Seattle Mariners posts
Sunday May 28, 2023
The Two MLB Teams With the Longest World Series Droughts Play a Rubber Match in Seattle
My sister and I at the Baseball Hall of Fame in the summer of '73. Moved by Clemente's death the previous December, I bought much Pirates merchandise. Photograph by Bob Lundegaard.
On the way to the ballpark today I wondered if these were the teams with the longest pennant droughts. The Mariners, of course, have never been to the World Series, the only franchise that hasn't, and they came into existence in 1977. The Pirates, meanwhile, haven't clinched a pennant since the feel-good Willie Stargell-led team that blared “We Are Family” in the clubhouse in the fall of 1979. Nearly 50 years ago.
That said, the Pirates own a pretty impressive World Series record: 5-2. They lost the first one in 1903, got clobbered by the great “Murderers Row” 1927 Yankees, but won every other time they've been, always in seven games, often dramatically. The Honus Wagner-led Bucs beat Ty Cobb's Tigers in 1909; they beat the then-World Champion Washington Senators in 1925; Maz lived every kid's bottom-of-the-ninth dream in 1960; Clemente was all-worldly against the O's in 1971; and Stargell and Co. battled from a 3-1 deficit to take the '79 crown, also from the O's. Not a bad legacy. But, again, that was nearly 50 years ago.
As for my question? Yes, these are the teams with the longest pennant droughts:
|1977||Toronto Blue Jays||2||2||1993|
|1969||San Diego Padres||2||0||1998|
Every other team has been to the World Series this century.
Long way of saying that while I rooted for the Mariners this afternoon, I'm not exactly not rooting for the Pirates. Would be great to see them in the Series again, but the NL path looks rougher than the AL: Goes through the Dodgers, Braves, Mets, and maybe eventually the Padres and Cardinals. Not to mention Oct. suprises.
The place was packed—Memorial Day weekend, plus a Julio Rodriguez poster giveaway—so though I arrived 10 minutes before gametime I didn't sit in my seat until 10 minutes after the game started. Not bad timing, though. Five seconds later, Julio went deep to put the M's up 1-0. I was sporting my new RODRIGUEZ 44 jersey—the first “authentic” Mariners jersey I've ever owned, bought as a 60th birthday present for myself in January—and Julio's homer was another nice present. In the 4th, Cal Raleigh also went deep. Both teams tacked on a run in the 5th (Pirates: single, single, sac fly; Mariners a two-out Kelenic double that scored J.P. from second), and it felt like it might stay that way. But in the 8th, Andrew McCutchen hit a high chopper to short, J.P. hurried the throw, and it went into the dugout. Three pitches later, OF/DH Bryan Reynolds rippped a triple past a diving Ty France, and just like that (as Dave used to say), they had the tying run on third with nobody out. M's reliever Justin Topa struck out the next batter (Connor Joe, no comma) but was himself relieved by Paul Sewald. Who not only walked the next batter, but did so on a wild pitch that tied the game.
Bucs threatened again in the 9th. A lead-off double by South Korean-born CF Ji Hwan Bae, but he was stranded; then he made a nice two-out, diving warning-track catch on a J.P Crawford shot in the bottom frame. So extras, with ghost runners on second. Theirs went single, K, K, SB, IBB, K for no runs. Ours went 4-3, K, IBB, HR, a no-doubter by Eugenio Suarez that sent the crowd home happy. Most of the crowd. I saw a few McCutch and Clemente jersey-wearers; but like us they're used to it.
Went to the game with David G., and we talked death, J. Edgar Hoover, Robert Louis Stevenson (presciently: before we learned the losing pitcher was named Robert Stephenson), and how the advent of phonograph records killed the family piano. Related: I recalled how, as a kid, everyone seemed to sing along with the National Anthem before the ballgame, and by the time I was an adult no one was singing along. A little sad. To go with our little happy for the day. The win moved the M's past the Angels for third place in the division. Plus it's nice to win a series against a team that isn't the A's.
Sunday April 02, 2023
M's Manage 3 Hits in 40-Degree Temps, Lose Quickly
The last Mariners game I went to was Game 3 of the 2022 ALDS, an 18-inning affair against Houston that the M's lost 1-0. It took 6 hours and 22 minutes and ended their season.
Last night I went to my first Mariners game of the nascent 2023 season, a 9-inning affair against Cleveland that the M's lost 2-0. It took 2 hours and 5 minutes. Thank you, pitch timer. If I'm going to see my team get shut out in low 40s temps, I'll take the speedy variety.
Initially, the game felt like it was going to be zippy in action as well as gametime. In the top of the 1st, the Guardians' best player, Jose Ramirez, lined a two-out single to right and then promptly stole second against the Mariners' backup catcher Tom Murphy. In the bottom of the 1st, the Mariners' best player, Julio Rodriguez, led off with a seeing-eye single to left and then promptly stole second against the Guardians' backup catcher.
Bigger bases, fewer throwovers: Gentlemen, start your engines! It's like Oprah: You get a stolen base, you get a stolen base, we all get a stolen base!
Except that was the last stolen base of the game. In the bottom of the 2nd, the M's new right fielder, Teoscar Hernanez, drew a one-out walk and promptly stole second. Well, he looked safe—from 300 level behind homeplate—but I guess they tapped his helmet before he arrived. He disputed, the M's didn't, that was that. And it was the last SB attempt of the game. Not that there were a lot of baserunners to give it a go. Half the game was three up/three down, and of the M's whopping three hits, one was Julio's seeing-eye single, one was Julio's bad hop/E6, and one was a one-out double to right in the 8th inning by Tommy La Stella off of the Guardians' beleaguered reliever James Karinchak.
I'd missed some of that drama in Game 1 Thursday night. Karinchak got called on a pitch-timer violation in the 8th inning of a 0-0 game, seemed rattled, and promptly walked leadoff hitter J.P. Crawford. Then with one out, he hit the M's new second baseman Kolten Wong with a pitch; then Ty France blasted a 3-run homerun. Last night, M's fans, awarer than myself, began taunting Karinchak by counting down the pitch clock before each pitch. That was fun. I forget if it began before or after La Stella's double, but for a second we suddenly seemed to have a chance. And with our 2022 heroes coming up! Alas: PH Cal Raleigh struck out (looking bad) for the second out, and then somehow Karinchak walked J.P. on four pitches—none of them close. Is he afraid of Crawford? That put the tying run on base for our best player, Julio, who promptly struck out on three pitches (looking bad). And that was our three hits: two dribblers from Julio and a ringing double from La Stella. (I hope we all do a Brando imitation every time he comes to the plate.)
That wasn't the worst part of the game, TBH. The worst part of the game occurred in our section, 327, when, in the late innings, as it cleared out from the cold and futility, a gang of drunk/high doofuses came and sat near us. Realizations hit you in stages. Oh, these guys aren't really fans. Oh, they're drunk and/or high. Oh, they're really, really stupid. One guy asked me who we were playing—it was the 8th inning at this point—and I pointed to the scoreboard. “Cleveland,” I said. “The Cleveland Guardians.” “Guardians?” he said, laughing through his nose, and peering at the scoreboard as if through a haze. That was our only interaction. The dude next to him, who looked like he could've been casted as an extra in “Romper Stomper,” then began shouting at the players. Bon mots like “Fuck you, ______!” If I were braver, or simply more foolish, I would've warned them against getting high. Not generally getting high, but, you know, who should probably not partake. Stupid people, for example. Those who can't afford the IQ drop pot brings; who become so stupid a kind of miasma of stupidity surrounds them and infects everyone else. This was that. For half an inning, I think I was more tuned into them than the game, or to my own conversation with my friend Jeff, before I shook loose and just tried to blot them out. Two T-Mobile ushers tried to handle them with not much success. Not fun.
Positive takeaways? Our starter, 6'6“ Logan Gilbert, looked great, going 6 innings, giving up 4 hits and one walk while striking out 7. He was sharp: boom boom boom. He only made one mistake—to Josh Naylor, who nailed it into the right-centerfield seats. The other Cleveland run came off Diego Castillo, another line-drive homerun, this time by Andres Giminez in the top of the 7th, after Giminez turned a nice DP on Julio in the bottom of the 6th.
