Oh, so that was the problem
Last Friday, the Mariners almost won. With the M’s down 4-5 in the bottom of the eighth inning and in the midst of a four-game losing streak, Julio Rodríguez reached base on an infield single. Julio’s hit set the stage for Jarred Kelenic, whose recent struggles at the plate had sparked speculation that he might be near a demotion to triple-A.
Two pitches later, Jarred had deposited a dinger over the center field fence, giving the Mariners the lead, exorcising his own demons, and setting the stage for a storybook ending.
Of course, we all know what happened next.
A three-run Rays dinger in the ninth sent the Mariners home with their fifth straight loss. After a brief moment of shock, a friend of mine messaged me.
Why is it never our turn?
I picked up my phone and sighed. Not knowing what to say, I put the phone back down. Another moment passed. The phone buzzed again.
It just isn’t fair.
The thing is, my friend was right. 21 years of baggage notwithstanding, the 2022 Mariners have been unlucky by nearly every measure available. Their BABIP ranks in the bottom-10 of the league. Their xwOBA is 7th in the league, while their wWOBA is 13th. Julio Rodríguez couldn’t buy a borderline call. Jesse Winker ripped a line drive down the first base line — straight into a triple play. Poor Abraham Toro went an entire month without recording a ground ball single.
Surely it could all be expected to turn around at some point, right?
Now, I probably don’t have to explain the gambler’s fallacy to you, but I’ll give you the Mariners’ rebuttal of the fallacy instead: suffering for X seasons/games/at bats doesn’t make you ineligible to suffer for X more. Or, to borrow a classic LL-ism: there is no floor.
With all of that being said, tonight’s game is why people tend to believe in things like the gambler’s fallacy. The Mariners finally got lucky tonight. Very lucky.
The game started well enough, with Robbie Ray’s fastball/slider combo keeping the Phillies’ hitters off-balance from the outset.
After Ray retired the side in the top of the first with ease, the 2022 Mariners began to see their luck return.
Adam Frazier led off the inning with a looping single, which was followed by Ty France sneaking a grounder past Phillies “third baseman” Alec Bohm for a double. With those two runners on, Eugenio Súarez shattered his bat and pushed the ball into right field for a single. One Julio Rodríguez swinging bunt later, France sprinted home and the Mariners found themselves with an early 2-0 lead.
With Robbie Ray continuing his dominance through the next three innings, the Mariners kept finding themselves at the plate. Luis Torrens hit another soft grounder in the second inning to reach base, and Phillies ace Aaron Nola (perhaps desperate from realizing how bad his defense was) airmailed the throw, allowing Torrens to take second base.
With Torrens on second, Frazier hit yet another infield grounder (albeit much harder) to second base. Jean Segura dove, snagged the ball, and hucked it to first. Rhys Hoskins caught the ball. And then he didn’t.
After what appeared to be an error (and what ultimately was scored an error), it became apparent that Adam Frazier had run into Hoskins’ glove, forcing the ball out. It was certainly inadvertent, but it probably should’ve been an out. Phillies’ manager Joe Girardi pleaded his case, first with first base umpire Brian Knight, then with crew chief Bill Miller. Girardi’s hand motions became increasingly agitated, his facial expressions more and more bombastic. Eventually, he got what he seemed to be looking for: thrown out of the game.
If your fanhood errs in the direction of the Phillies, you might be inclined to say that one-run swing ended up costing the Phillies the game. To that, I say: that’s showbiz, baby.
Yet another infield single, this one by Ty France, sent the Phillies’ pitching coach to the mound. I have to assume that he said something along the lines of: “Hey man, none of the players behind you are qualified to play defense. I mean, we had one of the worst defenses in the game last year, and we signed Kyle Schwarber to play left field. You cannot let them put the ball in play anymore.”
Realizing his pitching coach was correct, Nola struck out Súarez and Crawford to end the inning. Really taking the message to heart, Nola struck out three more Mariners over the next three innings, not allowing any additional shenanigans (or runs) through five.
The Phillies cut into the Mariners lead in the fifth inning in two ways: a solo dinger (favorite of stimulation-starved millennials everywhere), and smallball (favorite of old people, for whom any stimulation is considered a sin). Nick Castellanos’ dinger made it a 3-1 game, and a Jean Segura walk, tag up, wild pitch, and wild pitch made it 3-2.
Seemingly realizing that a one-run lead would absolutely not be enough, and that their brief supply of luck had run dry, the Mariners needed to earn the next (and last) two runs they got. Jarred Kelenic drew a four-pitch walk in the sixth, setting the stage for Luis Torrens to put together what might be the best at bat of the season thus far. Torrens worked a 3-2 count, punctuated by multiple pickoff attempts and five foul balls. Finally, on the 11th pitch of the at bat, he got a fastball down the middle.
That would be it for Nola, who was yanked for Brad Hand. Hand’s control was much worse than Nola’s had been, and the Mariners immediately took advantage. Adam Frazier worked a walk to load the bases, and Ty France took the most glancing of HBP’s off of his back foot to score a run. Finally, J.P. Crawford lined a sacrifice fly into center field to make it a 5-2 game. After Jesse Winker struck out to end the inning, the Mariners would have to hope that the three-run lead was enough.
The bullpen didn’t exactly make it a smooth ride. Erik Swanson gave up a solo home run to Rhys Hoskins to make it a 5-3 game (though Statcast put the hit probability of the fly at just 18%). Thankfully, Swanson settled down and struck out the next two guys.
Next up in the carousel was Anthony Misiewicz, who induced two ground ball outs in the top of the eighth before surrendering a double to Bryce Harper. Mercifully, with righty Nick Castellanos due up, Scott Servais opted to replace the left-handed Misiewicz with the right-handed Paul Sewald. Sewald got a lineout, albeit a loud one, and the Mariners just needed one more inning.
Before they could get there, however, the umpires felt the need to hasten their inevitable march to obsolescence by embarrassing themselves for what feels like the eightieth time this season. Leading off the eighth, unsung hero of the day Luis Torrens (who, in addition to his big hit earlier, served as a capable backstop for an increasingly wild Robbie Ray) attempted to check his swing on a 3-2 count. He was wrung up by the first base umpire, and threw his bat to the ground in frustration.
Though Torrens didn’t appear to say anything, home plate ump Doug Eddings seemed to think that Torrens’ outburst was The Worst Thing He Had Ever Seen, and he tossed the young catcher.
Scott Servais came out of the dugout looking more bemused than furious. After about two whole minutes of asking Eddings “what the hell, man?”, Servais gave up. What’s that quote? “When one argues with an idiot, there are two idiots”? Something like that.
In any case, the Mariners didn’t end up scoring in the eighth inning and Cal Raleigh had to catch Paul Sewald the top of the ninth. Sewald was a little wild, and he gave up a dinger to Jean Segura, but he ultimately managed to retire the side. That the final out was a strikeout made it that much sweeter.
So it was that the Mariners, who yesterday barely looked like a Major League Baseball team, put themselves in position to possibly take the series from the Phillies in a matinee tomorrow.
It’s still not fair. It still seems unlikely to be the Mariners’ turn. Games like this, however, make you realize that unlikely doesn’t equal impossible.