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Saturday June 29, 2024

Cheering Correa at Mariners Park

“Walks it off”: A nubber to the pitcher and an errant throw.

I found myself rooting for the Twins.

I spent most of June in Minnesota visiting my 92-year-ol father in M. Hospital or R. Hospital, where he was trying to recover from a stroke, and during that time we watched a lot of Twins games so I got to know them a bit. Meanwhile, I kind of lost track of my M's. Were they still in first place in the AL West? Apparently so. Nine games over .500. Had Julio become Julio again? No, he hadn't. And we still weren't hitting? No, we weren't. Pre-game, we were 29th of 30 teams in batting average, 25th in OBP, 25th in SLG. Among our regulars, Julio led in batting with a .252 average. We had pitching and not much else.

Meanwhile, the Twins had this kid, Royce Lewis, who couldn't sneeze without hitting a homerun. A few weeks back I checked and his SLG was .900. .900! For slugging. Barry Bonds looks at that and goes WTF? Twins also had superstar shortstop Carlos Correa who was beautiful to watch. Everyone on the field is a top tier athlete but some guys are just top top-tier and he was one of those. He made everything look smooth. I remember watching an at-bat in Minnesota where the ball landed in front of homeplate and Correa reached down and flipped it to the catcher in one smooth motion. The day before yesterday, I got worried when in the late innings of a Twins shellacking of Arizona, Correa got pegged in the forearm, grimaced, shook his forearm, and immediately walked off the field. He was injury prone but was finally coming back from all that. He was having a helluva June. So was he down again? No. Not a fracture. His hand went numb but feeling returned in the Twins locker room and he said he'd be in the lineup the next day, which was last night. He was. 

I went with my wife Patricia. We got there slightly late—Correa was already on first with a one-out single—which meant we'd missed the first round of boos. I should've anticipated that. I was loving Correa now but he'd been on the 2017 Houston Astros, who cheated by stealing signs with high-tech gear and sent signals via trash-can lids, and Mariners fans, and pretty much all fans, continued to boo the stars of that team. Even a guy like Kyle Tucker, who wasn't on the '17 squad, who didn't make his MLB debut until July 2018 and didn't play a full season until 2021, even he gets booed like he's Simon Legree. So it goes. Me, I'm already passed it. Plus it's boring. So when the M's faithful booed Correa lustily in his next at-bat, I took the opposite tack: I cheered lustily. I cheered even louder when, in the top of the sixth, with the M's ahead 1-0, Correa hit a 2-run homer into the bullpen in left field. The only one who said anything was a Twins fan sitting behind me. He looked confused, pointing to my M's cap. Yeah, long story, pal.

Correa, by the way, was the only guy on either team with an average north of .300, but the Twins had five guys with averages better than Julio's, which, again, is the best on the M's. Just embarassing. Our leadoff hitter (J.P. Crawford) was near .200, our No. 3 hitter (Cal Raleigh) just scaped above .200, while our cleanup hitter (Mitch Garver) was significantly below .200. Again, we're 29th of 30. Thank god for the White Sox.

Mariners Park was packed for the first time in a long time. Because they'd just gotten back from a successful road trip? No, they'd gone 3-6 against the Guardians, Marlins and Rays. Because it was J.P. Crawford bobblehead night? Maybe. It was also Filipino Heritage Night, so that helped. It helped make it a rare midsummer sellout. Just when I didn't want to be near people.

After Correa's homer, the M's went down 1-2-3 in the sixth and seventh, but in the bottom of the eighth they got the first two guys on via walk and single. Then bobblehead guy J.P. tried to bunt but popped it up to third. Then Julio hit a slow roller to third, which Twins third baseman Jose Miranda, cousin to Lin Manuel, rushed a throw to first, which first baseman Carlos Santana tried to dig out but couldn't. A run scored and the game was tied. It stayed that way until the bottom of the tenth when we scored our ghost runner on a groundout to short (moving him to third) and a nubber back to the pitcher, whose hurried throw home sailed past the catcher. So we won on two errant throws. So it goes.

The weather was nice anyway.

Posted at 09:15 AM on Saturday June 29, 2024 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Sunday May 19, 2024

Poz Cools on M's

The man who thought the M's would be great this year—or, more accurately, wanted the M's to be great this year—has cooled on them a bit. From Joe Posnanski's SubStack the other day, “Who's Winning (and Losing), and Why,” in which he went over each division and gave us what, where and why as of May 14:

American League West
Leading: Seattle (23-19)

Why they're winning: They're not exactly winning, but they're in first place because they're getting some good starting pitching—this team has the second-best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the league—and they're taking most of the close games. With the early emergence of Bryce Miller, to go along with Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert and George Kirby, this does look like one of the best four-man rotations in the league. But the offense: Bleh. They're 13th in the league in runs scored and are striking out more than any team. We keep waiting for Julio Rodriguez to ignite.

