This game had it all! By which I mean it had a lot of things. For instance, it had speed at the top of the lineup manufacturing a run in the bottom of the first.
It had Hisashi Iwakuma absolutely fall apart after a nondescript first inning, giving up 6 runs while recording just the 9 outs. 110 more innings to go before Iwakuma’s 2018 option vests and we’re going to have to pay him upwards of $15 million next year.
I don’t hate the guy by any means, but I do think that he’s A) overpaid, and B) overrated. I know I harp on this a lot, but if I don’t explain myself, it just looks like I have an irrational hatred of Japanese people or something. He’s OKAY. But, he’s pretty far removed from his best season in 2013, and even that year looks like an anomaly compared to every other year he’s been in the Major Leagues. I get the feeling that people expect him to be great every time out, when in reality he’s good maybe half the time, and bad the other half. As I sarcastically noted on Twitter yesterday, he was long overdue for a bad game considering he’d already given us two pretty okay starts in the first week.
What’s even more galling is that he’d yet to throw more than 90 pitches in either of his first two starts, then he had the off-day on Thursday, then he was pushed back a start so we could split up Paxton and Miranda (which, I don’t know why we didn’t do that to start the season, but whatever), so he had two extra days to rest up and still couldn’t give us much of anything against a fairly mediocre Rangers team. Unless you want to say his timing was thrown off with the extra days in between starts, but he strikes me as a guy who needs that sort of careful handling to make it through the season.
Anyway, if I can get off my soapbox for a moment, there we were, down 6-1 heading into the bottom of the third inning. This game had the feel of I want to say almost every single Sunday game from last year: just a humdrum defeat where no one really shows up to play. And then, in the bottom of the third, the two leadoff guys got on and Haniger muscled out a 3-run homer to left-center to put the Mariners right back in the game!
At that point, Servais went with the quick hook of Iwakuma, since he clearly didn’t have anything resembling “it”, and for once the bullpen was up to the task.
Recent call-up Evan Marshall went 2.1 perfect innings to bridge us over to the late-inning relief guys. He was a quality reliever for Arizona in 2014, then hit the skids the last two seasons before being released. He doesn’t look like anything special when you watch him, but he throws a lot of quality strikes and is obviously capable of going multiple innings in a pinch. I don’t know necessarily where he stands with the ballclub once Cishek is ready to return from his rehab assignment, but assuming everyone stays healthy, and no one really falls apart with their mechanics (I’m looking at you, Altavilla), I’d have to think Marshall is the odd man out. But, assuming he still has options, it’s nice to know we can count on him should the need arise for a long man out of the ‘pen.
James Pazos came in to strikeout the last two guys in the 6th inning, before walking the leadoff batter in the 7th. Tony Zych made his 2017 debut by inducing a fly-out before giving up a single. Scrabble was able to shut down that threat, as well as get the first two outs of the 8th (not without walking a batter). That’s when Dan Altavilla came in and loaded the bases on back-to-back walks.
I should point out that the Mariners had tied the game by this point. Cole Hamels got through five innings with a 6-4 lead, and for the third consecutive start to open the season, he watched his bullpen gag away the victory. In the bottom of the sixth, Seager doubled to lead off, and Valencia of all people doubled him home. Then, in the bottom of the seventh, Guillermo Heredia hit quite the crowd-pleasing solo homer to left to tie it at 6. I couldn’t be happier for the kid, who had this look of pure joy as he hit it, and again as he was greeted at the dugout with a big bear hug by Cano. The fact that he’s contributing and playing well in the early going is really awesome, both for him and the team, as we wait for the middle of the order to really get cooking.
So, when Altavilla looked like he was going to tear all that apart in the next half-inning, it was pretty demoralizing. And yet, he finally got some pitches to enter the strike zone, which ultimately led to Elvis Andrus striking out on something low and in to end the threat. Sighs of relief all around.
