I don’t want to get off on a rant here, but God damn is 7pm too late to be starting a weekday baseball game! At least, for someone like me, who has to wake up at 5:30am every day.
Hi, my name is Steven, and I predicted the Mariners would lose yesterday. I also predicted a losing homestand, and while that very well could still come to pass, for the time being I’m happy to be so wrong. For what it’s worth, I see nothing but bad things coming in tonight’s game, what with McHugh generally owning us, and Iwakuma generally being a mixed bag, so thank me for the big win long after I’ve gone to bed from exhaustion.
Last night’s game was so much fun (hence why I stayed up until
all hours of the night 10pm or so) because it was so unexpected. I’ve never seen Dallas Keuchel NOT murder us in our sleep, which meant for the Mariners to be in it, we would’ve needed a Herculean shutout effort out of our starting pitcher, and hopefully some timely late-game hitting against their bullpen. Since I have to figure the Astros are so well-regarded (in spite of their bottom-feeding record) in part because they probably have a solid bullpen, and since Karns didn’t look like the type of pitcher who could shut down a quality Houston offense, I made a point of remarking on Twitter that last night’s game felt – going in – like a loss 99 out of 100 times.
Well, apparently we live in the lone universe where the Mariners actually WIN that game. And, truth be told, it was a Best Case Scenario game in every aspect.
Nathan Karns was mostly economical with his pitches, for the first time all year, and would’ve gotten through 7 innings while throwing less than 100 pitches if Robbie Cano had only remembered there was 1 out in the inning and not 2, and turned that sure-thing double play. Even with that brain fart, Karns was able to rack up his 6th strikeout of the game with no damage done. No runs, 2 hits, and 3 walks rounded out his line on the day, which makes it easily his best game of the season, and arguably the best game he’s had since September 2014 (when he also went 7 innings of shutout ball, with 2 hits, 2 walks, and 8 strikeouts). I mean, I can’t say enough good things about Karns last night. Four of his seven innings went 1-2-3 (and he would’ve had five such innings if not for Cano), and when he did get into a little trouble, he was able to squash it before they were able to rally for a big inning.
Karns’ success, especially early in the game, was critical, because the Mariners only had one baserunner through 3 innings. We were finally able to scrap a run in on an RBI single in the 4th, before blowing the game wide open with a 4-run fifth.
Ketel Marte was phenomenal last night, and really showed the full strength of his game in all facets. He went 3 for 5 with a double and 2 RBI, really driving the ball well up the middle. He also scored three times, running well on the basepaths, and flashed a plus glove in the field. Marte has been on a nice little hot spurt over the last six games, batting .400, with 3 doubles, 2 RBI, and scoring 7 times, to bring his season slash line to a whopping .265/.301/.309. Granted, it’s not much, and it’s still REALLY early, but it beats the hell out of his line before this 6-game stretch: .186/.250/.186.
If the Mariners are going to go anywhere this year, I won’t put it on any one person, but I will say this: they need to drastically reduce the number of black holes in their lineup. I think we’ve been more or less confident in our veterans (Cano, Cruz, Seager, Smith, Guti, Lind, Aoki, and Iannetta), but one spot you couldn’t help but be concerned about was short stop. They were putting a lot of pressure on the kid, first by not really featuring any semblance of competition going into the season (and thus simply handing him the keys to the starting job from Day One), and then making him such a focal point of the offense by frequently featuring him at or near the top of the lineup. Considering he’s a holdover from the Jackie Z regime, I mean, who could blame you if you had doubts about the kid? And, as I’ve stated already, it’s still early in the season. You could STILL have doubts and still be 100% valid in your opinions.
I know I’m inviting all sorts of jinxes into the mix here, but if I can be a dreamer for a minute: it would be SO DAMN HUGE for Ketel Marte to pan out! Oh, can you imagine it??? Another homegrown talent in the everyday lineup? Bringing the grand total to TWO players, with Seager? But, to nevertheless have a cost-controlled force at an important defensive position, who can get on base, hit for a bit of power into the gaps, and abuse opponents with his speed? I’m not saying he’s ever going to be an MVP. He might not even make an All Star Game in his career or win a Gold Glove. But, if he could just be an everyday starter at the top of our lineup, who teams have to worry about keeping off the basepaths, because once he’s there you know he’s going to do everything in his power to score on you that inning … it just gives me the feels like you would not believe. A big, raging, veiny, throbbing case of the feels. Right in my pants.
