At the end of the sixth inning, I was preparing a narrative about how, now that we’re 16 games into the season, we’re approaching the point where the games start to blend together a little bit. This was just a lazy Sunday afternoon game. Something to mark the passage of time and avoid the Sunday Night Blues but the first of the games that would feel unremarkable. The 2022 Mariners had other plans. Over a 24-hour period, they spent 8 hours and 18 minutes playing the Royals, and put an exclamation mark on the idea that these Mariners are different.
To wit, I want to start with the seventh inning. Matt Festa began the inning by walking Adalberto Mondesi on four pitches. Then Mondesi stole second on the next pitch. And call me a liar if you want, but I swear this was the only moment of today’s game when I thought the Mariners might lose. Even though they were leading in that inning, and escaped without damage, and even though there was a period when the Mariners were actually trailing, it always felt like a winnable game to me. It was ethereal. This team just feels like a winner.
I’ll be the first to admit it’s a foreign experience to have a lineup where no matter what batters are due up the next inning, it feels like they could score. And indeed, the Mariners pushed five runs across today, despite wasting lots of big opportunities.
Even when Acting Manager Kristopher Negrón runs out a different set of relievers than I would in high-leverage spots, it still feels like they have a good chance to escape unscathed. And indeed, the Mariners would escape two (2!) Extra innings with the Manfred man on second base without letting a run score.
Ultimately, the Mariners won 5-4 in 12 innings, and for a walk-off in extras, it’s tougher than you’d think to identify the game’s hero. Ty France certainly made a case for himself. On the day when the people of France went to the polls, Ty France went to the yard.
That two-run bomb, on the Royals’ fourth pitch of the game, was one of five balls that Ty put in play today. It was hit 108.4 mph. The others were 97.7, 88.9, 100.3, and 106.9. No wonder when he came up at the bottom of the 12th, Mike Matheny gave him the intentional walk before Joel Payamps was even done warming up.
The second major contender is Jesse Winker, who came through with extra-inning RBIs twice despite a couple bummer plate appearances earlier in the game. First, in the 10th, Winker sent a sheet fly to center on the 11th pitch of the at-bat to re-tie the game at 4-4. Then, in the 12th, again on the 11th pitch of the at-bat, he hit a bloop to the right, to win the Mariners the game and win himself a dance with France. It looks fun; I wish that I had Jesse’s twirl.
Finally, one of the less-heralded arms in the pen could also be named today’s hero. Erik Swanson remains in my head as the homer-prone wannabe starter of 2019-2020. It might be time to update those priors. This afternoon, he continued his streak of absolutely nails performances, holding the Mariners one-run lead with a clean inning that took just 13 pitches including two strikeouts of the Royals’ most dangerous hitters, Whit Merrifield and Salvador Perez. His delivery calls to mind tossing a friend their keys, but he does it at 94 with ride. It’s easy, breezy, beautiful, and it’s brought his strikeout rate up to 38% on the season (to three hits and zero walks). Dare I say it, Swanny looks like he’s filling the hole left by Casey Sadler himself.
I’ll let you decide.
Who was the hero of today’s game?
I’m indifferent (a poll option added by popular, if inexplicable, request)
132 votes total
Whoever the hero of the game was, I’m awarding today’s Sun Hat to Jarred Kelenic. The Sun Hat Award is meant to highlight a notable contribution, and is highly subjective, so I won’t be taking complaints about giving it to a guy who went 0-4 with two strikeouts and the game’s largest negative WPA. Because whatever else might be said about JK, he’s just been shown a tremendous amount of abuse. Opposing managers’ refusal to let him see a righty has been widely remarked upon. And today, of course, Mike Matheny went to southpaw Amir Garrett when Kelenic led off the seventh. What’s more, the Royals also intentionally walked Julio in the 11th to get to Jarred. Maybe that was the right call with a 3-0 count and first base open, but still, it was part of a pattern of disrespect and inappropriate behavior. The umpires too, gave him the Rodney Dangerfield treatment, saying he went around on a checked swing for the strikeout in the ninth, leaving him in disbelief. But the tribe had spoken, and he was asked to leave the tribal council area immediately.
So Jarred gets his second Sun Hat of the season as some credit for hanging tough. When they brought in a lefty to face him, he drew a four-pitch walk. When they challenged his arm in the tenth, he gave Andrew Benintendi the Ichiro treatment. It was objectively a bad day for him overall, but I was still impressed.
For his part, Robbie Ray did enough, logging another quality start and continuing his streak of making it through six frames. That’d come in handy when the bullpen needed to cover another six, but I’m left hoping for more. His slider got eight whiffs on 39 pitches, but his fastball continued to sit at 92.5. If he’s going to come anywhere close to repeating his 2021 tour de force, he has to get back the extra couple ticks he had last year. 94-95 is hardly making the Indy 500 look like a roller chariot race, now, but it’s enough to be fun, fun, fun: The difference between 92 and 94 is the biggest difference in baseball. When he did get there a couple times today, he showed why he can be an ace.
So we had hero performances from France, Winker, and Swanson; a gritty performance by Jarred Kelenic; and a Robbie Ray outing that can only be considered a disappointment relative to Cy Young expectations. It was a good game. But I’ll tell you what really has me amped up is that the Mariners pulled this off when so many things didn’t go their way. There was the time they chased Royals starter Carlos Hernández to help fill the Royals’ dugout with his farts, leaving runners on first and third with just one out. Julio then hit the ball at 112 mph, but it found a glove and killed the rally with a 6-4-3 double play. There was also the time the Mariners left JP Crawford at third base with one out in the 11th. And there was the time the officials decided it was OK for Josh Staumont to try to trip Adam Frazier like a third grader’s practical joke.
In the Royals’ broadcast here, which is what made it to the MLB film room, they seem to think the challenge is to whether Frazier beat the throw, but Goldy and Blow were all over this, pointing out that Negrón was actually challenging an interference non-call. The rules say that interference should only be called in exceptional circumstances, so I get why this call with understood the challenge. But to me, Staumont has the ball and has his balance and then sticks his back foot back out a second time, farther into the running lane. Would Frazier have been out anyway? Probably? Only maybe? I don’t know. But I’m actually not that worked up about this because my point is that the 2022 Mariners can afford to have a few tough calls not go their way and still come out on top. That’s what’s got me amped up. And I think it’s what’s turned T-Mobile Park into the Electric Factory.
The team now has a big upcoming test to see if they can take that energy on the road. But they’ll do so on the heels of their first sweep, having completed a 7-2 homestand, and entering the off day with the division lead. Maybe this time.