Confidence level: Medium, I guess. The offense has to get better, I would think, and that starting rotation is stout. Still, the Rangers seem to have a lot more firepower.

His “Confidence level” is how confident he is they'll stay in that position. I'm with him. The offense has to get better. The Mariners are currently 25th in the Majors in team batting, 21st in team OPS. We're first in strikeouts and 19th in walks. Ninth in homers, we're dead last in doubles, with 52 on the season, which is nine away from the next team, so not even close. What is it the M's do? We hit poorly but occasionally hit it out. And our pitching is good. That's neither a formula for success or excitement.

Posted at 12:52 PM on Sunday May 19, 2024 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Tuesday May 14, 2024

Ms 6, KC 2, and the Black Hole at Second

And the crowd went wild

The announced attendance last night was 14,984 but it felt way sparser than that. It felt like a mid-September game: starting temps in the low 60s dropping into the chilly 50s as the game went on; a handful of fans trying to amuse themselves with scoreboard antics or hydro races; two teams with nowhere players going nowhere fast.

Both teams are actually doing well. Or well-ish. The Mariners, predicted to win the West by some, are in fact in first place in the AL West (by half a game at gamestart), while the Royals, whom nobody predicted to go anywhere, are third in the AL Central but with a better record: 25-17 vs. 22-19. So why wasn't there more excitement?

On the M's side, it's partly that record. We're only in first because everyone else in the division is falling on their faces. We're like the normal guy at the klutz convention, but no one is mistaking us for Fred Astaire. It's also our offense—or lack of it. Halfway through the game, our second baseman and No. 3 hitter Jorge Polanco had to leave with a hamstring pull, and in the reshuffling the new third baseman, Luis Urias, wound up in the three spot. I nudged my friend Tim. “Look at that. Means we have a No. 3 hitter batting below .200.” Then I realized the awful truth. “I guess we began the game that way, didn't we?” In fact three of our starters were below Mendoza: Polanco and the two Mitches—Haniger and Garver—while seven of our starting nine were hitting below .250, and one of those, supposed star Julio Rodriguez, was barely that. In the game he went 1-4 with a single and now sports a .255/.309/.321 line, for a .630 OPS. I know he's a slow starter (a year ago he was at .214/.280./403), but all of that helps account for the meh reaction. This is a meh team. The Mariners are 25th in the Majors in batting (.226) and OBP (.302). The reason we're first in the West is because our starting pitching is superlative: No. 1 in the Majors in quality starts, No. 1 in WHIP, sixth in ERA.

Last night, starter George (“Summer of George!”) Kirby was shaky in the early going. With one out, Bobby Witt Jr. dunked a single to right, then Kirby seemed to lose control: he plunked the next two guys to load the bases. A mound visit seemed to do good for a change: he struck out the next guy, Michael Massey, on three pitches, then got a 6-3 to end the inning. But after two innings he'd thrown 43 pitches and you figured he wasn't long for the game. Except he turned it around. He had a couple of 1-2-3, throwing just 10 and 7 pitches, and he left after seven, ahead 4-0. He threw more than 100 pitches. Can't remember the last guy I saw who threw more than 100 pitches.

Our big bat was Lonesome Luke Raley, a 29-year-old left fielder acquired in the off-season from Tampa Bay, who hit a 2-run homer to dead center in the 2nd. He's an upswing guy—in that last year was his best year by far. He's the opposite of what Jerry DiPoto keeps doing with second base: getting one-time All-Stars who've had bad seasons, thinking they can turn it around. That was Kolten Wong in 2023, Polanco now. In our resumed SubStack the other day, Tim and I went over the black hole that was left field for the 1990s Seattle Mariners and last night we agreed that's now second base. Here are our main second-baggers playing opposite J.P. Crawford for the past few years, along with their OPSes:

  • 2024: Jorge Polanco, .606
  • 2023: Kolten Wong, .468; Jose Caballero, .663
  • 2022: Adam Frazier, .612
  • 2021: Abraham Toro, .695
  • 2020: Shed Long, Jr., .533
  • 2019: Dee Gordon, .663

So Abraham Toro was the high point. Who knew?

M's got two more runs in the 3rd, stringing three singles along. It should've been two singles and a double but when Cal Raleigh's deep drive to center went off the fielder's glove, Polanco, who'd been on first, wasn't ready to run, and could only get to second, stymying Raleigh. Maybe that's when he pulled the hammy? With his bad baserunning? Either way, after Lonesome Luke plated another, it stayed 4-0 until the 8th, when both teams got two: theirs off reliever Ryne “Time to panic” Stanek, ours when Tyrus Raymond France dunked a long fly into the left-field bleachers.

To me, the best-looking player of the game was Bobby Witt, Jr., who went only 1-4 but seemed everywhere: going first to third, running everything out, and with wheels. Right now he's hitting .304/.369/.518, and he's second in the Majors in WAR to Mookie Betts. Those are big boy numbers. Ah yes, I remember them well.