We also got a good running catch from Teoscar.
I arrived about 10 minutes before gametime and texted Jeff the goings on: ”The guy throwing out the first pitch is a many-time World Series winner w/the NY Yankees." Yes, Tino Martinez, back in Seattle. I get it, '95 and everything, and not his fault we traded him and Nellie for problem children Sterling and Russ—helping the Yankees pad their late-century dynasty. And if it had been Nellie I would've cheered loudly. Maybe because he came back to us as a free agent? Tino just feels Yankee to me, now and forever. But I have to admit, he looked good. He's aging well. For a Yankee.
The National Anthem was sung by grade school kids from Renton and was adorable. They should do that more often.
Thursday February 02, 2023
Kyle, We Hardly Knew Ye
I missed the Kyle Lewis trade last November. In my defense, I was down with COVID.
My friend Jeff and I were there for his first game in Sept. 2019 when he homered in his second Major League at-bat. He had a nice cup of coffee that September, too: .268/.293/.593. OK, so the OBP should've been worrisome, particularly since everything else was in place: 29 Ks to 3 walks? Still, we were hopeful.
And though the next season was truncated by the COVID pandemic, he did well, .262/.364/.437, and stabilized that K-BB ratio somewhat: 71-34. He got named A.L. Rookie of the Year (for that awful year), the fourth Mariner so honored, and first since Ichiro in 2001. And if you discount players like Ichiro and Kazahiro Sasaki, who, let's face it, played in professional leagues before MLB, then Kyle was the first Mariner ROY since Alvin Davis in 1984. Either way, it was a helluva beginning. All the world like a woolen lover did seem on Kyle's side. And maybe ours.
Then in 2021 he crashed into the wall in a spring training game against the Dodgers. Bone bruise. 10-Day IL. He came back in late April, played in May, but went back on the IL in June. Same knee, torn meniscus. Surgery. He didn't return until May 2022 and was rusty. A month later he took a curveball to the head—concussion—and things got worse. Plus his spot in center field was taken by the guy who would become the Mariners' fifth Rookie of the Year, and the new face of the franchise, Julio Rodriguez. Lewis was hiting .143 when the M's sent him down to AAA in early August.
And now this. Or then this. November this. Traded to Arizona.
So who did we get for him? Outfielder/catcher Cooper Hummel. About whom I have nothing but questions:
- How good is he? Not great. Last year in 66 game he sported a .176/.274/.307 line and a -0.3 WAR.
- Huh. He must be young. No, he's 28, a year older than Kyle.
- Is he good defensively? Not apparently. -0.3 defensive WAR, too.
- OK, did he improve as the season progressed? Maybe. His best split is from 10 games in September. A .710 OPS.
That seems like not much to get for a guy two years removed from ROY. Though there's this from Ryan Divish's column on the trade: “Mariners' analysts loved him, particularly his ability to control the strike zone at the plate. He had a career .397 on-base percentage in six seasons in the minor leagues.” One assumes he'll be our backup catcher rather than our sixth or 12th outfielder.
All in all, a sad, sudden end, for Kyle and the Mariners (and us), after such a promising start. Godspeed.
Sunday October 09, 2022
My wife is traveling through Ireland with her brother and sister-in-law this month, and yesterday she sent me a text, telling me about leaving Ennis for Doolin and from there to Dingle, and adding a joke about the names of the towns, and how she’s having a great time but misses trees. Then she asked what was going on with me. Here’s my series of texts in response:
- I’m at a bar with Jeff for the Mariners game.
- Buckley’s in lower Queen Anne. 0-0 in the 2nd.
- Mariners down 2-0.
- 3-0. And there is a table of Blue Jays fans here.
- 4th inning. We have zero hits.
To which she wrote, “OK, things could change” and added the fingers-crossed emoji. And she was right. They did change. My next text:
In another bar on the other side of the world, she texted me a trio of cat-crying emojis.
These were my next three texts, sent at various times over the next 90 minutes:
- 9-9 in the 8th. This team.
- Final score, 10-9, Mariners. We advance to the ALDS.
This is how that looks in win probability.
We later learned that only two previous teams have ever come back from down 7 or more runs to win a postseason game. In the 1929 World Series, the Chicago Cubs were beating the Philadelphia A’s 8-0 in the 7th inning of Game 4, and the A’s came back and won it 10-8. And in 2008, the Red Sox were down to the Rays 7-0 in the 7th of ALCS Game 5 and won it 8-7.
And now this team.
I predicted Adam Frazier’s hits, by the way. Jeff can corroborate. I began the 5th inning by saying that this is when fans begin to take notice of the no-hitter. If the starter—here, Kevin Gausman—gets through 5 with the no-no intact, a hum develops. People begin to talk. They point to the scoreboard. I didn’t really know Gausman. I assumed he was young but he’s a journeyman, 31 years old, finished sixth in the Cy Young voting last year for San Francisco, signed as a free agent by the Blue Jays Dec. 1. His 2022 numbers were good but not DeGrom good: 12-10, 3.35 ERA. But he led the league in FIP, or Field-Independent Pitching, i.e., the elements of the game that a pitcher can be said to have control over: walks, strikeouts, HBP and homeruns. He’d struck out 205, walked just 28, gave up 15 homers in 174 innings. Since we tended to strike out a lot, walk not much, and rely on the long ball, Jeff figured this was a bad matchup for us. He wasn’t wrong.
Adam Frazier led off the 5th for us and took a strike. “He’s going to get a hit,” I said. For most of the year, I didn’t have much feeling about Adam Frazier one way or the other. He was one of our bland middle infielders, hit between .200 and .250, not much pop. He was another journeyman, 30 going on 31, who’d spent most of his career with the Pirates. We’d gotten him in a trade with the San Diego Padres last Nov. 27 for some minor leaguers, and his 2022 numbers didn’t exactly leap off the page: .238/.301/.311. I remember being shocked when Scott Servais had him lead off against the Angels in early August when Julio was out. I wasn’t wrong.
But I had a feeling for him now. He had a lean hungry look. Mostly I had the feeling that it's the pesky middle infielders you have to watch out for—the Mark Lemkes and Jeff Reboulets of the world. Those are the guys that can break up a no-hitter; and those are the guys who can do damage in the postseason when you least expect it. “He’s going to get a hit,” I said again.
Which is when he lined a single to left.
“Nostradamus!” Jeff yelled at me with a smile.
I had a feeling for the next batter, too, Carlos Santana, since he’d come through with so many big hits for us early in his stay. But this feeling was earlier, in the final week of the season, and even during Game 1 on Friday. There, he’d swung through everything and looked so helpless at the plate that I lost the feeling. I didn't have confidence. I didn’t think he was going to do anything for us. He was the exact wrong guy to have at the plate.
Which is when he doubled off the top of the wall in center. They doublechecked to see if it was a homer but it wasn’t, but now we had two men on and Jarred Kelenic at the plate—the former top prospect who blisters Triple-A pitching and hits .150 in the Majors. He’d looked good in September, not in October, and too tight at the plate during the post. I wanted to send him a pizza laced with Xanax. He hit a little blooper to left, not deep enough to score anybody. “At least he didn’t strike out,” I said, and as I said it, they sent Frazier. And the throw was not good. And we had a run.
And then Toronto scored four more.
I was kind of surprised when Gausman went out to pitch in the top of the 6th. I figured they’d save him for Houston—if necessary—since this game was obviously over. They didn’t need him. I was also surprised they left him in after he gave up three straight singles. And I was further surprised that when he got Mitch Haniger to strike out and Frazier to pop out that they pulled him then. Did Blue Jays manager John Schneider want to bring in a lefty to turn Santana around? I just looked at the numbers. Batting left against right-handers, Santana, in 2022, had 16 homers; batting right against lefties, he had 3. Fewer at-bats, sure, but by about half, not 1/5. So I assume that was Toronto’s thinking. They wanted to keep Santana in the park.
