Two hours away from Cincinnati and Great American Ball Park is Bath County, Kentucky, site of one of the all-time great American mysteries: the Kentucky Meat Shower. On March 3, 1876, around lunchtime, a farmer’s wife in Olympia Springs, one Mrs. Crouch, was making soap on her porch when, as she reported, chunks of meat began to fall from the sky, fast and thick like snowflakes, although the day itself was clear. Over the years, multiple theories would be put forth to explain the provenance of the mystery meat, but nothing was ever ruled upon decisively, and enough time has passed now that there will likely never be a definitive answer. It’s one of those mysteries you just have to be comfortable with, like where Amelia Earhart’s final resting place is, or who the Black Dahlia killer was, or why the 2023 Mariners’ bats go cold so often.
The day was also clear in Cincinnati as the Mariners opened their series against the Reds, although the air was heavy with humidity—not that that slowed down the Reds’ bats, as they were in swing mode early and often, taking advantage of the confines of Great American Small Park to put bat on ball and make things happen on the basepaths, raining down runs like so many chunks of meat. To come back to Mrs. Crouch’s farm for a second, a pair of intrepid gentlemen tasted the meat to declare that it was, in fact, meat—reportedly with the taste of mutton, or spring chicken legs. I’m not sure whether I’d rather be a volunteer mystery meat taste-tester or watch the first two innings of this game over again, but probably the former.
The Mariners fell behind early when Bryan Woo took “shooting yourself in the foot” too literally, hitting two batters with backfoot sliders while in two-strike counts, one of whom came around to score as Woo faced a laborious first inning, batters-faced wise if not pitch-wise. It’s no fun to be on the other side of the Elly De La Cruz hype, it turns out, as the Reds’ young superstar turned around a pitch well outside of the strike zone for an RBI single to give the Reds their first run of the day, one of two they’d score that inning for an early lead that would come one short of the number of runs the Mariners would score all game.
Woo didn’t make things easier on himself in the second, hitting former Mariner prospect Noelvi Marte with a fastball to open the second inning—marking the first time in his pro career he’s hit three batters in a game—before walking Jake Fraley on five pitches, and then again falling behind Spencer Steer 2-1 before serving a fastball in the middle of the plate Steer was able to put out of Great American Small Park, giving the Reds a 5-0 advantage before the game was an hour old. Woo continued to labor, walking De La Cruz, but got helped out when Nick Martini went after the first pitch for an easy flyout. Still, those two innings not only buried the Mariners in a deep hole offensively, but also pushed Woo’s pitch count over 40 in just two innings, shortening his day to just a five-inning outing, although he was able to limit the damage to just those two innings.
Just so we leave the discussion of Woo in a positive place, let’s review one of the more impressive defensive plays I’ve ever seen a pitcher make, full stop.
Now the not-so-positive. Even while the Reds pitching staff has been hit with a COVID outbreak, the Mariners hitters flailed against emergency starter Tejay Antone, going down 1-2-3 with three strikeouts over the first two innings and offering little to no resistance, a troubling trend from the New York series that’s seemingly followed them into Cincinnati. Mariners hitters jump on a starter early challenge (seemingly impossible). Former Mariner Sam Moll took over in the third and the lefty also shut down the Mariners, despite giving up an infield base hit to Mike Ford—the Mariners’ first hit of the day.
In the fourth, Julio would record the Mariners’ second hit of the day and first run of the day against new reliever Daniel Duarte, rocketing his 25th home run out to right field. Julio, as he so often does, also made some history with that swing: he’s the first player in MLB history to hit 25 homers and steal 25 bases in each of his first two Major League seasons.
Julio Rodríguez, opposite-field blast with authority.— Daniel Kramer (@DKramer_) September 4, 2023
He’s the first player all-time with 25 homers and 25 stolen bases in his first two MLB seasons. pic.twitter.com/XH3TOCmY8i
Michael Mariot, making his first big-league appearance since 2016, gave up the Mariners’ second run of the day, as Mike Ford took him deep, just clearing the right-field fence and cutting the deficit to 5-2.
Unfortunately, the Mariners would then set their phasers to “squander.” They had a chance to add on more against Mariot in the sixth, putting runners on at second and third with two outs, but Eugenio Suárez couldn’t come up with a clutch hit in his former home, striking out looking. The Reds sent Mariot back out there in the seventh, and again, he got two outs and allowed two runners—this time on the corners—bringing up J.P. Crawford to face new reliever Lucas Sims. Sims hit Crawford with a back-foot slider, bringing up Julio for the Mariners’ best scoring opportunity of the day, but Sims was able to get Julio chasing after a fastball up and out of the zone, winning a seven-pitch battle and pureeing the Mariners’ hopes of winning this game like so many chunks of meat.
Just to decrease any mystery that the Mariners might make a thrilling comeback, the Reds added on another run in the seventh against former Red Luke Weaver on a pair of hits that snuck down the right field and left field lines respectively. Cal Raleigh tried to make things interesting in the ninth with a two-out single, pushing Ty France to third, bringing up J.P. Crawford, who singled to give the Mariners their third run of the day. That once again brought up Julio in a game-tying situation and again, he struck out, this time looking. It’s hard to fault Julio, who accounted for a third of the Mariners’ runs today, especially considering home plate umpire Marvin Hudson’s zone, which was all over the place, but it’s certainly a disappointing day for the player who the Mariners’ hopes seem to rise and fall with. Of all the not-so-great games lately, the taste this one leaves in one’s mouth is especially rotten given both the poor showing in New York and the fact that the Rangers-Astros are playing each other, meaning one of those two teams is guaranteed a win each night.
While the definitive origin of the Kentucky Meat Shower will be lost to history, there is a prevailing favorite theory, backed by science: apparently vultures, when threatened or just when they’re feeling a little overstuffed, are known to projectile vomit the contents of their stomach to make a quick getaway, which would seem to track with the consistency and dispersal of the meat showered over Bath County back in 1876. With the Mariners off to a sour start to this road trip, maybe it’s not a bad idea for the offense to imitate those avian scavengers of yore and cast off what no longer serves. It’s always better to be doing the showering than getting showered on.