It would be short lived, though, as Edwin Diaz came in for the ninth inning and gave up a lead-off, go-ahead homer to put the M’s down 7-6. All of that for NOTHING! And, on just a terrible sequence of pitches, as he started off Nomar Mazara with a 2-0 count before grooving a fastball middle-in that Mazara was able to cheat on because he was expecting fastball all the way. You hate to pull the Closer In Non-Save Situations card, but that was a real doozy. Diaz was able to get through the rest of the inning unscathed, but the damage appeared to be done.
Until the Rangers brought in closer Sam Dyson (who might find this is his only mention on my website, with the way he’s going of late). Dyson had been a pretty great closer for the Rangers last year, saving 38 games. He’s actually been a solid reliever since 2014, so it’s not like we’re talking about a flash in the pan here. But, in his first 6 appearances this season (including yesterday), he’s had 3 blown saves and another outright loss, with an ERA of 27.00. It’s my understanding that he won’t be closing games for Texas for a while, which is too bad, but I’ll gladly take it because it means the Mariners overcame a 7-6 deficit in the ninth inning yesterday.
Jarrod Dyson pinch hit for Chooch and reached on an infield single. He then proceeded to steal second base before we even had to bunt (God, I love Dyson’s speed!). Leonys Martin then bunted him over to third, and was safe at first thanks to perfect bunt placement and poor pitcher defense. Mike Freeman then pinch hit for Heredia, to give us another lefty hitter. Martin stole second on his own, which led the Rangers to walk Freeman to load the bases and set up a play at any base. This brought up Mitch Haniger, who worked one of the most impressive walks you’re ever going to see in a situation like that. Tie game, no outs, with the heart of the order coming up. SURELY we wouldn’t bungle this opportunity, would we?
Well, for starters, don’t call me Shirley (this joke really doesn’t work in print, but I’ll be damned if that’s ever stopped me from using it), but also the middle of the order has been pretty fucking far from intimidating this year. Cano, Cruz and Seager have a combined 2 homers in the first two weeks. I know it’s not all about homers with these guys, but they’re the same hitters who knocked out 112 dingers just last year. Cano has one more extra base hit (4) than he does times he’s grounded into a double play (3). Same with Cruz (3 extra base hits, 2 double plays). So, you know, it absolutely wasn’t a given that the Mariners would come through in that situation.
Indeed, with the infield pulled in, Cano hit a fielder’s choice to the second baseman to keep the bases loaded and the game tied. With one out, the Rangers opted to play back for the double play, and boy did it look like Cruz would oblige! He hit a sharp grounder to short that Andrus just couldn’t get a handle on, resulting in everyone being safe and ending the game 8-7 for the good guys. But, damn, if he comes up with that ball, and is able to flip it to second, I think there’s a really solid chance they’re able to double up Cruz at first. It would’ve been a bang-bang play at the very least, with CB Bucknor of all people bungling things up on that end of the field.
(Bucknor who, not for nothing, ejected Scott Servais earlier in the game for arguing about his idiocy at first base, as it seemed he defered to the Rangers’ first baseman on making a fair/foul call, but that’s neither here nor there).
I’ll tell you what, this was just what the doctor ordered for the Mariners. Like I said yesterday, the series win was nice, but this really needed to be a sweep. Now, the Mariners are finally out of the cellar in the A.L. West (5-8, a half game up on the Rangers, who had to have felt pretty good about themselves coming into this series). A quick look of the standings sees the A’s at 5-7 and the Angels at 6-7. The Astros, at 8-4, are the only team with a winning record, in other words.
Oh, is it too early to Standings Watch? A thousand times no!
(although, maybe don’t look too hard at the Wild Card standings for a while. At least until the Mariners are able to climb back to .500)
The Miami Marlins come in for three, before the M’s head out on a 10-game road trip (4 in Oakland, 3 in Detroit, and 3 in Cleveland). Over/under on weather-related postponements is set at 2.5, and I’m inclined to bet the over.