Being a Mariners fan has often brought with it a great many lows and a few precious, dizzying highs, made all the more thrilling by their infrequency. Things have changed over the past couple of years as the good moments have become slightly more frequent, with the Mariners challenging for a playoff spot one year, earning one the next, and at times enjoying the heady rush of first place in the AL West this season: rarified air that would be impossible to explain to a Mariners fan in, say, 2010. Or 2019. Yet somehow the highs coming closer together don’t make the lows feel any less low. It’s hard to miss something you’ve never had; having had a taste of success makes it all the more obvious when our bellies are empty with loss.
It puts me in mind of the most heartbreaking quote I know, which comes oddly enough from a kids’ book: Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, where (spoiler alert) the protagonist is mourning the loss of the best and brightest thing in his world, a friend that blazed across his quiet sky with the brightness and intensity of a shooting star:
“She had tricked him. She had made him leave his old self behind and come into her world, and then before he was really at home in it but too late to go back, she had left him stranded there – like an astronaut wandering about on the moon. Alone.”
Raise your hand if you have been personally tricked by this Mariners team. All season long they’ve been finding new ways to break our hearts and tonight they found maybe one of the most painful yet: on a night that should have belonged to their young superstar, who literally made history tonight, they instead sagged and bent and ultimately broke to the Angels, losing in extras 8-5, and squandering an awful lot of good performances in the process.
Logan Gilbert was again extraordinary as he endeavored to play the role of Stopper, trying to give his team everything he could and receiving a big fat “no decision” for his trouble. He pitched seven innings and gave up three runs, all on two swings of the bat by Logan O’Hoppe, who touched Gilbert up for two home runs: one on a good pitch, an elevated fastball, and one on a very bad pitch, a splitter that wound up middle-middle. To add insult to injury, the first homer was a two-run shot, as Mike Moustakus had managed to get on base by poking a slider the opposite way, rolling it past a shifted Eugenio Suárez like a billiard shot on Satan’s pool table. Annoying!
Postgame, Gilbert said he wasn’t happy with either pitch, even if the first was well out of the strike zone, saying he needs to do a better job of pitching to the report. That’s awfully nice (and very typical) of Gilbert to fall on his sword rather than illustrating all the things he did do well—the five strikeouts he got; the slider he was again able to use as a “safety blanket” pitch, throwing it for called strikes and whiffs any time he was in danger of falling behind in the count; the continued improvement of the splitter, which he had enough confidence in to throw three times in a row to Mike Moustakas in one at-bat, ultimately coaxing a harmless pop-up on the pitch; and maybe the most impressive of all, his ability to rally back after needing 40 pitches to clear the first two innings to pitch a solid seven, theoretically saving the bullpen—if the offense had been able to do their jobs. The court finds Logan not guilty.
Instead, the offense continued what’s been a frustrating run of play by them, putting up weak at-bats, failing to put pressure on the opposing starter, and making mistakes on the basepaths. Things started off great before a souped-up crowd of 37,807, with the Mariners electrifying the crowd with three early runs. The first came when J.P. Crawford led off with a single; he’d advance to third on a Julio single. Teoscar Hernández then just missed a home run, with Jordyn Adams making an excellent leaping grab, to plate the Mariners’ first run. Then, it was time for some Big Dumpin’, spendin’ cheese and making a little history in the process:
Cal Raleigh now holds the franchise record for most home runs by a Mariners catcher in a single season pic.twitter.com/TgfJGBSY7j— ROOT SPORTS™ | NW (@ROOTSPORTS_NW) September 12, 2023
Unfortunately, has been so often their wont this season, the offense went sleepier than that Celestial Seasonings bear after that. Detmers, to his credit, realized the Mariners hitters were absolutely lighting up his slider and shifted over to going very changeup-heavy, and the Mariners hitters were helpless against it, making weak contact and striking out four times on that pitch alone, accounting for over half of Detmers’s seven strikeouts. After looking like he might be headed for an early exit, Detmers was able to hang in through seven innings of work, keeping the soft underbelly of the Angels bullpen away from the Mariners hitters.