When Gausman left to a standing ovation, he was a hero: 5 2/3 IP, 7 Ks, 1 BB, 1 run. That’s a 1.59 ERA. He’d saved their season. Three pitches later, as he sat on the bench, his game ERA had ballooned to 6.35. That's got to be tough to watch. To Santana, reliever Tim Mayza threw:
- a wild pitch (1 run scored)
- a swinging strike
- a 3-run homer (3 runs scored)
And just like that we had a chance again.
They tagged on an insurance run in the 7th, and in the top of the 8th we got one back (Suarez double, Raleigh single), and then loaded the bases with two more singles and nobody out. Fun! With Santana up again? More fun! Of course he strikes out on four pitches, and Dylan Moore, our other nondescript middle infielder, strikes out on six pitches. And who do we have left? J.P. Crawford, whom I love, our team leader, but who hasn’t exactly been hitting well lately: .218 in August, .195 in September, .100 in October, and 0-for the series. And on the first pitch he bloops one to center. We’re all yelling “Get down, get down, get down!” hoping beyond hope. The good news: none of the fielders seem to have a bead on it; it seems to be heading toward the no-man’s land in the middle of them all. Which is where it lands as they crash together—center fielder George Springer has to come out of the game—and all of our baserunners score, “Everybody scores!” I yelled in Rick Rizzs homage, and everybody at Buckley’s goes nuts. Everyone is high-fiving in this late-stage pandemic era, and a guy in a corner booth gets out a trombone and starts playing a tune and we all cheer.
Bottom of the 8th was a tough one. I’d already forgotten how tough it was. Andres Munoz, he of the 103-mph fastball, the lights-out dude who shut the door the day before, wasn’t as sharp. With one out he walked Bo Bichette; then Bo stole second. Vlad Jr. grounded out, but that brought up Alejandro Kirk, their catcher/DH, who looks like a little Oompa-Loompa but was an All-Star earlier this year at age 23, and sported a nice .285/.372/.415 line for the season. And in this series he felt like The Guy: 3-7 with a walk. Fouled off everything. But here, on a 3-2 pitch, he grounded to second. It was his last at-bat of the season.
Which brings up my second Adam Frazier prognostication. The Blue Jays went with reliever Jordan Romano, 2.11 ERA in 64 innings, and he got Eugenio Suarez on three pitches. But then Cal Raleigh—Cal Raleigh again!—lined a double to right. I was wondering whether we should pinch-run for him when Mitch Haniger flied out to center. Two outs. Now it was Adam Frazier. And for some reason, I had that good feeling again.
“He’s going to get a hit,“ I told Jeff. ”We’re going ahead here.”
Afterwards, tons of Mariners fans posted how the date was Oct. 8, which was the exact day in 1995 that Edgar Martinez lined a double down the left-field line that scored Joey Cora from third and Ken Griffey Jr. from first to win Game 5 of the ALDS against the New York Yankees—the most famous hit in franchise history. This one was another line shot, also for a double, down the right-field line this time. And it put us ahead.
Over the din at Buckley’s, Jeff again shouted “Nostradamus!” at me, but with slightly more awe now. “Adam Frazier Whisperer!” he yelled at me, almost accusingly, as we went around high-fiving people in the joint—pandemic schmandemic—including two Asian guys who sat politely and quietly at the table in front of us for the entire game and now looked around at the celebration in amazement. But could we tack on insurance runs? We couldn’t. But would Scott Servais stick with Munoz, go to Erik Swanson, whom we’d seen warming up, or maybe go to fourth starter George Kirby, a rookie, our first pick in the 2019 draft, and the August 2022 AL Rookie of the Month? He went with Kirby, who issued a one-out walk to Matt Chapman, then got an eight-pitch strikeout of goggle-eyed catcher Danny Jansen. Then he got Raimel Tapia to fly out into the soft glove of our Rookie of the Year Julio Rodriguez in centerfield. And that was the game and the series. It was over. They had done it.
When I left the bar, the city was slightly greyish from wildfire smoke, the sun a hazy red ball hanging over Puget Sound, and I decided to walk along the waterfront, hoping for fresher air, but just floating, buzzing inside, and high-fiving the people I saw wearing Mariners jerseys and with similar dazed, happy expressions on their faces.
Over the last couple of days, I’d spoken with baseball friends about our chances in this series, and the more they knew about baseball the less chance they thought we had. I think I left the door a little more open than they did. I thought there was light coming through it. I knew we'd done well against Toronto this year. I knew the other numbers, too. We had the third-worst team batting average in the Majors. We kept winning way more one-run games than is theoretically feasible. We shouldn’t be here.
I think of the San Francisco Giants. In the 1960s, when they had Willie Mays and Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal, all Hall of Famers, all in their prime, they couldn’t win it all. They went to one World Series, in ’62, and lost in 7. San Francisco didn’t get its World Series championship until 2010 when, sure, they had Buster Posey, who might go to the Hall, and Tim Lincecum, the Cy Young winner back then. But mostly they won with Freddy Sanchez and Andres Torres, Aubrey Huff and World Series MVP Edgar Rentaria. In baseball, you just never know. And maybe that’ll be us, too. In the 1990s, when we had Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez and Alex Rodriguez, all in their prime, all Hall of Famers or would-bes, we didn’t even get to the World Series. So maybe what gets us there is Cal and Ty, Eugenio and Julio. And Carlos, J.P., and Adam.
Either way, I’m going to be enjoying this floating feeling for the next few days.
Saturday October 01, 2022
Stay Fair! 21 Long Years of Frustration End as Seattle Mariners Make the Postseason
A second later, everyone knew.
I was at the game. My friend Erika's husband got tickets from work, and they had an extra. Did I want to go? This was Thursday morning, I said “Yes!” then began to do the math. The M's had been so-so, middling to blah, since those great series against the Braves and Padres in mid-September, but the Orioles had been worse. In the past week they'd lost four of five and now the Magic Number for the M's was a mere 3. After Thursday's games (O's loss, M's win) it was down to 1, and the O's were in the Bronx against the mighty Yankees, 4:05 PST start, and we were playing the lowly A's, 6:40 start, and Logan Gilbert was going against a pitcher sporting a 7.15 ERA. Odds were pretty good, I thought, that I'd be at the park when the Mariners clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 2001.
M's fans on social media yesterday were rooting for the O's. They wanted us to do it on our own, not back into it with another team's loss, but it was more of a shrug to me. I mean, yes, we should do it. At the same time, the M's had last been knocked out of the playoffs by a Yankee victory, Oct. 22, 2001, Game 5 of the ALCS, so it wouldn't be unseemly, and maybe even a little poetic, if we were knocked back into the playoffs by a Yankee victory.
I crunched other numbers just for fun. The last time the Mariners were in the postseason ...
- The Dow was at 9,200
- The #1 movie in America that week was “K-PAX,” starring Kevin Spacey
- Mark Zuckerberg was captain of his fencing team in high school
- Barack Obama was in the state senate in IL
- TIME magazine was about to name its “Person of the Year” ... Rudy Giuliani
You could do this forever. Most of the guys in our starting lineup were toddlers, our starting pitcher was 4 years old, our rookie star wasn't even 1. I'm turning 60 in January and I was in my 30s the last time the Mariners were in the postseason. Twenty-one years is a long time, basically. It's a quarter of a life. If you're lucky.
I arrived 20 minutes early. The seats were great seats, section 119, row 11, seat 10, close to the Mariners dugout, the area where Mariners players toss baseballs coming off the field. That gets a little sad. The greed. The battles for tossed baseballs. At the same time, I saw a few adults giving them to kids. That warms the heart.
In the Bronx, the Orioles were winning 2-1 in the 8th.
For a moment it looked like it would be a breeze. In the bottom of the 1st, Dylan Moore led off with a single, stole second, and Ty France drove him in with a double. 1-0. Nice. And then nothing. Then Ken Waldichuk turned into Roger Clemens. He struck out the next two, got a ground out. He allowed a leadoff walk in the 2nd and a one-out double in the 4th but no one even got to third. And in the 2nd, Logan Gilbert gave up a two-out, two-strike, towering homerun to rookie catcher Shea Langaliers that tied it.
