Sunday October 09, 2022

This Team

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.
  • 4-0.
  • 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: 

  • 8-1

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:

  • 8-5
  • 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 smiled back. 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.

They didn’t.

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 yes it put us ahead.

Over the din at Buckley’s, Jeff again shouted “Nostradamus!” at me, but slightly less joking now, with slightly more awe. “Adam Frazier Whisperer!” he yelled at me again, 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.

This team.

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.

Posted at 01:20 PM on Sunday October 09, 2022 in category Seattle Mariners  
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