If this game had occurred at the beginning of the year, I’d have welcomed it: the Mariners going toe-to-toe with a great team like the Dodgers, putting up a tough fight in front of a crowd basically full of Dodgers fans? Even if the outcome was a loss, that’s Good Baseball.
But I find that my tolerance for Good Baseball wanes during the season, when all I want is Winning Baseball, whatever the cost. With the Rangers and Astros losing tonight, the Mariners had a golden opportunity to make up ground in the AL West. Instead, George Kirby stumbled, the offense failed to find the big hit, and the Dodgers fans in attendance grew progressively louder until the noise level went from “neutral site spring training game” to “home game at Dodger Stadium for the World Series.”
Bobby Miller is known for his big swing-and-miss fastball, but it was his offspeed pitches that sunk the Mariners tonight: leaning heavily on his curveball and changeup, Miller bamboozled the Mariners hitters for 5.2 innings, striking out seven and allowing just one run over his first five frames, a solo homer off the bat of Eugenio Suárez, who finally figured out how to deal with Miller’s curveball.
Bust out the binoculars! pic.twitter.com/qtdGrSGBQF— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) September 16, 2023
Unfortunately, immediately after that good vibes go-ahead homer, the Dodgers answered back from the unlikeliest source, as their nine-hitter, Miguel Rojas, leaned on a fastball well up and out of the zone and snuck it over the short part of the left field wall. Final numbers: .340 xBA, 370 feet, a home run in just 10 of 30 parks. That would put the Dodgers up 2-1, with the Mariners unable to answer back in the next inning, as Canzone grounded out on a changeup, Rojas struck out looking at the changeup, and then to mix it up a little J.P. Crawfrd grounded out on a casual 100 mph fastball.
This was unfortunate timing, because at this point the Dodgers lineup—which Kirby had been able to keep mostly in check aside from the homer—finally awoke from its slumber in the sixth inning to tack on another two runs. Will Smith swung at a ball which hit him but was awarded first base anyway because of the many, many unreviewable things in baseball that’s one of them, and then Max Muncy, he of the 38th percentile sprint speed, poked a triple? in this the year of our moose 2023? by cueing the ball deep into T-Mobile Park’s evil right field corner that Teo had trouble tracking down. That scored Smith, and then Muncy trotted home on a J.D. Martinez single to make it 4-1. Postgame, Scott Servais expressed frustration with the HBP that wasn’t, asserting that Smith did in fact swing the bat, and pointing to that as a momentum-swinging play in the game.
However, the Mariners offense also awakened in the sixth. Julio, the rainmaker, led off with a single on that same pesky changeup, and then Cal exercised some solid plate discipline to work a walk. A wild pitch by Miller moved both runners into scoring position, and then Teoscar Hernández chose a great time to extend his league-leading on-base streak to 29 games.
Manny Acta held Cal at third on the hit, but Eugenio Suárez put the ball in play, at least, grounding into a double play to score Cal and bring the Mariners to within a run (although at the cost of two outs, which would be important later). Jarred Kelenic then followed with a well-stroked single off a 98 mph fastball, leading to Dave Roberts to fetch Caleb Ferguson from the ‘pen. Ferguson was throwing 96, which must have looked like 80-poo to Ty France, who promptly singled (and was even able to take second on the second wild pitch of the inning). Unfortunately, pinch-hitter Dylan Moore punched out looking at a cutter down to strand the runners and keep the Mariners trailing by a run.
Scott Servais opted to go to the bullpen after that lengthy half-inning, bringing out Justin Topa, who’s been struggling some lately, suffering an attack of dingeritis and generally looking like a slightly tarnished version of himself. Not so tonight: Topa mowed through his three hitters, starting out by fielding a bunt off the bat of James Outman, getting Rojas to ground out, and then utterly undressing MVP candidate Mookie Betts on three pitches.
Gabe Speier’s inning didn’t go as well, as he hit Freddy Freeman to lead off the eighth; Freeman would then take second on a steal and third on a poor throw from Cal Raleigh. After disposing of Will Smith and Max Muncy swinging, Servais went to the righty Matt Brash to face J.D. Martinez, who couldn’t put out the fire, allowing a single on a slider to Martinez to extend the Dodgers lead to 5-3.
Matt Brash gives up an RBI single to J.D. Martinez that scores Freddie Freeman and puts the Mariners further behind, 5-3, here in the 8th inning.— Daniel Kramer (@DKramer_) September 16, 2023
A breaking ball off the plate, but right in an area where Martinez regularly does damage. pic.twitter.com/epuqZcApZG
The Dodgers, like the years, keep coming and they just keep coming and they just keep coming and they
The Mariners threatened again in the eighth, as Ryan Brasier got two quick outs but then allowed an infield hit to Jarred Kelenic and grazed Ty France with a pitch. Mike Ford then pinch-hit for Dylan Moore, and continued the stretch of rough road he’s been on lately by striking out looking. I like Mike Ford very much as a person, but right now I’m not sure what he’s bringing to the club that Cade Marlowe does not.
To put a bow on this week-old Filet-o-Fish sandwich, James Outman homered off Trent Thornton in the top of the ninth. Insult, injury, things of that nature. One good thing did happen during that inning, though, and that’s that Trent Thornton, despite allowing a single to Rojas, executed a good pickoff move, which caused Ty France to slide-tackle Rojas with the ball for the out.
The Mariners had traffic in all but two innings of this game but, as has so often been the story this season, failed to come up with the big hit when they needed it, leaving 10 runners stranded over the course of tonight’s game. They collected 11 hits and two walks, but weren’t able to sequence those together to create runs, and struck out 11 times—never a recipe for a solid night offensively. “We got them on base,” Servais acknowledged postgame. “We struggled to knock guys in.”
Tonight for the Dodgers, J.D. Martinez alone had two two-out RBI hits. Rojas’s home run also came with two outs, meaning two-thirds of the Dodgers’ runs tonight came in the clutch. On the other side, four different Mariners left runners in scoring position with two out, and two of them (Teoscar and Cal) did it twice.
Unfortunately, what comes down to the difference in tonight’s game might also be the difference in the postseason aspirations for both of these teams: one that already has a strong sense of identity, and the thousands of adoring fans to go with it, and one that’s still searching for that identity, and the big hits that go along with it.