Posted at 11:18 AM on Tuesday May 14, 2024 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Friday May 03, 2024

Chris Sale Returns and a Mitch Haniger Question

Pinch-hitting for Superman

The last time I saw Chris Sale pitch in person was in July 2017. He was tall and lean and calm, and he dealt with the Mariners at Safeco Field rather handily: 3 hits over 7 innings, one walk, 11 Ks. It was his 13th victory that season—his first season with the Red Sox after seven with the White Sox—and the 87th of his super-promising young career.

Wednesday afternoon I saw him again, a 35-year-old in a Braves uniform, and his interim, like a lot of ours, hasn't exactly been stellar. I guess 37-27 is nothing to sneeze at, but it's over 6+ seasons, which rounds out to about 6-4 per, and that's including a pretty good romp in 2018 when he went 12-4. Injuries, of course, a way-too-common contemporary baseball storyline, are the reason. But is he back? Wednesday he handled the Mariners well enough, allowing 1 run over 5 innings, with zero walks and 9 strikeouts, as the Braves avoided a sweep with a 5-2 victory. He's now 4-1 on the season with a 3.44 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP. More power to him. I miss the days when the best pitchers in baseball stuck around for more than a few years. 

The Mariners, for their part, threw out 24-year-old Emerson Hancock for the ninth start of his career, but a lot of that five-spot wasn't his fault. Yes, he kept walking guys. In fact, in the 1st, the Braves didn't even put the ball in play: K, BB, BB, K, K. I yelled: TRUST THE GUYS BEHIND YOU! Bad advice, it turned out. The game got away from us in the 4th, when, with one out, shortstop Orlando Arcia lofted a high popup into shallow right, and three guys converged. It was RF Mitch Haniger's, but for some reason he didn't seem to be tracking it well, and the ball plopped out of his glove for a two-base error. It was as close to a Charlie Brown moment as you'll see at the professional level. If he'd caught it, Hancock would've had a 1-2-3 inning. Instead, with two outs, Ronald Acuna Jr. singled to left and Arcia scored from second. Then Ozzie Albies singled. Then Austin Riley tripled over Haniger's head—a tougher play, but another where he got his glove on the ball—and that was it for Emerson.

Hancock wasn't stellar but a lot of the loss belongs to Haniger. Besides the Charlie Brown play, he went 0-5 with three strikeouts, and now his season line is down to .217/.278/.368. Mid-April, he was .300/.382/.500. Since April 17, he's got four hits in 41 at-bats. Ouch. Is he injured? Either way, should he be batting second, Scott Servais?

I went to the game with my friend Tim, never a Servais fan, who noticed that the Braves kept tossing left-handers at us: Sale, Dylan Lee, A.J. Minter. And then in the 8th, they tapped rightie Joe Jimenez to face our 6-8 guys, none of whom are hitting above .200, and who bat rightie, rightie, and switch. Tim assumed it was a good time for a lefty pinch-hitter like Josh Rojas, who's been knocking the cover off the ball. Which is exactly what happened. For the switch-hitter. 

“Does that make any sense?” Tim asked the air.

“Maybe he's weaker from the left side?” I offered.

And he is: .211. But the others aren't exactly great shakes against righties, either: .218, .197. Plus the switch-hitter was EL.com favorite Sam Haggerty, he of the “Godfather” walkup music, who made a nice Superman catch earlier in the game. Now that I think about it, so did the No. 6 guy, Dylan Moore, our shortstop. The Braves did blister the ball. I guess we were lucky it was only 5-2. 

Posted at 06:00 PM on Friday May 03, 2024 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Thursday April 18, 2024

M's One-Hit Reds on a Sunny Afternoon

Bryce, Bryce, baby. 

Well, that's a little better. 

Two weeks ago, I attended my first Mariners game of the season, an 8-0 drubbing at the hands of Cleveland, in which our D kept booting the ball and our O couldn't move a man past second even if he led off with a double. That loss, to a team who did poorly last year but is currently one of the top teams in baseball, dropped the Mariners to one game below .500.

In yesterday's afternoon game, on a super-sunny, mid-50s mid-April day, the Reds and Mariners traded solo shots in the 2nd (Elly de la Cruz for them, Cal Raleigh for the good guys, a no-doubter), then there was nothing for several innings. Immediately after Cal, with two outs, Dylan Moore hit a triple thanks to a misplay by Reds centerfielder Stuart Fairchild, but he was stranded at third. With one out in the bottom of the 3rd,  Julio Rodriguez, off to an abysmal start (sub-.300 everything), ripped a double off the glove of Fairchild but was also stranded at third. Stranding at third seemed our lot. 