And the Orioles won it in the Bronx.
By the time Waldichuk left after 5, he'd lowered his ERA by nearly a run. Each inning we got an A's pitcher with a better ERA and an equally ridiculous name: Waldichuk ceded to Pruitt, who was replaced by Puk, who gave way to Cyr. Thankfully, A's batters weren't doing much, either. Their No. 3 hitter Jordan Diaz led off the 4th with an infield single that should've been an E-6 (J.P. Crawford pulled Ty France off the bag), which was their third hit of the game, and which turned out to be their last hit of the game. Gilbert went 8 full.
And in the bottom of the 9th, the A's brought in Domingo Acevedo, 6'7“, 240, a mid-3.00 ERA and a WHIP below 1.00. Leadoff hitter Mitch Haniger went to a full count before striking out swinging. Carlos Santana went down on three straight pitches. I'd been hoping for a homer, an emphatic final yes, but those were the guys to do it. The next hitter was Luis Torrens, our backup catcher, whom we'd sent down mid-year, and he wasn't exactly Johnny Bench. Erika and Chris said every game they'd been to this year went into extras. The M's won them all, but none of them finished after 9. It seemed like we'd get that, and the stupid ghost-runner rule, again.
And then Cal Raleigh came to the plate to pinch-hit for Torrens.
From the looks of him, I'd always assumed Raleigh was a kind of journeyman, someone who'd knocked around for lesser teams in the N.L. for, say, 10 years, but no, he's just 25 and he's always been ours. We took him in the third round of the 2018 draft from Florida State, and he made his debut in July 2021. His debut year numbers don't exactly leap off the page (.180./.223/.309). and this year his OBP is still below .300; but he's great behind the plate and he keeps hitting homers. I read the other day that he's the first catcher with 1.5 defensive WAR and 25 homers in a season since Johnny Bench? Nice company. I'd wondered why he wasn't starting but apparently it was a thumb thing?
Against Acevedo he got two quick balls on him and I was hoping, with that 2-0 count, that hitter's pitch, for a nice sendoff, but he swung through it. It's fun checking out the pitches against him and what he did with them. The slider was the trouble pitch. Cal swung through the first two he saw. On 3-2 pitch, he fouled off the third one. And Acevedo tried it one more time.
If you look at the footage, he's almost on one knee. He was ready for it. He would not swing through it again.
Off the bat, even from my unfamiliar seat, I knew it had the distance but I couldn't tell if it would stay fair. Rick Rizzs, with way better seats, thought the same. ”Stay fair!“ he cried. For once the baseball gods listened. And 21 long years of frustration was over.
That's Dave Niehaus' line, of course, from the '95 clincher against the Angels. His was 19 long years of frustration, and back then that seemed forever, even though I'd only been following the team and suffering with them for ... four years? Really only three years: '93 was when I became a true M's fan. But the M's had never made the postseason, and there they did, and miracles kept happening. And it was joy. It was pure joy.
So is this, but I feel slightly removed from the greater Seattle celebration. The M's finally made it back to the postseason with a pinch-hit walkoff homerun with two outs and on a 3-2 count. Not only doesn't that happen every day, it's never happened. The crowd went nuts, the team celebrated, they did their little circle celebration dance with like everybody, including trainers, or at least people in street clothes, and hardly any of the fans budged from their seats. They stayed and cheered. They wanted to keep celebrating. The team went into the locker room, they came out again, they high-fived fans around the park. But by then I'd already left. It was partly to beat the crowd, it was partly leftover pandemic concerns, and it was partly because, well, as great as the end was, the game was kind of frustrating. Playing the worst team in the A.L., facing a pitcher with a 7.15 ERA, we did nothing for eight innings. It's a reminder that, while the M's have good defense and a solid bullpen, they also have the third-worst batting average in the Majors. That's why they have trouble with the likes of Waldichuk, Puk and Cyr.
I guess it's like Joe Posnanski's rejoinder for people who say baseball is boring: ”Baseball is boring. Until it isn't." The M's are a frustrating team ... until they aren't.
Goodnight, Mr. Niehaus, wherever you are.
Friday August 26, 2022
SeaUsRise, Sewald Fall
94 middle-in: Not sure I agree with you 100% on your pitching work there, Paul.
Thirty-two year-old Mariners reliever Paul Sewald is having a great season. In 50 innings pitched, he’s got a 2.66 ERA, an amazing 0.69 WHIP, with 56 Ks against 13 BBs. Any team would want him.
So why do I always flinch whenever he trots in from the bullpen?
Here’s why: I’ve been to eight games this year, he’s appeared in six of them, pitched a total of 5 innings and given up 5 runs—all earned. In those games, he’s got a 9.00 ERA, a horrendous 2.20 WHIP, with 4 Ks against 6 BBs.
And it’s not just a consequence of one bad outing. In two of those games he didn’t give up a run but still gave up the game. On May 29, Marco Gonzalez was pitching a tight 1-1 game against the Houston Astros when he gave up a one-out double in the 8th. In comes Sewald. He gets a groundout, walks a guy intentionally, walks a guy uninentionally, then gives up the go-ahead (and ultimately game-winning) single. We lose 2-1. My next game, June 15, Marco Gonzalez is pitching a tight 0-0 game against the Minnesota Twins when he scatters a walk and single in the 7th. There are two on and two out. In comes Sewald. And he promptly gives up a single to break the tie and the Twins go on to win 5-0.
Again, those are the games where, statistically, he doesn’t look bad. The only game I’ve been to where Sewald trotted in and did what relievers (and he) tend to do was the 13-inning beauty against the Yankees in early August: three up, three down. Otherwise, in those six games, he’s been on the mound four times when the M’s gave up the lead.
That includes Wednesday afternoon’s game against the Washington Nationals—the literal worst team in baseball (41-83), whose two best hitters (Soto, Bell) are now with the Padres. Plus we were facing a pitcher with an ERA over 6.00. I assumed, OK, we got this. And sure, Mariners starter George Kirby gave up a run in the 1st. But this was the Nats, the literal worst team in baseball.
This is what we managed through the first six innings:
- One-out single, erased in DP
- Leadoff walk, bupkis
- One-out HBP, bupkis
- One-out walk, erased in DP
- Leadoff double, stranded
- One-out single, bupkis
It wasn’t until two outs in the 8th that Julio Rodriguez tied the game with a homerun to left—his 20th. Finally! Now we’re talking!
And in trots Sewald for the top of the 9th:
- 2-run HR
Cue Charlie Brown-ish sigh all around T-Mobile Park.
I guess the ump wasn't great throughout the game—J.P. even got tossed late—but that's bad placement from Sewald on a 1-2 pitch with two outs in the 9th inning of a tie game. If there's a general zone for hitters, he placed it exactly there. Charlie Brown could've hit it out.
For the bottom half, we got a leadoff double and a walk. And with two outs Cal Raleigh soared one to center, the deepest part of the park. Caught at the warning track. It was that kind of blue-ball game. All promise and no follow-through.
So what to make of this statistical anomaly with Sewald. Am I just bad luck for the guy? I go to a lot of day games so I thought maybe he’s just bad at day games. Nope. He’s better during the day: 23.1 IP, 1.93 ERA, 0.64 WHIP. However, he is worse at T-Mobile. His home/away innings are all but split down the middle (25.2/25) but he's given up 14 of his 15 earned runs, and 6 of his 7 homers, at T-Mobile. His away ERA is 0.36. At home, it's 4.91. Wow.
Paul, my next scheduled game is Sept. 6 against the ChiSox. Give me a call if you’d rather I didn’t go. I’d understand.
Wednesday August 10, 2022
Mariners Turn Ghostbusters on Yankees in Extras
Well, I never thought I'd see that again.
By which I mean a game that goes 13 innings because the two teams keep putting up goose eggs in extras. Every inning, each team essentially got a leadoff double and stranded them all. In two of those innings, the Yankees made baserunning blunders that erased their Rob Manfred-mandated ghost runner. You know the old “three up, three down” line? For the Yankees, it was “two up, three down.” Which ... yeah, I can't even.
