In a season fourteen episode of The Simpsons (“I’m Spelling As Fast As I Can”), Lisa asks her mom Marge if the family can afford to send Lisa to college. “Not on your father’s salary,” Marge replies, “but I could...give piano lessons!” When Lisa protests that she doesn’t play piano, Marge shrugs. “I just gotta stay one lesson ahead of the kid.”
Whenever I’m trying to do something where I feel underprepared, underqualified, or underskilled, I just tell myself “stay one lesson ahead of the kid.” It’s silly, but it helps me focus in on small, actionable things I can do rather than becoming overwhelmed by the enormity of the task facing me. I’m told this is also known by the non-Simpsons generation as “eating an elephant”, which is a grosser image, but also might sum up more accurately the sense of trying to knock off the Astros, the elephant in the room of the AL West for the past near-decade. Unlike elephants, though, that famously never forget, the Mariners tonight were able to brush off the shellacking handed to them last night by the Justin Verlander-led Astros and stay a piano lesson ahead with a 6-2 win over the Astros.
Perhaps he declines to take part in J.P.’s pregame cleansing of the clubhouse, but for whatever reason, the gods of BABIP were not kind to George Kirby to open the game, gifting the Astros back-to-back ground ball base hits to open the game (xBAs of .100 and .200, respectively, to Altuve and Bregman). That brought up the gruesome specter of Yordan Álvarez with two on and none out, and despite the frenzied pitch of the 40,000 plus in the ballpark, a curtain of foreboding thicker than the marine layer settled over this game.
They needn’t have worried.* After getting Álvarez 0-2 on a called strike (slider) and foul (four-seam), Kirby opted to go with his split and got Álvarez to ground out harmlessly to Josh Rojas at second base. However, the runners did move up, bringing up another fearsome batter in Kyle Tucker with one out and runners in scoring position. Kirby pounded the exact same spot in the zone three times straight, neither getting a call nor Tucker to offer, so they opted to just intentionally walk him. Kirby wasn’t thrilled about issuing the intentional pass—“does that count against me?” he asked wistfully postgame—but you have to respect this on both sides:
(But also, dang, maybe give him one call, ump? Astros starting pitcher Christian Javier certainly got some borderline calls at the top of the zone.)
*just kidding, it’s the Astros, always worry.
Now with the bases loaded, Kirby still had two outs to get. He started by getting José Abreu to tap into a forceout at home, handled with ease by the surehanded Eugenio Suárez, and then got out of the bases loaded jam one more time by getting Yanier Díaz to groundout on a slider. The crowd, on tenterhooks for 26 pitches, erupted.
And that would be it for Kirby as far as trouble. After that laborious first inning, Kirby retired the Astros 1-2-3 in the next three innings, and also faced the minimum in the fifth after giving up a single to Jeremy Peña on one of his few mistake pitches of the day, a sinker that wound up middle-up. However, Peña would make the ill-considered decision to Run On Cal Raleigh, with Rojas putting down another excellent tag, and Kirby would come back to strike out Martín Maldonado for the third out. Let’s take a minute to appreciate Cal Raleigh’s throw, but also this nifty tag by Josh Rojas, who is such a good tagger Home Depot should lock up the spraypaint when he comes by:
(Graffiti is a legitimate artistic expression, please do not come for me, street art-lovers, it’s a joke.)
In the sixth, Kirby led off by giving up a single to Altuve, another sinker that got too much plate, and then got bailed out on a deep flyball hit by Bregman by an excellent catch from Teoscar Hernández, who breezed through his Beginning Piano workbook in two weeks after putting it off all summer:
Afterwards, the fans in right field did a great job of expressing their appreciation to Teo, carrying that over into a call-and-response “Teo!” from both sides of the ballpark during his next at-bat. Postgame, Hernández expressed appreciation to the fans, saying “it was a really unbelievable feeling. Especially in that moment, especially coming from the way we’ve been playing.” I’m not here to tell anyone how to fan, but I am a big believer in positive reinforcement producing more fruit than negative reinforcement. It doesn’t matter when the workbook gets done as long as it gets done, right?