Then in the bottom of the 6th, we got another solo shot, this one from clean-up hitter Mitch Garver. Was that our lot? The solo shot? Because in the bottom of the 7th we got another one, from lead-off pinch-hitter Josh Rojas, making it 3-1. Four solo shots, four runs. That inning, though, finally gave way to another way to score. Newbie whippersnapper Jonatan Clase walked, stole second, and scored on a Mitch Haniger line single to left. Fun! Then Reds pitchers couldn't find the plate. Less fun! With two outs, Garver walked, and France walked to load them. Would Cal Raleigh get out the rye bread and mustard? No, he walked, too. Could Dylan Moore hit another triple to clear the bases? No, he struck out. But now we were up 5-1.  

It was my friend Jeff who pointed out that the Reds weren't exactly hitting. Meaning beyond de la Cruz's homer, they didn't have any other hits

“Did they even walk?” I wondered aloud. “I guess they're two over the minimum right now, so they must've walked.” They did: catcher Tyler Stephenson immediately after de la Cruz's homer. Those turned out to be the Reds' only baserunners for the day. Every other inning: three up, three down. Bryce Miller pitched six and got the win. Our first series win of the season was a series sweep, and it raised the Mariners record to .... right, one game below .500. This again. But I'll take the W.

Throughout the game, Jeff and I kept moving to stay in the sun. We began on the first-base side of the 300-level and wound up in shallow left field, but I still felt cold and stiff at the end. Maybe I'm getting too old for this shit? I screwed up the game time, too—thought it was a 12:40 start rather than 1:10—but was rewarded with a Griffey bobblehead doll. I normally say no to bobbleheads but I couldn't say no to that.

Posted at 08:12 AM on Thursday April 18, 2024 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Thursday April 04, 2024

Pos: Mariners Will Win Division! M's: Not So Fast

On the day that Joe Posnanski predicted the Seattle Mariners would be the fifth-best team in baseball, I attended my first game of the 2024 season, where the Mariners did a brilliant job of showing Joe he's not exactly Nostradamus.

We trotted out young ace George Kirby, who finished eighth in Cy Young balloting last season, and began this season by shutting down the Boston Red Sox in a 1-0 victory. Here, against the Cleveland Guardians (nee Indians) in the first inning, Kirby gave up a seeing-eye single to Steve Kwan, an HBP to Andres Gimenez, and a ringing double in the right-field corner to Jose Ramirez. 1-0. Then our defense fell apart. Josh Naylor grounded sharply to Ty France at first, who stepped on the bag but lost control of the ball—bloop—trying to complete the DP at home. 2-0. Will Brennan then grounded to drawn-in second baseman Jorge Polanco, our “big” off-season acquisition, and bloop again: the ball shot up in the air. 3-0. Brennan stole second as backup catcher Seby Zavala (part of the Eugenio deal) aired it into center. Kirby got the next batter, Bo Naylor, to strike out, but the ball bounced away from Zavala, and Naylor took first. Mercifully we got a pop out and a groundout to end it, but the next inning they got two more. In the 4th, they got three more, 8-0, the first on another Ramirez double. The Guardians kept repeating themselves that way. The most obvious example is when Bo Naylor struck out again in the 7th but got to first again when the ball bounced away from Zavala. I rarely see that once in a game anymore—taking first on a dropped third strike—let alone twice by the same player.

Mariner bats, meanwhile, strung together two doubles and three singles over nine innings and never managed to get a guy to third. The highlight of the game, for Mariners fans, was the top of the 9th when backup infielder Josh Rojas (part of the Sewald deal) pitched. I first noticed when a curveball floated in at 64 mph. Apparently he'd pitched last season with Arizona, two one-inning stints, getting shelled the first time, giving up a hit and no runs the second. Yesterday? No hits, no runs, just a walk, then a foul out (to himself), and a 6-3 DP. What remained of the crowd roared its approval.

So we're having Salmon Runs this season? That's the innovation? A between-inning race between four dudes dressed as different types of salmon? And this is how many years after Milwaukee was doing brat battles?

After the game, I listened to the latest Poscast and their 98.6% accurate predictions, in which Joe, again, said the Mariners would win the division. Then this admission: “I just want it so badly. I might not even be thinking straight, but I want Julio to win the MVP, I just want that team to be great.” Yes, it's pretty to think so.

Posted at 07:27 AM on Thursday April 04, 2024 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Sunday October 01, 2023

2023 Mariners Done

Yesterday, the Seattle Mariners were eliminated on the second-to-last game of the season, and I watched most of it because it was on network TV. I'd watched nothing of the two previous very exciting games (a walk-off two-run double from J.P. Crawford and an 8-0 win capped by a grand slam from J.P. Crawford) since they were on cable, and who has cable in 2023? One of these days I'll set up a VPN yadda yadda so I can watch the baseball games Major League Baseball won't let me watch—won't let me pay to watch—unless, of course, I pay an exorbitant sum like $90 a month. To recap: The entire MLB package is about $30 a month but of course the Mariners are blacked out in Seattle, so I'd need a special streaming service which costs like $90 per month to see those games. I refuse. But if I just VPNed it with a different zip code I'd be good. Next year. Wait till next year. 

