If you’ve been a Mariners fan for a while, or have read this blog for a while, you’re familiar with this trope: the Mariners have a hotly-anticipated game at home, usually against a division rival. The team has been making enough noise to entice fans into believing this could be the year the drought ends. Often there’s something else going on—a significant milestone, the retirement ceremony of a beloved player, or, say, the revealing of an All-Star Logo. The fans dutifully show up at the ballpark, creating a roaring Northwest Green sea of 35,000-plus eager to cheer on their hometown nine. And then the Mariners promptly lay an egg, sending those fans home disappointed, only to repeat the whole cycle over again next summer. Lollablueza. Deadgar Weekend. We’ve said these things so many times before that they can’t hurt us, except then they do.
The vibes were immediately off in this one when Julio was announced as a last-minute scratch, out with the alarming-sounding “wrist soreness.” I feel really badly for all the kids (and grown-ups!) who showed up to the park, excited beyond belief to see their All-Star, only to see he wouldn’t be playing. We’ll of course update you as we hear more; look for a blurb after Servais is inevitably asked 452 questions about this in the post-game presser.
The bad vibes continued when José Altuve tattooed this absolutely terrible pitch, the third pitch of the game, from Marco Gonzales 422 feet to center field:
And again when Marco gave up a more understandable homer to Yordan Álvarez, to which we can only react with a reading from the ancient texts: at least there was no one one base. However, the Astros then tacked on another two runs in the fifth, the first on a solo homer from Martín Maldonado (ouch), and then another, the Astros’ first small-ball run of the day, after a bunt single from Altuve, a single from Peña, and then a sac fly from Álvarez that the Mariners are lucky stayed in the yard.
The Astros pushed the lead out to five with some more hard contact from Aledmys Díaz and Jake Meyers in the sixth scoring another run, and that’s just a real rough sentence to type. That spelled the end of the road for Marco, who didn’t pitch horribly, not exactly; but against the Astros, a pitcher like Marco has to be practically perfect, and he was not.
Meanwhile, the Mariners offense decided that, with whiffs of the 2001 All-Star Game emanating across the ballpark, vintage is in and went back to their offensive ineptitude of May/early June. There were signs of life here and there: Eugenio Suárez proved that all-black hair is just as effective for him as the black-and-white cookie look with a double (he was stranded). and in the fourth inning the Mariners got two on with none out thanks to a Jesse Winker single and a Carlos Santana walk (they were both straded). That fourth inning was a real heartbreaker: Eugenio Suárez struck out, and Kyle Lewis, who had walked earlier, got a little anxious in a 3-2 count and grounded into an inning-ending double play. By my very rough estimation, the Mariners were in 0-2 counts forty-hundred times, although hilariously, one of those ended up with Dylan Moore sawing off a swinging-bunt single and helping out the grounds crew by spreading some nice wood shavings all around the infield—he was, of course, immediately stranded by Adam Frazier first-pitch swinging and flying out harmlessly for the second time this game.
The Mariners got their first and only run on the night from Ty France, who took an Urquidy fastball located on the outer edge of the plate 400 feet over the wall in right center. France had been uncharacteristically aggressive in his first two at-bats, going down 0-2 each time before making outs, but apparently that was the plan, as that aggressiveness paid off when Uquidy decided to challenge him on the plate twice in a row:
If you’re looking for silver linings in this game, seeing Ty France hit the ball with authority is—not cold comfort, but maybe lukewarm comfort. Tepid comfort. “Forgot my tea in the microwave” comfort.
The Mariners had a perceived edge in this game: the Astros, fresh off a doubleheader against the Yankees where they had to use many of their high-leverage arms, were supposed to have a tired bullpen. After the offense went down without a whisper against Seth Martinez, the Mariners did get two on with none out against Phil Maton in the bottom of the eighth, but Jesse Winker [spins giant wheel of Mariners Offensive Ineptitude] popped out harmlessly. Carlos Santana then walked to load the bases with just one out, prompting Dusty Baker to burn another pitcher on the evening, summoning the overwhelming Ryne Stanek. Honestly, in a game that was already careening towards a loss from the early innings, forcing Baker to exhaust the pen a little more goes down as a net positive, looking towards the remainder of this series. Eugenio Suárez did work a walk with a refreshingly disciplined at-bat, bringing the score to 5-2, which brought up Kyle Lewis, who was absolutely robbed on a leaping grab by Jeremy Peña (xBA .770). That brought up Cal Raleigh, who fell behind 1-2 before striking out on 100 MPH at the top of the zone. And that would be it, despite Dylan Moore attempting to go hero mode with a double off Hector Neris in the ninth.
One game does not a series make, but it is so frustrating to watch the Mariners again flail in prime time in front of a packed house, again flail against the Astros, again be the background players in someone else’s highlight reel on a night that was supposed to belong to them. There are moments of comfort here: the Mariners worked Urquidy’s pitch count, they forced Dusty Baker to use his bullpen more than he wanted, the Mariners bullpen looked untouchable (scoreless innings from Murfee, Festa, and Swanson), Ty France hit a ball very hard and far. But it’s cold comfort, cold as a walk back to your car from T-Mobile after a Mariners loss when the marine layer has settled in. So what if the Mariners worked the bullpen? Justin Verlander pitches tomorrow, which is like a spa day for the bullpen.
And that’s the frustrating thing: it feels like no matter how good the Mariners can be, the Astros will always be just a step ahead. The Mariners rip off a historic 14-game win streak? The Astros go 14-5 over a similar time frame. The Mariners have a generational talent Rookie of the Year contender? The Astros have their own superstar rookie, who came up huge in a game where the Mariners’ star didn’t play. The Mariners sign the reigning Cy Young winner? The Astros have the likely current one. And so it goes.
It’s so easy to get swept up in how good this team could be and how fun they are and how much better they are than some of the true horror shows happening in baseball right now [stares in tonight’s Red Sox game score] and forget that in order to go anywhere, they’ll have to be able to go toe-to-toe with these Astros and come out on top more often than not. They have two more games this series to show that, quickly followed by another four in the house of horrors that is Minute Maid Park. They can rise above the memory of Deadgar Weekend and Lollablueza and all the other rare times they’ve had the spotlight—of Seattle, of all of baseball—trained on them and tripped over their own shoes, but they’ve already put themselves in an 0-1 hole with the best (at worst, second-best) pitcher in the American League on the mound tomorrow. But this team has done surprising things before. They have defied belief before. So perhaps they can defy this particular, painful bit of our history as well.