the Mariners to a 9-7 lead going into the bottom of the inning, the last chance for the Angels to strike back.
Matt Brash has been a unique case metrically this year, and while I won’t get too into it, the important thing to know is that he has been unlucky enough that he will raise your blood pressure to watch, but his stuff is so elite you also find a competing feeling of... if not confidence, cautious optimism. For me, the delineator is whether or not he is inheriting runners. More on that later. He came in for the save opportunity in the ninth, and out of the gate Brash was struggling with his command, and he paid for it, giving up a single to Randal Grichuk followed by a walk by Luis Rengifo to start the inning. Two runners on, no outs, and the worst possible scenario. Shohei Ohtani came up to bat. THE Shohei Ohtani who at this very moment if you search, has not one but multiple articles circulating not just on whether he is having the best season of his career, but the best season in all of baseball history.
The Angels were in exactly the situation the Mariners found themselves in the night before, down a few runs with the potential game-winning, go ahead run at the plate. For the Mariners, they had to rely on a rookie. It worked out. The Angels, had arguably the most talented player to ever play the game. Nobody in the baseball world envied Matt Brash at that moment, I am sure, but Seattle fans were sure resting their hopes on him. His first pitch was an 88.4 mph slider a little below the zone.
Swiiiiiiiiing, and a miss, strike one. Pitch number two was another slider, 89.6 mph, this one creeping up into the zone, but being tucked down and in enough that Ohtani only fouled it off.
Matt Brash has a nasty slider, but it is not his only weapon, and the well located benders at the bottom of the zone was perfect setup for his high heat. Against Ohtani, still a gamble. The gamble paid off, and Brash sent Shohei Ohtani back to the dugout with his third strikeout of the game.
Matt Brash then got Angels deadline acquisition C.J. Cron to strike out swinging on four pitches, and swinging through a perfectly dotted down and away slider at 92.7 (!!!) mph, before getting Mike Moustakas to fly out on the first pitch and earn his second save of the season and of his career, and a much needed Mariners victory over the Angels. Remember when I said I feel more confident in Brash when he is coming on without inherited runners? Yes, sometimes he works himself into trouble, but with breathing room on the basepaths he also usually works out of it. The Mariners now have two notches in the W column of the four game set and at worst will split the series. If they play anything like they have the last two days, the smart bet is they will at least win the series, which would make for their fifth series win in a row.
The starting pitching has and will continue to impress, the offense has been gaining momentum with no signs of slowing down. A key element still remains that the bullpen, the remaining members of Los Bomberos, have big shoes to fill with the loss of Seattle’s closer, and the team needs them all to be the best versions of themselves in order to make a serious run for the playoffs. Last night, they were. If Cade Marlowe’s game winning grand slam on Thursday was the revival of hope, last night’s win just may be the revival of hype.