I also never thought I'd see that again: my long-suffering Seattle Mariners manhandling the mighty New York Yankees like it was 1995. Or how about watching a true ace pitch for your side? That was fun. Welcome to Seattle, Luis Castillo. How about a packed stadium in which, whenever Yankee fans began their idiot “Let's-go-Yank-kees!” chant, we drown them out with “Let's-go-Marin-ers!” That was funner. That made me proud.
I've been tracking these 2022 Yanks for a while now, initially out of fear. By mid-June it felt like they couldn't lose: they were 49-16, 33 games over .500. That's a .753 winning percentage, which put them on pace to win 122, which would've shattered the 116-game mark the Mariners set in 2001. They'd lost just once that month. They were big, moneyed, and unstoppable. Then, suddenly, not. They lost a game here, a game there. They split a four-game series with Houston at the end of June. They split a two-game series with Pittsburgh at the beginning of July. They lost a three-game series to Cincinnati before the All-Star break. And since the All-Star break, they've gone 7-12, getting swept in two-game series by the Astros and Mets, and in a three-game series last weekend by St. Louis. They've been no-hit, one-hit, two-hit, and last night, after crushing the M's 9-4 in the opener, they managed just three hits in 13 innings: a single in the 1st, a single in the 4th, a single in the 8th.
They couldn't run the bases. Their 10th-inning ghost runner was speedy, Andrew Benintendi, but he got caught stealing—by the pitcher. He made his move to third before our pitcher, Paul Sewald, made his move to the plate and got caught in a rundown. We kept playing pickle with the Yanks. It was little league again. It was elementary school. In the 11th, their ghost runner Miguel Andujar was doubled off second after a leadoff lineout, and in the 12th, their ghost, Jose Trevino, was caught between second and third on a comebacker to the pitcher. After we ran him down, we ran down the batter, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, trying for second. Ghosts were falling everywhere. The Mariners were Ghostbusters.
But the M's, still Julio-less, weren't doing much against Gerrit Cole, either. We got a single in the third from Sam Haggerty, who's still batting over .300 and still batting near the bottom of the order for some fathom-less reason. Next inning, leadoff hitter Adam Frazier lined a single to right and improbably tried to stretch it to two, and was out by a country mile. Since Ty France then grounded out to third on a slow roller that would've advanced Frazier, and Mitch Haniger lined a single that would've scored him, my friend Jeff complained for the rest of the game about the run Frazier cost us. Meanwhile, I kept wondering over why Jake Lamb and his .200 SLG was hitting cleanup for us. It was a beautiful summer evening, with wafts of cool, clean sea air, and we had nothing but complaints.
A one-out double by Cal Raleigh in the 5th went nowhere. A two-out single from Sam Haggerty (again!) in the 8th went nowhere. In the 9th, a leadoff HBP was erased in a DP. In the 10th, our ghost never moved. In the 11th, we sacrificed him, then ended the inning on a DP. In the 12th we loaded the bases on walks but Eugenio Suarez struck out with two outs and promptly broke his bat over his knee, Bo Jackson style.
Yanks had a real shot in the 13th. Matt Brash was pitching his second inning of relief and walked the bases loaded with one out. But then he got Gleyber Torres swinging and a groundout to short from Andujar. Which is why, in the bottom half of the 13th, even after a leadoff single by Cal Raleigh and a IBB to Haggerty, it still felt problematic. It was the third straight half-inning that the bases were loaded and so far no one had scored. And with one out, our pinch-hitter in the nine-hole was .200-hitting backup catcher Luis Torrens, who quickly went 0-2. Same old, same old, right? Wrong. A line single to right. Stadium goes nuts. We go nuts. Aaron Judge in right goes nuts trying to get Haggerty in a force at second. With one out? Was he just being a dick? Or was he too tired to remember what was happening?
Anyway, it's been a while since I've seen such a game. I guess never.
Sunday August 07, 2022
Nothing Guys from Nowhere Clobber M's 7-1
Bernardino’s stat line: How could a guy come in for 1/3 of an inning, give up a hit and a walk but no earned runs, and still lose?
A viral video made the rounds last week of a young New York construction guy complaining about the Yankees latest loss—which included Gerrit Cole giving up six run in the first inning—to, of all teams, the Seattle Mariners. It was the way he said it that was the chef’s kiss. He said it like it was preposterous. This podunk team, these nothing guys from nowhere, beating his team, the mighty New York Yankees, and raising his blood pressure. The Seattle Mariners. We all had a good laugh as the M’s took a series in the Bronx for the first time since 2016. It was a sign we were going places.
Last night at the Mariners game, I felt a bit like that guy. We get clobbered 7-1 ... to the Anaheim Angels???
To be fair (to me), if we’d lost 7-1 and Shohei Ohtani had hit two homeruns, well, god bless. But Ohtani went 0-3 with a walk and a sac fly and didn’t look good at the plate. At all. So not only did the Mariners not win but we didn’t get to see a historic player doing historic things.
Instead we saw guys who don’t walk (Jared Walsh, 20 BBs against 117 Ks) walking on five pitches. We saw guys without hits (Mickey Moniak, 2 for 11) hitting the ball all over the place (he went 2-4 with a homerun). None of their 5-9 guys had OBPs over .300, a few had OPSes in the .400s, and their clean-up hitter, with the World War II-ready name Max Stassi, had a SLG in the .300s. Those stats reminded me of the bottomless futility of the early 2010s Mariners team, pre-Cano, when we were at the bottom of every important offensive stat in the Majors. Our 30-30-30 years. And yet these nothing guys from nowhere cleaned our clocks. Their 5-through-7 guys went 5-for-11 with 4 runs scored and 4 RBIs.
Meanwhile, the usually sure-handed J.P. Crawford kept letting things slip past him. We’ll give him the infield dribbler that he couldn’t barehand, even though it led to the Angels’ first run. But then he botches a relay? And in the 9th he bobbles a sure double play for an error? By then we were down 6-1, so it didn’t really matter, but it mattered for its pile-on effect. The thing didn’t happen cleanly and smartly. It was just … this again.
And just when we thought we were done with “this again.”
That accounts for some aspect of my frustration: I expect something from the Mariners now. Each game matters. It’s been a while.
I was also more laser-focused on the game because I went by myself. It was the second half of a “day-night doubleheader,” meaning two games played on the same day with separate admissions, and so, on my Mariners calendar printout, where normally I have a big circle around the date so I can tell at a glance which games I’m going to, this one had a smaller, tighter circle around the second game. And I never noticed. It wasn’t until Friday night, when MLB sent me a reminder that my tickets were now available in its Ballpark app that I went “Oh shit,” and tried to drum up business. To no avail. First Sat. night in August. Everyone was busy. So I went solo. As a result, I could focus on the Angels’ hitters horrific stats. And I could wonder over why Adam Frazier, a lefty, was leading off against lefty Reid Detmers. And I could wonder whether the scoreboard crew had screwed up yet again when it flashed M’s relief pitcher Brennan Bernardino’s stats:
0.1 IP, 1 HIT, 1 WALK, .500 BAA, 0.00 ERA, 0-1
I mulled over that one for a while. How could a guy come in for 1/3 of an inning, give up a hit and a walk but no earned runs, and still lose? If he’d let inherited runners score, it wouldn’t be his loss. I was guessing errors and unearned runs, but the answer was simpler if dumber. Bernardino game in for the 10th inning of a game against Houston and let the ghost runner score. Not an earned run but a loss. The ghost runner. Rob Manfred strikes again.
Mitch Haniger got a nice round of applause in his first game back, and went 1-3 with a walk—the one hit being a two-out, nobody-on double in the 8th. Eugenio Suarez followed with an HBP (why are they always hitting our batters?), and Carlos Santana strode to the plate. A homerun would make it 5-4 and we would be back in it. Instead a fly out to right and the fat lady cleared her throat.
I miss Julio. The Mariners miss him more.
Wednesday July 27, 2022
Mariners Beat the Heat, Rangers
For the first time in a long time, I showed up at the park early just to hang out.
At first I thought the magic was back. And then I thought, OK, maybe not. Then it was. Or was it? Umps? Guys? Pause... Pause...
