They won! One down, 64 left to go, RIGHT SHEEPLE???
I can be as sour on this season as I wanna be, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying a delightful Opening Night Mariners game with a sold-out crowd (apparently the largest regular season crowd ever for a Mariners game in Safeco Field? Even though I’m pretty sure it holds 48,000 seats and last night’s number fell just short of that?). I met up with some friends at Slugger’s for a few rounds of Coors Banquet Beer tallboys right around 3pm until it was time to mosey on over to the stadium. I don’t know if the fans were smarter about getting inside earlier, or if the Mariners organization was indeed moving things along at a faster clip, but I was inside in a matter of moments and I didn’t need a CLEAR membership to do it.
I like to get 200-level seats whenever we’re going to a game that’s going to be at or near a sellout. What you sacrifice in food options, you more than make up for with better seats, clear sightlines, less people getting up and getting in your way every inning, and a quicker time in and out of the bathroom. It’s really a no-brainer. Also, as I really wanted to try the new donut place (spoiler alert: couldn’t find it), it was easy to just walk downstairs and make a loop around the stadium before the game started. I actually did this during the pre-game introductions, which is fine. Red carpet, lots of clapping and fireworks, I get it.
I had a pizza slice, a couple of hot dogs, and I got to try Dippin’ Dots for the first time ever. I’ve always been partial to, you know, actual ice cream, though I tend to gravitate to soft serve in a mini-helmet when I’m at the game, but I think at the time the soft serve machines were still “warming up” so to speak. I’ve always wanted to try Dippin’ Dots and even though I’m not a child, I decided to get a cup at an open stand. BOY were they disappointing! I don’t know what I was expecting, but the ice cream of the future can suck it!
Then, it was gametime. Felix Hernandez pitched to contact, kept his pitch count relatively low, limited hits and walks, and still found 4 guys to whiff. All told, he was pulled after 5.1 innings (after he gave up his second walk of the evening) of shutout ball, and the game was put in the hands of the bullpen.
The M’s jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first after Cano had a 2-out single and Cruz followed with a first pitch bomb to dead centerfield. The score stayed that way until the 7th, when the Indians – off of Nick Vincent – got 3 hits to manufacture a run. He held the damage there, Juan Nicasio did his job in a clean 8th, bridging us to Edwin Diaz. Sugar worked around a couple HBP’s, striking out the side with the go-ahead runs in scoring position. It was a tightwire act, to be sure, but it was good enough to hold up for a 2-1 victory.
The Mariners’ offense did about as well as I could’ve hoped against the likes of Corey Kluber, who went the distance for the Indians, sprinkling around 6 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 8. It was a hard-luck loss for the ace, but it’s impossible not to come away impressed with how the Mariners pitched in this one. I know it’s 1/162, but still.
While all the games won’t be as low scoring as this one, I think this is a textbook example of what most Mariners wins are going to look like. Felix more or less controlled the game through 5 innings, but at the very first sight of trouble in the top of the 6th (that 1-out walk), Scott Servais was out of the dugout and had no qualms about pulling his Opening Day starter. I know that Felix was more or less on a pitch count regardless – as he didn’t have much of a Spring (coming back from that hit on the arm) – but I think it says a lot that he made it through 5 innings at less than 80 pitches, and the team automatically had guys warming up in the bullpen. I feel like that’s going to be the norm for a lot of starters on this team; I doubt we’ll see Servais out there asking Felix how he’s feeling, or if he’s got one more left in him. Similarly, I don’t think we’ll see Felix argue his way into staying in games once he’s reached that point. It’s a new day, Seattle!
The bullpen shook out like I expected. Dan Altavilla came in for Felix and got a double play to end the threat. Scrabble started the next inning, got his one out, and was pulled for Vincent. Vincent struggled, as I thought he might (he too didn’t really have much of a Spring, after being over-worked in 2017). I hope he’s able to work through this and turn back into the guy he was for most of last year, but I’m fearing for the worst at this point. Hopefully Altavilla will be able to take that next step and be our 7th inning guy (and 8th inning guy when Nicasio can’t go). Nicasio’s stuff didn’t look too electric, but it’s tough for me to tell from where I was in the stands. I feel like he knows how to pitch, though, and he went right after the batters in front of him. Consummate 8th inning guy; here’s hoping the combo of him and Diaz are able to really shorten these games. As for Sugar, I guess we’ll see. It was an adventure last night (I was convinced he was going to give up the tying run and we’d head to extra innings), and I think it’s going to be an adventure on most nights. He’s 1 for 1 in save opportunities, so that’s all that really matters I guess.
All in all, a really fun day. That was pretty much the only way the Mariners were going to beat someone like Kluber, so I’m glad the pitching staff was able to hold it together. Now, we head into the weekend (with a stupid off-day today) at a pretty good advantage, with Paxton set to go tomorrow, and Leake there to go on Sunday. If you gave me 2 of 3 right now, I’d gladly accept and fast forward to next week.
As for the hitters, we saw Dee Gordon get his first in a Mariners uniform (as well as a walk), but no stolen bases just yet. Segura had a rough night, going 0-4 and grounding into a double play. Those first inning hits were the only ones for Cano and Cruz, but boy were they massive! Mitch Haniger was the rest of the offense, going 3 for 3 with a double. On pace to bat 1.000 with 162 doubles! Zunino was a late scratch with some tightness, and Mike Marjama stepped in like a champ. Hope Z’s okay going forward. And Ichiro got the start in left field (which was weird to see). He made a nice catch at the wall and had a chance to drive in a run, but ended up going 0 for 2 with a strikeout before being pulled late for defensive reasons. He’s still coming back from injury too, so I don’t know if I’d read too much into that. I do think Heredia is a better defensive outfielder at this point – and if the M’s had their druthers, he’d get the bulk of the playing time over Ichiro – but I think for now they’re going to go with a straight platoon in left until Gamel returns.
Here we go! Baseball’s back! We’re doing it live!