Anyway, it was interesting seeing the Mariners on big-screen TV—“Oh, so that's what Sam Haggerty looks like”—but mostly it was just depressing. Luis Castillo's slider kept sliding out of the strike zone, tempting no one, and in the 3rd, the second time through the order, he gave up a leadoff walk to Marcus Semien, then got Seager to fly out and Grossman to strike out ... and that was his last out of the 2023 season. After that, nickel and diming. An infield roller to third that Eugenio Suarez made a nice one-handed play on but safe. Single up the middle to plate a run, a walk to reload the bases, a single to right, a single to right, then another walk to reload the bases, and that was it for Luis. We brought in Matt Brash to face Semien again, and, as they say, Brash got his man: a line shot to right that Dylan Moore made a beautiful Superman catch on, which mercifully ended the inning.

We had a chance in the 5th. Single, fly out, single, and then it was J.P. again, down 5-0, but he blooped one into center right and slammed his bat in frustration. Except it was perfectly placed: second base, right field and center field all converged and missed, and Siemen kind of hurt himself in the tumble, and it reminded me of J.P.'s hit last October in our incredible victory against the Blue Jays. Could it happen again? It couldn't. Julio, who's been lax in September, hit a 1-0 can-of-corn to left, then Gino grounded out and there went the season. We got two more hits: A two-out Kelenic single in the 6th and a Gino solo shot in the 8th, but mostly we went without a struggle, 6-1. I missed the very end, opting to see the 1977 movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” at SIFF Egyptian.

Joe Posnanski, who, in March, threw caution to the wind and predicted a Mariners pennant, summed it up thus:

And the Mariners' roller coaster season, which looked so blah (they had a losing record on July 15) and then looked so promising (they were in first place for 11 lovely days in late August and early September) will now end. If they were in the American League Central, they would have clinched the division title days ago. If they were in the National League, they would be the No. 2 wild card. But they are neither of those things, and if my dog could talk, I'd be a TV star.

I think Joe means if the Mariners were in the AL Central without the Twins, since the two teams have identical records, but otherwise yes. Once again we have the best record for any team not going to the postseason—and a better record than a few going:

Cold comfort. In a way, it's amazing we did as well as we did. Not much of a fan of the manager, Scott Servais, and while I like our young core lineup (Julio, Cal, J.P.), overall the Mariners strike out too much, are a bit streaky, and the role players don't play enough of a role. We have too many role players and need better ones. Next year. Wait till next year.

Posted at 11:57 AM on Sunday October 01, 2023 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Sunday September 17, 2023

Dodgers Clobber Mariners with One Hand Tied Behind Their Backs

A friend offered us three free tickets to the Mariners game today, and we got rooked.

We sat in the sun in the left-field bleachers, row 2, good seats, but I've never been much of a bleacher bum and age 60 is the wrong time to start. I squinted a lot and didn't always pick up the ball. Neither did the Mariners. It was the third game of a three-game series with the Dodgers and we were trying to avoid the sweep. Their lineup suggested they were, too. It was their B squad, the getaway game group. No Mookie, Freddie Freeman, Max Muncy or Will Smith. It was LA saying, “We'll take ya with one hands tied behind our backs!”

And they did.

We had our third-best pitcher on the mound, Logan Gilbert, and they went the opener route: Shelby Miller pitched an inning, then Ryan Yarbrough for 4.2, then a kid named Gavin Stone for the rest. Logan gave up a first-inning solo shot to Jason Heyward and Jarred Kelenic dropped a ball, Charlie Brown style, in the left-field corner, but at least it didn't do any damage. Plus J.P. Crawford led off our half with a double. HERE WE COME! And there we go: pop out, strikeout, line out. In the top of the second, they scored three more. Bottom two, with one out, Gino walked, Mike Ford singled and Ty France singled. Speed on the basepaths! Ah, but Rojas struck out. But wait! Single from J.P. to plate a run! And we had Julio up with the bases juiced!

And he grounded out to the pitcher.

That was pretty much it. That was our shot. The final was 6-1, Dodgers. 

Again, the Dodgers didn't start their four best hitters and put second-hand goods on the mound, and they still clobbered us. Gavin Stone has pitched seven games this year and in terms of earned runs has given up: 4, 5, 7, 1, 4, 7. Against us, on this day, he pitched 3.1, gave up one hit and zero runs. Zero. He had an ERA over 10 when he showed up and now I think it's south of that. He got his first save. Way to go, kid.

On the way home, I complimented my wife on how gungho she was during the game. 

“I don't feel gungho now. I feel dispirited.” 

“You know that makes you?”

“What?”

“A Mariners' fan. Welcome to the party, pal.”

Posted at 05:18 PM on Sunday September 17, 2023 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Wednesday August 30, 2023

Julio- and Kirby-less M's Look Feeble Against A's

The M's touted Julio's 4-hit streak pre-game, announced him in the starting lineup, but he wasn't there. 

Is it me? I'm beginning to think it's me. 