That was the roller-coaster ride at last night's Mariners game, played in the 90-degree heat against Texas.
Reminder: Before the All-Star break, the Mariners, my Seattle Mariners, the only franchise in baseball without a pennant and the professional sports team that has the longest active postseason drought (21 years of fun), had been on a roll, winning 14 in a row and 22 of 25. We'd swept Toronto, we'd swept San Diego. We couldn't be contained.
And then our young, fun superstar, Julio Rodriguez, center field, #44, showed up on the national stage for the Homerun Derby and blew everyone away. He didn't win—he lost in the final round to Juan Soto—but he hit more homeruns than anyone; and he lit up the stage. Everyone was like, “Who's this guy? And where can we get some of that.”
And when we returned from the All-Star break, for a weekend series against the Houston Astros, we didn't have any of that. Julio was out. Wrist soreness. From the game last Sunday and probably exacerbated by all those HR swings. And we got swept by the 'Stros: 5-2, 3-1, 8-5.
On Monday, Texas rolled into town and we eked out a victory against them. But no sign of Julio.
Until last night when my friend Jeff and I went to the game. Julio was leading off.
I expected not much. There's talk that the Homerun Derby ruins guys for the second half, it messes with their swing, and besides he'd just missed four games. Well, really, almost 7-8 games. He played a week ago Sunday, did the HR Derby Monday, played a few innings on Tuesday's All-Star Game, and that was it until last night. He'd been out a week. So I assumed rusty.
And in that first at-bat in the bottom of the 1st, he looked rusty. Texas pitcher Dane Dunning got two quick strikes on him, and Julio just seemed off. He worked the count to 2-2, fouled off a pitch, and then rocketed a linedrive homerun into the left-field seats. The magic was back.
The rest of the inning was near magic. With two outs, we drew two walks, the Texas mucky-mucks closed in around Dunning, probably telling him to challenge us, and the Mariners rose to the challenge. Kyle Lewis, our frequently injured 2020 Rookie of the Year, also finally back in the lineup, rocketed a single to left for a run. Then team leader J.P. Crawford rocketed a single to right, but he rocketed it too much and Jesse Winker couldn't score from second. And we left the bases loaded. But we were up 2-0.
And that's how it stayed for six innings. And some part of me kept thinking, “We really should've scored more in the 1st when we had the chance.”
In the 8th it was 3-1, and the game kind of seemed over. We had Paul Sewald on the mound, our kinda closer, who got two quick outs. Then he walked two guys. “Sewald never does good when I'm here,” I warned Jeff. Which is when Adolis Garcia dribbled a ball just inside the bag at 1st and down the right-field line for a WTF 2-run double.
And they weren't done. In the top of the 9th, iit went single, sac, single, and they had the lead. And it felt like the magic had left the room.
Until J.P. Crawford led off the bottom of the 9th with a single, and catcher Cal Raleigh followed with a double in the center-right gap, and J.P., our man J.P., tore around the bases and scored. Then it was our turn to sacrifice. Which brought up Julio again.
“It began with him and maybe it'll end with him,” I said.
Nope. They intentionally walked him. Him and Ty France. “They're walking all of our All-Stars,” I said. That brought up Carlos “Not that Carlos Santana” Santana, who, in a month with the team, has come up with a lot of big hits, and who could hit a deep fly ball in his sleep.
But why did we still have Cal Raleigh at third? That's what I wondered. Didn't we have anyone on the bench faster than our catcher?
“We used our pinch runner in the 8th,” Jeff said.
Yes, in the 8th, after a two-out walk to Winker, we'd brought in Sam Haggerty to pinchrun and Abraham Toro to pinchhit. “Our pinchrunner is hitting 100+ points higher than our pinchhitter,” I said. “That make any sense to you?”
“Maybe it's a lefty-righty thing,” Jeff said.
And now the speed of Cal Raleigh was putting the game on the line.
“If he hits a sac fly,” I said, “I hope it's deep.”
It wasn't. It was midrange, center field. Raleigh began chugging home ... the throw came in ... SAFE! Excitement. Jubilation. Full-throated cries from the people around ... Wait, what was this? ... Why were the Mariners pausing in their celebration? Why were the Rangers not exiting stage right? Why were the umpires conferring? Was there a challenge? Whose? The Rangers were out of challenges.
But there was a challenge. Did someone say Raleigh left early? Did someone say he didn't touch the plate? Or that the throw beat him? Whatever it was, it went for naught. Play stood, Mariners won, and Julio picked up Santana in celebration. I'll take it. I'll take delayed magic rather than none. I suppose Raleigh chugging home was part of the magic. With Haggerty, we wouldn't have been in doubt. With Cal, we had nothing but doubt. It shouldn't have happened but it did. That's what magic is.
I found this interesting: One of the lead stories on ESPN.com is about the game. Except not really. This was the hed: Julio Rodriguez back in Seattle Mariners' lineup, homers in first at-bat. It's been a while since any Seattle Mariner created headlines like that.
Sunday July 10, 2022
The Revenge of St. Felix
On Friday night a friend texted me her great view at the Mariners game against the visiting Toronto Blue Jays. The next morning we had the following conversation:
- Nice! And looks like you saw a good game. Or a long one anyway.
- All the games I go to seem to be extra innings these days.
- What was the % of Blue Jays fans to Ms fans? And how annoying was that?
- It was about 70% Blue Jays fans. We passed a pile of 9 stuffed tour busses on the way out! But they’re polite drunks anyway. I’ll take them, happily.
- I don’t go to Mariners-Blue Jays games for that reason. I just find it embarrassing they do that in our park. This was the last time I went. (Link)
- I love fans that will drive 1300 km for a game! You can’t argue with their determination to go to a ball game!
- Aww, just read this… you are a certifiable curmudgeon! 🤣
- Curmudgeon is my default. When all those BJ fans come to town, I become certifiably psychotic.
Indeed, that game in Sept. 2016 is the last time I went to a Mariners-BJs game at our park. I hate them turning it into their park. Drives me nuts. Can't deal.
But this weekend did much to wipe that shame away, with the M's winning 8-3, 5-2 (11), 2-1 and 6-5 for THE SWEEP. Recent pickup Carlos Santana struck the big blow Sat. night and the two big blows Sun. afternoon for the wins. To be honest, I didn't get trading for him on June 27. I looked at his recent numbers and went “Why?” I hope to keep being wrong.
I hope to keep being wrong about the Mariners. At the beginning of the season, my friend Tim over at GrandSalami.com asked a bunch of us to make predictions for the season, and I was the only one who didn't put the M's in the playoffs. Everyone else had them winning 90+ while I figured 84-79 seemed about right. A month ago, that looked horribly optimistic. Right now, after a 16-3 run, the best record in baseball during that time, I seem gloriously wrong. Please let me keep being gloriously wrong.
Over the weekend, including to my above friend, I texted or tweeted that 2016 gif of Felix Hernandez shutting down the BJs in the 2016 getaway game—two days after my horrific experience—and telling the polite, assembled Canadian crowd, “This is MY house!” and I loved him forever for it. But they kept coming. This weekend, despite their presence, it was our house.
Thursday June 30, 2022
M's Beat O's in Fun Fashion, and How OBP Can Be Lower than BA
Yesterday I saw my first in-person M's win of the season (I was 0-3), and it was pretty definitive, 9-3 over Baltimore. All the damage was done in two innings.
In the second, off starter Austin Voth, whose name sounds like something out of “Star Wars”—some mix of Hoth, Darth Vader, and the western themes of “Boba Fett”—we got a one-out double from Abraham Toro, and then relied upon pee-wee baseball from the opposition: E-5, E-5, and the O's catcher hoping J.P. Crawford's dribbler would go foul. Add a sac fly and we're up 3-0.
