Returning home in style
If you aren’t careful, the days start to blur together. On the surface, people live unsexy lives that consist of days that tend to repeat themselves. Eat, commute, work or school, commute, eat. Another eat in there somewhere. It can be hard to remember when any one thing happened.
As the luster of a new baseball season wears off and we settle into the lethargy that late spring brings, the games too begin to blur together. Especially when the team isn’t winning, it’s hard to remember if any particular moment happened on Tuesday, Monday, or even last week. Watching a game until ten or eleven every weekday night starts to get less appealing. The crowds shrink.
Little moments of significance help stop the days from slipping into each other. A smile from a crush or a sweetheart. A compliment from a friend that assuages that day’s exact insecurity. Even a particularly good meal. To someone else, the moment might not appear different. But even the smallest moments can become memorable.
It’s the little moments in baseball that differentiate the games from one another. By the time the year is over, it will seem like the Mariners have played the A’s on a Monday night in an empty T-Mobile Park about sixty times. They’ll feature faceless infielders booting ground balls and nameless starters giving up solo home runs to Khris Davis and some dudes named Mark or Matt.
I sometimes wonder whether the games blur together for the players, as work days and school days do for us. I’m sure many players mentally check out at some point during the season. As the Mariners have plummeted in the standings, it’s seemed like a matter of when players would begin to check out, rather than if. I wouldn’t blame them.
The events of the first seven innings of the game seemed all too similar to past games to be distinctive. Mitch Haniger led off the first inning with a dinger off of Mike Fiers, immediately ending his bid at back-to-back no-hitters. After that, though, the game was a slog. The Mariners walked a few times, but invariably ended the innings before they could get anything going.
Kikuchi’s start was, too, a slog. He was shaky enough that his at-bats lasted five or more pitches on several occasions, but sharp enough that he was able to put batters away before allowing much damage. The few bad mistakes he did make were punishing. He ended up allowing three solo dingers.
After seven and a half innings, five runs had been scored, all on solo dingers. Up to that point, it was probably one of the least notable games of baseball all season. Someone named Austin Adams pitched for the Mariners.
Finally, in the bottom of the eighth inning, we got our moment. Mitch Haniger worked an impressive walk to start the inning. Two batters later, Edwin Encarnación walked on a… questionable pitch.
It ended up being a significant call. Daniel Vogelbach was up next. Though I worry about the significance of these droll games for some players, I do not worry about that for Daniel Vogelbach. I am one hundred percent sure that Daniel Vogelbach takes exactly none of these games for granted. He certainly didn’t waste this one.
With one swing, the sleepy non-game became an actual event. The Mariners called upon Brandon Brennan, who has struggled recently, to pitch the ninth inning. Brennan’s struggles continued, as he walked two batters before intentionally walking Khris Davis to load the bases with two outs. Per Fangraphs, this was the highest leverage situation of the entire game.
Brandon Brennan, who until this season had toiled for years in the White Sox minor league system, took a deep breath. As a Rule 5 pick, this season is his chance. He can’t afford to let the days blur together. He has to attack each one.
He threw a changeup in the middle of the zone to Stephen Piscotty. Perhaps expecting a fastball, Piscotty swung and missed. 0-1.
He kicked back and threw the the changeup down low, daring Piscotty to take it. Piscotty swung again. 0-2.
Brennan took another breath. He got the sign from Omar Narváez. Why not? He threw the exact same pitch. This time Piscotty held off. 1-2.
Brennan’s improved changeup is at the heart of his success this year. If he doesn’t have the changeup, he’s not on the Mariners roster. He leaned in, and threw it one last time.
If only the story had ended there, with Brennan walking off the mound and screaming. Sadly, the Mariners could not score in the bottom of the inning. Brennan again took the mound in the tenth. And with two outs, he gave up a dinger.
The Mariners had one last chance to lift Brennan up. One last chance to win.
J.P. Crawford and Edwin Encarnación made two quick outs, bringing up Daniel Vogelbach. Every fan in T-Mobile held their breath, wondering if Vogelbach could repeat. Joakim Soria seemed to have the same idea, and he walked Vogelbach.
Finally, up came Omar Narváez. Narváez, who like Brennan, and Vogelbach, and Dee Gordon, and Domingo Santana, isn’t taking any of these games for granted. Narváez, who with a 150 wRC+ this season, seems hellbent on proving that he’s a Major League catcher. Narváez worked a 2-2 count and then did this.
With that, the Mariners won. They emerged victorious not only over Oakland, but over apathy and lethargy. They reminded fans, who need it now more than ever, that baseball is still fun. That there are magical moments to be found even in the dullest of doldrums.
That’s a bunch of players that aren’t forced to care, caring. Because they did, we’ll have a memory of a random game on a chilly Monday. Vogelbach will remember his 8th inning dinger that saved the team. Brennan will be able to focus on the memory of striking out Piscotty, and not the one of giving up the dinger in the 10th. And Narváez will remember walking off the field to cheers, even if they only came from 10,000 fans.
These small moments are what give baseball its life. The memories, the ones that keep the days from collapsing in on each other, are what make life good.