The last game I'd gone to was the infamous Felix game, where they inducted King Felix Hernandez into the Mariners Hall of Fame and then truly honored his Mariners career by scoring zero runs, wasting a great start by George Kirby, and losing 1-0 in 10 innings. 

They wound up losing the next two games, too, including one against a not-good KC squad; but after that they went on a truly blistering hot streak, winning 12 of the next 13, with Julio Rodriguez setting a MLB record with 17 hits over a four-game stretch. He was suddenly everything we'd hope he'd be. For August, he's slashed a .429/.474/.724 line, and was national news, and the Mariners, who had been creeping toward a wild-card spot, were taking the '95 Buhner approach and saying screw the wild card, we want the division. And they TOOK it. They leaped past both Texas teams and it felt a bit like '95 again. PLUS, in last night's game, we were starting George Kirby, our No. 2 and maybe even No. 1 pitcher. PLUS we were playing the Oakland Athletics, who, at 38-94, were not just the worst team in baseball but one of the worst teams in basebally history. PLUS they were starting a guy with an ERA over 6.00! So I was feeling about as confident as I've ever felt about a Mariners game as I walked to the park last night in the pregame drizzle.

And then I see our starting pitcher. “Wait, that's not George Kirby. Where's George Kirby?”

“Out,” Jeff said. “Undisclosed illness.” 

“And this is...?”

“Luke Weaver.”

“Who is...?”

“Some callup, I think.” 

[Editor's note: We picked him up August 22, a few days after he was released by the Cincinnati Reds, and since then he'd pitched three innings in relief, giving up 1 run. But for the season his ERA was over 6.00.]

They hit him early and often. Even the outs were tagged. One of them went to the warning track but our centerfielder settled under it.

“Wait, that's not Julio. Didn't they announce Julio was starting?” I looked at the scoreboard. Eugenio Suarez was batting second. No Julio. “Where's Julio? What happened?” 

Jeff got out his phone and went to a Lookout Landing thread. Sore left foot. And suddenly, without George and Julio, our mighty team didn't seem so mighty. After two innings it was 3-0, A's, and we were lucky it was only 3-0. We didn't get our first hit until the the bottom of the 4th, a leadoff single by Teoscar Hernandez. Then we mixed in some outs with some walks. Then Cade Marlowe walked with the bases loaded for a run. Then Jose Caballero popped to short for the third out.

And that, it turned out, was the ballgame. 

The A's kept bringing in pitchers with ERAs over 5.00 and we kept doing nothing with them. We didn't get our second hit until the bottom of the 8th—an infield single from Mike Ford. We didn't get our third hit until the bottom of the ninth with two outs—a bloop single to right by Jose (Who?) Rojas. Then J.P. Crawford followed with a double to left and the place was on its feet. A base hit would tie it! A homerun would win it! All would be right with the world again!

And on the seventh pitch Eugenio Suarez struck out. And there went the game and the recent 4-game win streak. 

It's me, isn't it?

Final sad note: Last night is probably the last time I get to see the Oakland A's, the team that ruled the baseball world with their long hair and staches when I was a kid. Next season they're supposedly moving to Las Vegas to play in a dinky stadium in 110-degree heat before hungover gambling tourists. The national pastime. Somewhere, Shoeless Joe is spinning in his grave.

Posted at 08:09 AM on Wednesday August 30, 2023 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Sunday August 13, 2023

Happy Felix Day

August 2012: The Mariners managed one more run that day than they did for Felix Hernandez Day last night.

Could it have gone any other way? On the night the Seattle Mariners induct into their Hall of Fame Felix Hernandez, King Felix, the six-time All Star and 2010 Cy Young Award winner for whom they could never score any runs, who gave them the best years of his career without even tasting the postseason once, that very night—which was last night—our young starting pitcher and first-time All Star George Kirby, over nine innings, gives up exactly three hits, all scattered singles, and zero runs ... and we still lose. Of course. Of course.

In the top of the 10th, with that stupid ghost runner on and Ms closer Andres Munoz in, the visiting Baltimore Orioles go:

  • SB (to third)
  • 6-3 (no run)
  • single (run)
  • E4 (1st and 3rd)
  • 3 (foul out)
  • SB (2nd and 3rd)
  • K

So we were lucky to just give up the one run. And against their ace closer Felix (!!) Bautista, we went:

  • K
  • K
  • K

And thus endeth the win streak. Happy Felix Day, everyone! I guess a Felix did win after all. 

Before last night, the Mariners had won eight in a row, starting with that afternoon game against Boston that my wife and I saw last week, and with a Blue Jays loss in the afternoon we'd moved into a tie with them for that final wild card spot. A victory would've put us in the lead.