Two innings later, it's 3-1, and the O's sub out Voth for another V pitcher, Vespi, Nick, a 25-year-old rookie who sported a nifty 0.79 ERA and a similar 0.794 WHIP in 11.1 innings. So I guess he was due because the M's made it seem like he was throwing batting practice: double, single, double, SF, HR, single, double, and that was all she wrote for Vespi. In came Bryan Baker, who promptly threw a wild pitch plating another run. Then a walk and another sac fly made it 9-1. Toro, who began the inning with his second double, finally ended it with a pop-up to second. It was a fun inning. The homer, by the way, was from rookie Julio Rodriguez and it was a jaw-dropper: upper deck, left field, and not just down the line, either. It was halfway to center. The kid's fun.
This team is fun. M's are still, whatever, five, six games below .500, with seemingly no shot at the postseason, but I actually look forward to seeing players now. You have a choice as to favorites. Hell, they're having fun with the music at the park. The walkup music for journeyman Sam Haggerty (28 years old, .580 OPS) is the theme from “The Godfather,” they riffed on Paul Simon's “Me & Julio” for our rookie star, while we got a nice mix of Seattle icons: a couple of Hendrix songs, a mashup of Nirvana's “Smells Like Team Spirit.” More Seattle, please. And less John Fogerty. They played his '80s hit “Centerfield,” whose opening riff always make me think we're about to get “La Bamba.” (Did the Ritchie Valens estate ever sue?) Just play “La Bamba.” Go to the source.
By the way: those E-5s in the 2nd inning? That was O's third baseman Jonathan Arauz, a recent waiver pickup from Boston, who, for the season, sported the statistical oddity of having an OBP lower than his batting average. I'd forgotten how that was possible until I looked it up online. It's the sac flies. They don't count toward BA but do toward OBP. Add in zero walks in 24 plate appearances and you get that anomaly. Sadly, for him, none of his numbers were any good. At the start of the game, his line was .136/.130/.273, and then he went 0-4 with two errors. Ouch.
Thursday June 16, 2022
0-5 for Buxton, 5-0 for the Twins
I went to the Mariners game yesterday, a Wednesday afternoon getaway game against the Minnesota Twins, expecting not to see Byron Buxton.
You see, whenever I've gone to Twins games in the last few years—in Seattle when they're playing the Mariners, or in Minnesota, which I visit often—no Buxton. He's injured or resting or something. They've been resting him a lot this season, too, hoping he doesn't get injured again, and DHing him even though he's one of the best defensive center-fielders in the game, so I expected more of that. He'd played Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday was a getaway day, so I assumed no Buxton. If I'd checked I would've seen he actually played the entire previous series against the Rays, and the series before that against the Yankees. The last game he'd sat out was Sunday, June 5, against Toronto, which is an eternity in Buxtonville, an unbreakable Lou Gehrig-like string of consecutive games played. The point is I'd been chasing Buxton, one of the most exciting players in the game, for years, and never caught him.
Yesterday I finally caught him. Not only was he in the lineup, but he was leading off and playing center field. I felt like I'd been handed a gift.
And then he went 0-5: groundout, strikeout, groundout, strikeout, groundout. He did make a nice catch in center field early in the game, but he was one of only two Twins who went hitless. I was bummed.
“Are you rooting for the Twins?” my friend Hal asked early on.
He knew I was from Minnesota. And it made me wonder: Am I rooting for the Twins?
“Well, the Twins have a better shot at the postseason,” I said. “They're leading the AL Central, while we're near the bottom of the AL West.” Pause. “I guess I'm rooting for Buxton.” Another pause. “Also Luis Arraez, this kid from Venezuela who's leading the league in hitting. He's kind of a throwback. Hits singles everywhere. I don't get why he's not leading off, to be honest. They got him batting fifth? He doesn't have much pop. You'd think you'd want him to bat before Buxton and Correa and Sanchez so they could drive him in.”
Arraez's position in the batting order was just one of the things I didn't get about the game. I also didn't get why they closed the roof in the middle of it. It wasn't raining and wasn't scheduled to rain. Was it the glare? It was vaguely glarey out. Did someone complain? Some hitter? So they could hit better. If that was the case, it worked—for the Twins. In the top of 7th, shortly after they closed the roof (which always closes to the sound of the Imperial March/Darth Vader theme in my head), the Twins broke up the scoreless game with a two-out single. Starter Marco Gonzalez had begun the 7th, but with one out he gave up a single and a walk, then, I think, he nearly got a double play but just got the force at second. Either way, it was two outs, men on first and third, and they pulled him for Paul Sewald. Who gave up the tie-breaking single to Twins catcher Ryan Jeffers. This was almost a replay of the last M's game I went to, Sunday, May 29 against Houston, when Marco was pitching into the 8th in a 1-1 game, gave up a one-out double, and was pulled for Sewald, who untied the game with a two-out single. Marco got the loss in both; they were his runners.
But it made me wonder why we kept going to Sewald in those situations. (I guess his 0.85 WHIP, Erik.) More, when I got home, it made me wonder why “Inherited Runners Scoring” isn't a more easily findable stat for relief pitchers. It's often the whole ball game.
This game was lost in the 8th when M's manager Scott Servais tapped double-unique reliever Penn Murfee and his sterling 0.79 ERA to keep the game tight. He didn't: single, K (Buxton), RBI double (Correa, forever booed), 5-3, BB (Sanchez), which brought up the oddly placed Luis Arraez. A wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position.
“This isn't good,” I said, apparently rooting for the Mariners at this point. “I saw footage of a game where Arraez just kept hitting singles to left. One of those here, it's 4-0.”
He hit one of those there. It was 4-0. So maybe fifth in the order for him was a smart move?
By the 9th, my main wish was just to see Buxton again. He was due to bat fourth in the inning so the Twins just needed one un-erased baserunner. And they got him and more: walk, double. And Buxton was announced by the Mariners PA announcer Tom Hutyler.
“Wait, Buxton?” I looked at the scoreboard, the runners on base, then back to the scoreboard. “Didn't they just get two guys on? And nobody out? So how could that be Buxton?”
It wasn't. It was the Twins No. 9 hitter Gilberto Celestino.
“That's embarrassing,” I said.
To his credit, Hutyler sounded a bit embarrassed when, after Celestino's RBI groundout, he announced Buxton again—correctly this time. I think it was Hutyler's second slip-up of the game but I don't recall the first. I know my friend Tim has complained about Hutyler in the past, and I guess I have, too. He seems like someone paying nominal attention. I guess in this way he seems like the typical Mariners fan: someone rooting more for hydro races than pennant races. But you want more from your PA guy.
Anyway, that was the final score, 5-0. Nice seeing Buxton, even if he went 0-5. Nice seeing Arraez. Good luck, Twins. It's June 16 and you're the only team this month to beat the New York Yankees, who are on pace to win 120 games.
Tuesday May 31, 2022
I took my wife to the Mariners game Sunday afternoon but forgot to tell her about MLB's new bag policy. Basically, you can't bring most bags, including purses, into the park. Patricia's purse was smallish but not small enough for the gatekeepers at T-Mobile Park, who measured and said no. When we told them we'd walked to the park from First Hill, so we had no car to return the purse to, a storge locker on Occidental was suggested. “It's just over there,” we were told. “On Occidental.” Once we found it, we also found out it cost $10. That's when Patricia put her foot down, hid her purse beneath her jacket, and we went in via another gate. But man was she steamed. Don't come between a woman and her purse, MLB. Just asking for trouble. Just asking for it.
The policy, I guess, is for security reasons and to speed up the entrance process, but it delayed ours. By the time we got to Section 327 it was the bottom of the 2nd and the M's were down 1-0. And that's where it stood for a while. M's didn't get a baserunner until the 5th (Suarez, walk), a hit until the 6th (Torrens, single), and a run until two outs in the 6th (France, RBI single, scoring Torrens).
“I don't know any of these guys,” Patricia said.
“It's a young team,” I said. “Doesn't help that I don't watch the games, because we don't have cable.” Then I told her what I knew about our starting lineup:
- Ty France is among the league leaders in hits. “He's hitting .340,” I said. “I can't remember the last time we had a guy hitting .340.”
- J.P. Crawford is a great defensive shortstop, a team leader, fun to watch.
- Julio Rodriguez is our highly touted rookie who began wobbly, is righting himself, has wheels and steals, and wears an iconic number (44) at an iconic position (CF).
