This one was a tease. A taste yet again of the team that’s taken on the Houston Astros and clinched the season series against that once-indomitable monstrosity. A showcase of a young pitcher in Bryce Miller who has been a godsend for these Seattle Mariners, peppering the strike zone with a full repertoire that he has not always been able to access and eking out success against the second-best offense in MLB by wRC+. A bullpen that bent, bowed, and was stretched like the guests of Procrustes but held serve for 3.2 innings, mitigated the damage for another, until finally crumbling under bloop singles that landed on their camel’s humps like straws made of lead. And an offense that has been every bit as solid as last year’s, bringing plenty of quality yet somehow failing to sequence their excellence as they have the past two campaigns.
It’s all made for a story quite familiar. Miller’s outing went 5.1 innings, and despite an unforgiving opposing nine, Miller held L.A. scoreless. The top of L.A.’s order was once again stymied nearly all night, with Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Will Smith, Max Muncy, and J.D. Martinez stuffed in their lockers for a 3-19 night, all singles, and just a pair of walks to eight strikeouts. I’ve had some frustrations with Miller but the righty was more efficient than his 54 strikes on 86 pitches even might suggest, with a multitude of quality misses that L.A.’s quality veterans refused to give on. And when the threat was greatest - in this case Jason Heyward and his three doubles on the day in scoring position early - his defense had his back.
But you can piece together how a game stretched into extras tied 0-0: high leverage, low performance. Just two extra-base hits, a Julio Rodríguez double that was erased on a caught stealing (and, based on the rest of the day, seemed liable to be squandered anyways) and an extra-innings J.P. Crawford double after Mike Ford delivered the biggest highlight of the night on the offensive side: a pinch-hit, two-out, RBI single to score Josh Rojas. Was Ford’s seeing-eye single hit better than Rojas’ own laser one-hopper to third baseman Max Muncy a moment earlier? No. But both were harder than three of the singles that swan dove into the cushioned outfield grass in the top of the 11th for the Dodgers. When the 6th and 7th pitchers of the game (Gabe Speier and Isaiah Campbell) are giving up RBIs on pitches like this, it’s hard to point the evil eye at anyone other than the offense for what was ultimately a 6-2 loss.
The Mariners fall back behind after Gabe Speier gave up an RBI single to Max Muncy via a lunging swing on a slider way off the plate.— Daniel Kramer (@DKramer_) September 17, 2023
That makes this a 2-1 game in the 11th inning. pic.twitter.com/XrEAEGQ7lL
To their credit, in the postgame clubhouse, they took responsibility, particularly of the squandered threat the bottom of the lineup built in the 8th on a pair of singles by Josh Rojas and Sam Haggerty to give the top of the order two on an no out against lefty Zach Vesia and last night’s closer Ryan Brasier. Instead, a swift strikeout from J.P. Crawford was followed by a nine-pitch battle for Julio that ended just the same. An uncompetitive wave at strike three from Teoscar Hernández finished the threat, just as it did in the 10th with the based loaded and two down trailing an intentional walk to Julio.
JP Crawford: "I didn't execute my job and Julio didn't either. Runners on first and second late in the game, we've got to them over and we got to get them in. We fucked up. I take full responsibility. I've got to get them over. I gotta do my job."— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) September 17, 2023
This is one of the 10 best teams in the Mariners’ relatively short, ignominious history. They will end the season with a winning record of some sort, and a 9-5 tear to end the season could even give them three straight 90-win seasons for the first time since 2000-2004 when they did it four times. They remain just 1.5 games back in the AL West thanks to the combined heroism of the AL Central knocking off both Houston and Texas. But the sugar rush of August has given way to a September struggle, eyes drooping and limbs slumping, spirits flagging and swings flailing. Every ounce of destiny remains in the hands of these Mariners, as it will by nature of the schedule for the all-important 10 games of functionally-playoff baseball to close the season. I hope with all my being that this is not the offense that arrives to the park those days. Watching the Dodgers dance on T-Mobile Park’s infield to celebrate their 10th division title in 11 years and 10th-straight full season with 90+ wins was tolerable enough, akin to watching a massive tornado tear through a distant plain. But the idea of seeing Texas dance on their grave, in my home, it boils my blood, as I’m sure it would these M’s. Build a lead back up. Give this pitching staff the respect their effort deserves. Score. Runs.