However, the Mariners hitters didn’t help themselves out, either. They squandered opportunities, with Julio and Dylan Moore each making rally-killing baserunning mistakes. They squandered the few baserunners they were able to get between innings two and seven, letting both a Julio leadoff double and a Kelenic single go to waste. And they squandered their first opportunity against the Angels bullpen, even after pinch-hitter Dominic Canzone was gifted another opportunity to swing the bat after Logan O’Hoppe badly missed an easy popup and Julio was gifted first base after beating out a sloppy throw by Eduardo Escobar.
But the ultimate squanderation came in the ninth inning, the rare double-squanderation. (A moment here to appreciate the also-squandered performance of Matt Brash, who looked dominant in a 1-2-3 inning.) First, Andrés Muñoz pitched his way into and out of an intense amount of trouble. allowing a bad-luck groundball leadoff single to Moustakas and then a double to O’Hoppe, who seems to have gleefully taken up the mantle Trout left behind as Official Mariner Killer. A sharp lineout off the bat of Eduardo Escobar didn’t score the run because even the Angels know not to run on Jarred Kelenic’s arm, but Muñoz then hit Randal Grichuk with a pitch to load the bases with just one out. But Muñoz did not melt down: he got Brett “Maverick” Phillips, who I truly hate rooting against, for a swinging strikeout, and then got Jordyn Adams to ground out, leading to the most pumped-up Muñoz I think I’ve ever seen:
But the truly most horrific squanderation of the night came in the bottom of the ninth, when the Mariners loaded the bases against Aaron Loup with no outs and proceeded to do...nothing with it. Jarred Kelenic struck out on three pitches, because we live in a cruel and unfeeling universe and magic isn’t real. Dylan Moore than had an inexcusably bad at-bat, putting the ball on the ground and almost ending the inning on a double play. That brought up another lefty in Dominic Canzone, who you love as a contact-maker but also hate as a contact-maker, as so often the contact he makes is weak. This was the latter, as he rolled out harmlessly to first to end the inning and strand all three runners.
That meant poor, exhausted Justin Topa was roused from his slumber to pitch the top of the tenth. After getting two quick outs on easy popups, Topa had a flareup again of the dingeritis that haunted him on the road trip, surrendering a long, loud homer to Brandon Drury, who at that point had been held hitless with two strikeouts. That put the Angels up 5-3 and put the Mariners in the position of having to score three runs for a win, two to tie.
They did get the tie, and managed to make some more history in the process. With this home run, Julio Rodríguez vaulted himself into the 30/30 club: and appropriately enough, he is the 44th member of that club. Okay, maybe magic is a little bit real.
Julio is just the fourth member of the 30-30 club to join at age 22 or younger; he joins Alex Rodriguez (1998), Mike Trout (2012), and Ronald Acuña Jr. (2019). Also, shoutout to Zach! We do like that name around here.
The upside of our set being in centerfield I just met Zack the 16-year-old that caught the HR ball, he did give it back to the Mariners so Julio will have #30!— Angie Mentink (@AngieMentink) September 12, 2023
But the Mariners wouldn’t be able to add on against Jose Marte, as Brian O’Keefe grounded into a double play after Teoscar Hernández had worked a walk. That sent Trent Thornton out for the top of the 11th, and although he was able to strike out the first hitter he faced, he then allowed two singles, scoring the go-ahead run. Gabe Speier came on to try to get a ground ball double play. Things started out well, with Speier admirably making a play on a safety squeeze attempt, getting a crucial out at home, but then quickly devolved, as the normally sure-handed Eugenio Suárez let a ball roll right past him, scoring another run; a single by 2023 Angels first-rounder Nolan Schanuel would put the Angels lead at 8-5, and there it would stay, as the Mariners couldn’t get anything going in the bottom of the inning against Jimmy Herget.
The Angels, having had their season ostensibly ended by the Mariners, are now out for revenge, and a surprising number of red-clad fans in T-Mobile Park, there to cheer on their Zombie Angels, celebrated accordingly. It’s new, this having something that is precious enough to be spoiled by others.
Also new is having a young superstar who does things that only those in baseball’s most elite inner circles—the Trouts, the Acuña Juniors, the literal player he modeled himself after in A-Rod—have accomplished. Tonight, Julio didn’t want to talk to the media postgame. That’s understandable. This is new for him too; not just the express train to stardom he’s been riding but also the failing that comes with being a big-leaguer, both personal and team-wide, trying to square a historic night for himself with a crushing loss. We’re all just astronauts on our own little moons, trying to find a way home.