Before the game, I'd told my seatmate Tim that, for the honorarium, rather than trotting out the usual crew of Mariners HOFers they should just intro players from those shitty 2009-2013 teams. “Felix, remember Chone Figgins, who over three years slashed a .227/.302/.283 line? How about a hand for Eric Byrnes, who brought his blonde-haired swagger to the Emerald City for 38 plate appearances and 3 hits! And when your games needed saving, who wasn't there for you? That's right, it's Josh Leuke, Blake Beaven and Aaron Laffey!” Instead,  it was Junior, Edgar, Ichiro, Jamie, Dan, Alvin. “Besides Jamie, what do those guys have in common?” I asked Tim, and then answered my own question. “None of them saw a World Series.”

Last night was a game we really should've won, too. We were trotting out our No. 2 (maybe No. 1?) guy against what I assume is their No. 5 guy—and maybe not even that. Cole Irvin is a spot starter. He came in with a 5.44 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP and proceeded to mow us down. We got our first hit in the third, a leadoff double by Dylan Moore, who moved to third on a groundout and was stranded. I love the win streak but our best guys are all between .240 and .260 and strike out a ton. What was our best shot? I think in the sixth. Ty France drew a two-out walk against reliever Mike Baumann before Cal Raleigh doubled to right. A speedier guy might've scored but we didn't have speed on the basepaths. Then Teoscar Hernandez lined a shot to left (drop! drop! drop!) that didn't drop. Or it dropped into Austin Hayes' glove.

But it was nice to be there for Felix Day. These on-field honorariums are a little odd but particularly for him you want to show up. It's like that line from “Death of a Salesman”: Attention must be paid.

Posted at 07:10 AM on Sunday August 13, 2023 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Friday August 04, 2023

Mariners Keep the Line Moving

Julio highlights

As we walked through the International District to the Mariners-BoSox game Wednesday afternoon, my wife asked me which of the two teams was better.

  • Me: Kind of equal. Both are a couple of games over .500.
  • She: What's .500?
  • When a team's wins and losses are the same. Mariners have like three more wins than losses, Red Sox five or something. But the Red Sox are a much better hitting club. In team batting, they're near the top and we're near the bottom. (Fact-check: 4th vs. 26th.)
  • So is our pitching better?
  • I guess? Today we have Logan Gilbert going and he's not bad. Except he's better during away games than home games; and he's better at night than during the day.
  • Oh.
  • Right. So don't expect much.

For five innings, that Mariners' truism proved true. Then something magical happened. 

Down 3-0, Cal Raleigh hit a 2-run homer in the sixth. That wasn't the magical thing—though it helped—and on the 10th pitch, which made it even better. No, the magical thing was the next inning when we did this:

  • Walk
  • Single
  • Single (1 run)
  • K
  • Single/error (1 run)
  • Single (1 run)
  • 6
  • Double steal (1 run)

It was the most fun inning I've seen all year. I was reminded of the 2014-15 Kansas City Royals, the “Keep the line moving” Royals, who just nickeled and dimed you, and ran on you, and put the ball in play, forcing you to make plays, often forcing unforced errors—as with Julio's single, the third in the inning, which either the shortstop or third baseman could've gotten but neither did. Julio's bat shattered, perhaps confusing them, they bumped into each other, the ball dribbled into left field. Beautiful. The double steal was also super fun. Two outs, Julio on third, Eugenio Suarez on first, Ty France at the plate. Gino goes and seems caught between 1st and 2nd, the catcher throws down, which is when Julio goes. The throw back to the plate is late and Julio, with his highlighter-colored sleeve (pink) and shoes (yellow-green), pops up, exults, has himself another highlight

Here's the whole beautiful inning.

This was the rubber game of the series and it looked like it wouldn't go our way until it did. We played a couple of trade-deadline kids we got from Arizona for Paul Sewald, and one of them, Dominic Canzone, who's 25 but looks 12, started us out with that walk. Cade Marlowe, whose debut Evan and I saw against the Twins on July 20, Moon Day, added that first RBI single. And in place of Sewald, we plugged in fireballer Andres Munoz, who got 'em out 1-2-3 in the ninth. Final: 6-3.

Yesterday was more late-inning heroics, again with the kids. Evan has been tracking Marlowe since the game we went to, like he's personally invested in the kid, and yesterday was a banner day. Ninth inning, down 3-1 to the Angels in Anaheim, we went: BB, BB, a single from Canzone, K, then Marlowe came up and on an 0-2 pitch did this. Then Munoz came in and struck out the side. We're now five games over .500. Is this the start of something? 

Posted at 09:24 AM on Friday August 04, 2023 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Monday July 10, 2023

.500 Days of Summer

After the first game of the 2023 season the Seattle Mariners were one game over .500, and at the start of 2023 All-Star Break the Mariners are one game over .500. That's often baseball, those ups and downs, that stasis, but much of the season felt like a struggle to get to .500 and then slipping below the surface again. Hey, we finally made it! Oops. Glug glug glug.