- We got Jesse Winker in a trade with the Reds but he's hitting about 100 points below what he did last year.
- We got Eugenio Suarez in the same trade, he was supposed to suck defensively at 3B but hasn't been bad.
- Adam Frazier I don't really know.
- Mike Ford I don't really know.
- Luis Torrens I don't really know.
- Taylor Trammell I don't really know.
In the 7th, the M's had a chance to go ahead after two leadoff singles and a sacrifice. But the Astros went to a reliever, former Mariner Rafael Montero (M's ERA: 7.27; Astros ERA: 0.35), who got two quick Ks on two bottom-of-the-order dudes hitting below .200 (Ford, Torrens).
“Why do we use a guy who can't hit as DH?” Patricia asked of Ford.
“I guess because he's better than our other options?” I said, shrugging.
Top of the 8th, we again sent out our starter, Marco Gonzalez, but he couldn't finish off their bottom-of-the-order dude hitting below .200, Martin Maldonado, who doubled on a 3-2 pitch. And then our reliever, Paul Sewald, who arrived with a tidy 16-2 strikeout-walk ratio, got sloppy. He walked two before allowing a two-out single. That put the Astros up again, 2-1. In the bottom of the 9th, the M's loaded the bases with one out but Torrens ground into a double play to end it. Yuck.
On the plus side, we didn't see that last part. We left after 8 because it was low 50s, rainy, and we were freezing. Plus my wife was still a little pissed about the purse. She might not be back anytime soon. But I get it, M's. When you're selling a product that has never won and seems unlikely to in the near future, featuring relative unknowns playing in often chilly temperatures, and in a stadium paid for by us but named for a corporation, with high-priced goods that are bad for you, well, in circumstances like those, you get to make your own rules.
Thursday December 30, 2021
Kyle Seager Says See Ya
Longtime Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager announced his retirement yesterday, which I first heard through retweets of his wife's Twitter account. That seems to be the way they announced it. Seager, who always seemed sensible, doesn't do social media.
I'm seeing a lot of commentary about how he went out with a bang, hitting 35 homers with 101 RBIs in 2021, both career highs, and how the 35 dingers are the second-most in baseball history for a player's final season—after David Ortiz's 38 in 2016. That is impressive. Less impressive, and less commented upon, is Seager's career-low 2021 batting average, .212, and the second-lowest OBP of his career, .285. He also set a career low in hits over a full season (128) and a career high in strikeouts (161). He became a kind of two-outcome guy: 24% of his plate appearances were strikeouts and 27% of his hits were homers.
His saddest record, though, isn't on him: For players who played their entire careers in the 21st century, Seager is second to Adam Dunn in games played without ever making the postseason. And with Dunn you can spread the blame around; he played for six teams. Seager just played for the M's. The onus is on them. And if you expand the parameters to players who played their entire careers in the post-1969 playoff era? Seager is 15th on the list, but, again, every player above him played for multiple teams. Think of that, M's fans. In the playoff era, no player has played more games for just one team without ever making the postseason. Unleash the mojo.
That mojo was apparent from the beginning. I'd forgotten this, or never knew it, but Seager made his Major League debut on July 7, 2011, after only two weeks in AAA, and went 0-4 in a 5-1 loss to the Angels. At that point, the M's were only two games below .500 and 4.5 games out of first place in the weak AL West. They still seemed to have a shot. Instead, they would go on to lose the next 15 in a row, setting a team record with 17 straight losses, and Kyle started in seven of those games before being reassigned to AAA Tacoma on July 21. That was his intro to the club: lose, lose, lose, lose, lose, lose, lose. It was a horrific team, finishing dead last in almost every major offensive category. And the reason Kyle was rushed to the Majors the way he was? Our everyday third baseman was a guy named Chone Figgins. Yeah, that team.
But Seager showed us something. He was brought back in early August and was hitting .111 on August 6. Three weeks later, he was hitting .310. In a 10-game stretch from mid-to-late August, he hit .500 with an .816 slugging percentage, and the Mariners future suddenly seemed more than just hoping Dustin Ackley might finally turn things around.
Did Seager ever live up to that promise? He was a solid .200/.300/.400 guy with a slight upward trajectory in his early years. His batting averages, for example, went: .258, .259, .260, .268. We were hoping at some point he'd bust loose, and the M's, probably hoping the same, took a gamble. In December 2014, a year after we'd shoveled a ton of money at Robinson Cano, and a day before we signed Nelson Cruz to a four-year deal, the M's inked Seager to a seven-year, $100 million contract. In 2014, he'd made the All-Star team and won a Gold Glove, and maybe the M's were banking he'd keep doing that, but he would never do either again. For a few years, though, the upward trajectory continued, and in 2016 he went .278/.359/.499 and finished 12th in the MVP voting with the 8th-best bWAR in the American League: 6.7. And he was only 29. But all of those would be career highs. He would never hit over .250 again and would retire with a .251/.321/.442 line.
He's all over the M's record books, particularly in the counting stats, firmly lodged in fourth place in Games Played, At Bats, Hits and Total Bases, with the same triumverate ahead of him: Edgar, Ichiro, Junior. He's fourth in homeruns and RBIs, with Jay Buhner replacing Ichiro. He's third in strikeouts. Seager has the seventh-most bWAR in M's history. One asumes he'll make the Mariners Hall of Fame. One assumes no one wears #15 again except the fans in the stands.
Sunday October 03, 2021
Well, so much for that.
What did I write a few weeks ago about the M's playoff chances?
If we went 10-2 [the rest of the way] maybe we would make the postseason for the first time since 2001.
We wound up going 10-3 (I forgot a game) and lost out on the playoffs on the final day, as we fell to the Angels, 7-3. (Moot point, since both the Yankees and BoSox won their games to take the wild card spots regardless of what we did.) Shohei Ohtani hit a homer on the second pitch of the game, Angels scored four runs in the first two innings, and we were never really in it. By the end, Mariners announcer Rick Rizzs kept telling us if we could only load the bases—we're just a grand slam behind. Yes. If only. Just.
Last March, my friend Tim asked a few of us to make predictions for the Mariners season and this is what I wrote:
Erik: 83-79, 2nd place, will miss a Wild Card berth by one game.
They did better than I thought (90-72), with less than I thought (last year's Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis was injured), and they made this city care about baseball again. It's been a while. Twenty seasons, basically.
On Twitter, someone mentioned how the Mariners were imploding today, and sportswriter Howard Bryant trotted out the usual SABR/common-sense response, which is: Yeah, they're not that good. To which I would say: Yes. And that's exactly the point. They're not that good and yet they won 90 games. They took it to the final game of the season. Among their regulars, they have zero .300/.400/.500 guys. Wait, scratch that. Not only do they not have one player with that batting line, which Edgar did regularly, but they don't have any player that fits any of that criteria. We don't have a regular who hit .300. We don't have a regular with an on-base percentage of .400. Nobody on our team slugged .500. Instead, we had this:
- .200/.300/.400: Mitch Haniger, Ty France
- .200/.200/.400: Kyle Seager, Luis Torrens
- .200/.300/.300: J.P. Crawford, Tom Murphy (Murphy barely on two of those)
- .100/.200/.300: Jarred Kelenic, Dylan Moore
It's not a recipe for success; it's actually a recipe for disaster. And yet somehow these guys won 90 games. That's the story. How did they do it? I hope the Mariners are trying to figure it out.
I like these kids—particularly J.P. Crawford and Mitch Haniger, and I have every finger crossed for Jarred Kelenic. I just wish I could've seen them more often. I have the MLB.TV package but don't have cable, which means I can watch pretty much any team at any time except for the Mariners. There's a blackout on local teams. Makes zero sense if you have any kind of long-term vision for the sport. But that's who's running the sport: people without long-term vision.
Anyway, here's to the kids. I don't know how you did it. But thanks for doing it.
All previous entries
Baseball's Active Leaders, 2023
What Trump Said When About COVID
Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935)
Something to Sing About (1937)
Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)
A Lion Is In the Streets (1953)
Man of a Thousand Faces (1957)
Never Steal Anything Small (1959)
Shake Hands With the Devil (1959)