M's Game: Kyle and the Kids Take One from the Reds
A few minutes before gametime. Mariners attendance will dip below 2 million this year.
I'm part of a season ticket group that meets every March to divvy up the season's tickets and talk about the year ahead. Mostly it's gallows humor. It's a good bunch of guys, with good humor and a deep knowledge of baseball history. I tend to buy tickets to 10 Mariner games, and last night was my last for the season. It was also the first time I ever saw the Cincinnati Reds live. I think. I grew up in an AL city.
Even so, it felt like the tail end of the tail end. It felt like the dregs. The weather was supposed to be nasty, and the M's were coming home from a really nasty Midwest road trip, in which they went 2-2 against the Rangers, 0-2 against the Cubs, and then 0-4 against Houston, including a 21-1 drubbing on Sunday. During the day, on my lunchbreak, I happened upon the Mariners Baseball Reference page and was comparing how this awful season compared with other Mariner awful seasons of the past:
- Our .403 winning percentage is on pace for the ninth-worst mark in M's history. Last season's .549 mark was our sixth-best (after 2001, 2002, 2003, 2000, and 1997).
- We‘ve had 14 winning seasons. This will be our 29th losing season.
- 2001 was the big one, of course: 116-46 for a .716 winning percentage. Second-best is .574 (twice). Meaning we’ve been .700+ but never .600-.700. Odd.
- Our attendance this year will amost certainly be below 2 mil for the fourth time (in a full season) since 1993. For the remaining 12 games, we'd need to average 34.7k to break 2 mil, and there have only been three games this entire season when we‘ve drawn better than 34.7k: two games in March, and a game last month against Toronto when all the Canadians came down.
- All of the sub-2 million attendance years have been this decade: 2011-13, and 2019.
- We’ve used more position players this year than ever before: 63. The previous record was 61 in 2017. Oh, and this was before last night's game when two new players made their MLB debuts. So I guess it's 65? (Yes, it's 65.)
- We‘ve also used more pitchers (40) than ever before. Well, it ties 2017. But 105 players total? What’s the record among all MLB teams?
- The best season a Mariner player has ever had, as judged by WAR, was Alex Rodriguez in 2000 when he posted a 10.4 WAR. Junior's 1996 season, when he missed a month to a hamate bone injury, is second at 9.7. The lowest WAR for the best Mariner player of a particular season is Ichiro's 3.9 out in 2005. We‘re likely to break that one, too. The best WAR on the team currently belongs to Kyle Seager. At 2.6.
All of which didn’t make the evening seem propitious.
But midday the skies cleared, and stayed so, and it was 69 degrees at gametime—about as beautiful a September evening as you could ask for. Plus we had Justus Sheffield on the mound, and I‘ve got hope in the kid. He had a couple good innings against the Yankees, and in his one outing on our sorry roadtrip he pitched five scoreless against the Cubs. Plus starting in right was Kyle Lewis, our 2016 No. 1 draft pick. So things felt new. There was upside. There were possibilities.
First inning looked good: three up and down for the Reds, while Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer had trouble finding the plate.
In the second, Reds right fielder Aristides (Double A) Aquino singled sharply between third and short, but he was erased on a DP. Then Phillip Ervin lofted one into the right-field corner, and our #1 draft pick dove for it. He didn’t come close, the ball bounced to the wall, Ervin glided in with a triple. Then a single, then a double, all sharply rapped. But a comeback to Sheffield ended the threat and it was only 1-0.
Sheffield kept ending threats. They kept getting hits but we kept getting double plays—four double plays in four innnings. We were hitless against Bauer but after 4 innings it was still only 1-0. Sadly, the kid misplayed another one in right, twisting the wrong way several times before making a desperate stab that went for naught (for him) and a double (for the batter). He got no error on either play. My friend Jeff was defending Lewis, since it was his first game, but I'm like, “He's doing the same thing he was doing for three years in the minors, just in a different field. I get where pitching might be at another level. But fielding? Misplaying a ball like that?” I was in the middle of all this when Lewis came to bat for the second time in his Major League career and promptly homered to left center. Tie game. Curtain call. An inning later, our No. 9 hitter, Dylan Moore, rapped one to left. 2-1, M‘s.
In the 7th, we brought in Austin (Double A) Adams, and he got two quick outs, walked the No. 9 hitter, and faced a pinch hitter. “Isn’t it odd to pinch-hit for your leadoff hitter?” I was asking Jeff. Which is when the pinch hitter, Brian O‘Gradym went deep to right with a no-doubter second-decker, and just like that (as Dave used to say) the Reds were back on top. Oh, that was O’Grady's first Major League homer, too. September baseball.
The Reds pattern that inning was out, out, walk, homer, and in the bottom of the 8th we duplicated it. Narvaez struck out, Gordon grounded out, Nola walked and Kyle Seager (our No. 1 WAR guy, after all), hit a parabola that landed about three rows deep in right. And just like that we were on top again. Tony Bass finished it off, 1, 2, 3, and the M's losing streak stopped at six. It was our second victory in September.
Of the seven runs in the game, six were scored via homers. That's getting old. Yesterday I read that something like 50% of all MLB runs this year are scored on homers. Pretty soon, everyone's first hit will be a homer.
Attendance last night was 12,230. Officially. The unofficial number seemed about half that.
Is Jerry Dipoto's reclamation project going well? We are getting younger. But young enough? By position-player age, we‘re currently tied for the 13th-youngest Mariners team with an average age of 27.9—as opposed to last year’s 29.8. By pitcher age, we‘re about the same: 28.8 this year vs. 29.0 last year. It’s the 11th-oldest pitching staff in M's history.