  • 4-8 —> 8-8 —> 8-11
  • 11-16 —> 17-17 —> 21-20 (!) —> 21-23

We began June two games over .500, then of course lost five of six. How many times last month did we reach .500 only to lose the next game? A lot. June 6, .500; June 7 loss. June 13, .500; June 14 loss. Same with June 16-17, 18-19, and 23-24. You know the Vic Chesnutt song “Flirted With You All My Life”? That was the Mariners and .500 for the first half of 2023.

Going into July we were four games under, so of course we win four in a row. And then of course we lose one. Glug glug. 

That said, we did end the first half by winning series against the Rays, Giants and Astros, all postseason contenders. The last series we lost was to the Nationals, who have the second-worst record in the NL. So it goes.

MLB no longer as the All-Star Game but the All-Star Week, and this week, or this year, it's in Seattle. I'll miss the homerun derby today but will be at the game tomorrow, section 327.

Posted at 07:24 AM on Monday July 10, 2023 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Wednesday June 28, 2023

Tom Murphy Goes 3-3 in Dispiriting M's Loss

And here ya are. And it's a beautiful day.

In the bottom of the second, with one out, a man on first, and the M's down 3-0, Mariners catcher Tom Murphy hit a dunker into right field for a single. A second later the non-Diamond Vision screen let us know it was his 200th career hit. I applauded softly and then realized, “Wait, that's a season for some guys. How long has he been playing anyway?”

Since 2015, it turns out. But he's mostly backup, and often injured, and 200 is 200. Plus we had a rally going now. Go M's!

Until we didn't.

Murphy had himself a day anyway: 3-3, all singles, using all fields. And he never made it past second. He was: 1) stranded at first, 2) stranded at second, 3) eliminated at second. But then it wasn't exactly Murderers' Row hitting behind him. Our No. 7 hitter was A.J. Pollock, a DH hitting .158(!), who went 0-3 with two strikeouts. Behind him was Dylan Moore, a backup left fielder hitting .050(!!), who went 0-3 with one strikeout. No. 9 hitter Jose Caballero (.238) must've thought, “How am I hitting behind these guys?”

It was a beautiful day at the ballpark and not a good day at the ballpark. I arrived late, or at least on time, but then waited a while in a slow-moving line to get inside. By the time I did, the M's and Logan Gilbert were down 3-0: single, single, double, single. Then Logan found his game again. Julio hit one to the wall in the first, and we had that first-and-third situation with one out in the second, and we nearly tied it in the fifth when J.P. sent one to the warning track in center with two on and two out, but that was the best we managed against Washington Nationals starter Patrick Corbin, who went 7 innings, struck out 9, walked nobody, and gave up zero runs. The last time Corbin went seven or more and gave up no runs? Pre-pandemic. August 2019. Welcome to Seattle, kid.

We got our one run with a leadoff homer from Caballero in the 8th. That was off new pitcher Amos Willingham. And by new I mean new. He'd just been called up, and Jose was the first batter he'd ever faced in the Majors. Two batters later, Julio sent another one to the warning track, but Jose's was the only hit the kid gave up. Good for him. Welcome to the Majors, kid.

But it's getting dispiriting again. The M's began poorly last year but made their move by now. No move is being made this year. We're just floundering. We struggle to .500, then slip below the surface again.

My next scheduled game is the All-Star Game on July 11 and I can't fathom who our All-Star will be. We don't really have one. Last time the ASG was in Seattle was that year we won 116 games and we had, like, seven All-Stars. This year? No regular player is hitting above .275, or slugging above .450, or getting on base at a .350 clip. We're second in the Majors in strikeouts, 15th in walks, 15th in homeruns. Seriously, I don't know who I'd pick. Jered Kelenick for his hot start? Teoscar Hernandez for his hot June? Julio for being Julio? I guess I'd go Luis Castillo, who, sure, is 5-6, but with a 2.86 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP and a 108-28 strikeout-walk ratio. Oh, poor Luis! I just realized: Last year it looked like we'd saved him from MLB pergatory with the hapless Cincinnati Reds, and now the Reds are young and hot, and the M's are not and not.

In the ninth, down 4-1, manager Scott Servais' one move was to pinch-hit for our 3-for-3 guy, Tom Murphy, with two out and nobody on. He didn't let him have his day. Or he didn't let Cal Raleigh have his day off. I don't get it, to be honest. Raleigh K'ed on four pitches. It's an ending that makes sense anyway, even if it doesn't make any sense. 

Posted at 05:52 PM on Wednesday June 28, 2023 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

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:

Founded Team Pennants Titles Last Went
1977 Seattle Mariners 0 0 n/a
1903 Pittsburgh Pirates 7 5 1979
1969 Milwaukee Brewers 1 0 1982
1903 Baltimore Orioles 7 3 1983
1903 Cincinnati Reds 9 5 1990
1903 Oakland Athletics 14 9 1990
1903 Minnesota Twins 6 3 1991
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.  

Posted at 07:51 PM on Sunday May 28, 2023 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

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. 

1-2. 

Posted at 12:50 PM on Sunday April 02, 2023 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  
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