After striking out Álvarez, Kirby would have to face a little more trouble after he gave up another groundball base hit to Tucker (.400 xBA), but we can excuse that somewhat since Kirby was reeling from one of the weirder things I’ve seen happen at the ballpark, where a young teenaged fan got a foul ball hit by the Astros and opted to...throw it back on the field, grazing Kirby. “It was an impressive throw, I’ll give him that,” said a typically deadpan Kirby postgame. Kirby was able to coax an easy groundout off the bat of Abreu to end the inning, hitting an easy 97 on what would be his last pitch of the day.
Part of what helped Kirby cruise through his outing was the significant lead he’d been staked to by the offense, which was a little slow to start but broke through in the third inning for a pair of runs, double what they scored last night. Mike Ford lined a fastball in the middle of the plate for a single, and Ty France also singled, putting roughly 500 pounds of prime American beef on the bases for Josh Rojas. Rojas—as he’s been doing these past few days—worked a good, long at-bat, seeing six pitches before getting his own fastball on the plate that he drove 344 feet into right field—not quite pulled enough for a home run, but still able to commence the stampede. Perhaps gobsmacked by the sight of these majestic creatures running free over their native lands, Altuve promptly airmailed the relay throw into the visitor’s dugout, allowing Ford to score and moving France to third; he’d then score the second run of the game because for all his fearsomeness in the batter’s box, you absolutely Can Run On Yordan.
A 2-0 lead feels like twice that with the way Kirby was throwing, but the Mariners kept the pressure on Javier and the Astros. Once again it was Josh Rojas kicking off a big rally, this time working a six-pitch at-bat and lining a fastball up and out of the zone into left field for a single before stealing second. The Josh-John Paul Wraparound Experience of Pesky At-Bats is one I truly enjoy, as J.P. followed by working a full count of his own before striking out, but Julio followed that up with a walk, bringing an unceremonious end to Javier’s day. Baker opted to bring in former Mariner Rafael Montero, who fell behind Cal Raleigh 3-0 before Cal was able to line an inside fastball into the right field corner for a single, scoring two runs—Rojas, who would have scored anyway, and Julio, who scored all the way from first after Kyle Tucker decided to take his turn with throwing the ball away, prompting staffer Bee to make this twist on Twitter fave @zachleft’s bit:
Justin Topa relieved Kirby in the seventh but didn’t bring much relief to fans, hitting Yanier Díaz with his first pitch and then giving up back-to-back base hits to Chas McCormick and Jeremy Peña. That prompted Servais to go get Matt Brash, maybe a skosh earlier than he’d have liked, to face pinch-hitter and power threat Jon Singleton. Brash was able to retire Singleton with just a sac fly to let the one run score, and then struck out Altuve looking on a slider and got Kyle Tucker to go after a first-pitch sinker at a cool 100.8 for an easy groundout.
Brash worked the eighth as well, retiring the dangerous Álvarez on a thank-god-it’s-a-cold-night-at-T-Mobile flyout before giving up a pull-hit double to Kyle Tucker on the curveball. Abreu grounded out, moving Tucker to third and bringing up the pesky Yainier Díaz, who Brash promptly disposed of on three sliders. There’s a bit we do in the LL slack because for most of the year, it’s felt like we didn’t know which Matt Brash was going to show up: the Good Brash or the Bad Brash? But for the past several outings it’s felt like Brash has been, definitively, this Brash:
The Mariners got that run back in the eighth on a Ty France solo home run, and if you watch no other video in this recap, please watch Ty France exorcising some demons:
I don’t know if the cameras caught this, but Ty cradled the trident in a warm embrace after it was presented to him. It was very sweet.
Update: of course they did
Andrés Muñoz came on to work the ninth and things didn’t start well, as he immediately hit Chas McCormick in the back with a 99 mph sinker. McCormick had to leave the game. Jeremy Peña then followed with a sharp line-drive single, and while pinch-hitter Mauricio Dubón grounded into a force out, Jose Altuve then promptly singled to score the run from third, bringing the game to a slightly less comfortable 6-2 lead. With runners at first and second and just one out, Bregman grounded into what was almost an amazing game-ending double play, but unfortunately just beat out an incredible jump throw from Eugenio Suárez. That brought Yordan Álvarez to the plate for a power-on-power matchup. Álvarez took 99 on the opposite black and blasted it 111 mph into the outfield—but only 356 feet, and right at Julio, BABIP gods be damned. One lesson ahead, just gotta stay one lesson ahead.