… Allow me to redirect this thing back to last night’s game, if I can.
Keuchel was able to get through six innings before his pitch count dictated that he needed to be relieved. From that point onward, the Mariners used their finishing move to rip the spines out of the Astros. Starting in the bottom of the 7th, where a single, an error, and a single loaded the bases for Robinson Cano, who to that point had the aforementioned gaffe in the top half of the inning by forgetting how many outs were made, as well as the baserunning mistake-turned-happy-accident as he was caught in a rundown in the 5th inning, allowing Marte to score from third base when the other team wasn’t paying attention (made all the happier by Cano successfully advancing to second base on the fielder’s choice to throw home in vain). You could’ve easily argued that this was just one of those games where Cano’s head wasn’t totally in it.
As a fan, part of me wants to rant and rave on the topic. I mean, dude makes $24 million per year. He’s been in the Majors for over a decade, save your mental days off for your ACTUAL days off! But, what are you gonna do? It’s not a popular saying by any stretch, but that’s why people say he’s just Robbie being Robbie. He’s so good, so naturally gifted, that he can often play the game on auto-pilot and get away with it. It’s just that, when he gets caught, it’s out there in the open for all to see, so it’s magnified by a million percent. And, obviously, his high salary isn’t going to win him any sympathy – not that I’m saying he deserves sympathy when something like that happens; he very rightly deserves to feel embarrassment, in hopes that it doesn’t happen again anytime soon – but with Robbie, you take the good with the bad. Because the good SO FAR OUTWEIGHS the bad, it more than makes up for an error here, a baserunning mistake there, and the occasional brain fart as noted above. Is it frustrating, as a fan? Sure. I mean, if he’s this good and this accomplished playing on auto-pilot, just how high is his ceiling REALLY? But, as a guy who works 40 hours, 5 days a week, I can relate to a guy whose head isn’t in it every minute of every workday. Some days are just better and more focused than others; that’s the way it goes. I’m really good at my job too, and oftentimes I can run on autopilot for a while. As a result, occasional mistakes are made. But, hopefully the embarrassment and shame of failing will ultimately help me in the long run, just as I would hope it helps him.
Anyway, as I said, you could have argued that Cano just wasn’t all there last night. But, in that bottom of the 7th inning, with the bases loaded and only 1 out, Cano worked an at-bat for the ages. If the stakes were higher – if we were in a playoff game, or even if the game was merely closer than the 5-0 affair it was at the time – we’d all be talking about how it might go down as the finest at-bat ever registered. He laid off of a low-and-inside fastball for Ball 1, then laid off of a low-and-outside changeup (one that had been called a strike on him earlier in the game by the ump) for Ball 2. He fouled off a fastball, then took a borderline fastball inside to make the count 3-1. He then proceeded to foul off four consecutive fastballs – all in the strikezone, both inside and outside – before, on the 9th pitch of the at-bat, drilling a fastball right at the bottom of the strikezone to right-center field for a grand slam. Just, fucking brilliant.
The M’s ended up getting dinged by an error and a couple of walks in the top of the 8th, but we were able to hold them to the lone run, and played a little add-on against the Astros’ backup catcher in the bottom of the 8th, who came in to pitch and did a VERY un-Sucre-like job in the role. 11-1 victory, a fourth consecutive series win, and an opportunity for a sweep tonight (which, as I said at the top, is probably not going to happen, so take my words for what they’re worth).
All in all, a helluva game, and a helluva start to the season for the Mariners. 11-9, first place in the A.L. West by a half game, the bullpen has been great, the starters have gotten better as the season has gone along, and the hitting is starting to come around. I don’t want to start counting my chickens or anything, but it’s starting to look like this season could be a lot of fun.