Was it the prettiest win? No. Was it a dominant win? No. Will we take it? Absolutely.
On paper, it didn’t look great. Sometimes in person, it also didn’t look great. Dylan Bundy is Anaheim’s best starter, equally deadly on righties and lefties, 95th percentile this season in chase rate and a master at suppressing hard contact. The Mariners lineup, on the other hand, is the hitting equivalent of this dog:
If you haven’t seen the movie, this is a dog that successfully defeats a group of highly sophisticated robots hellbent on the destruction of the human race because the robots cannot determine if it is a dog, a pig, or a loaf of bread, which causes them to short-circuit. Today, the Mariners batters successfully tricked Dylan Bundy enough to charm two runs off of him, and that would be all they’d need for a win.
Bundy successfully held the Mariners down over the first three innings, allowing just a leadoff single to J.P. Crawford to ensure the Mariners wouldn’t be no-hit. The Mariners scraped one run off Bundy in the fourth inning, when the two Kyles successfully confused Bundy’s circuitry, and he allowed back-to-back singles to Seager and Lewis. Dylan Moore, who started to round back into form this series, knocked in Seager with this little bloop single (73 MPH EV), prompting this entertaining tweet from Angels beat writer Fabian Ardaya:
Dylan Moore has inherited Marcus Semien’s crown as Angels AL West Pest (honorable mention thus far to Nick Solak).
— Fabian Ardaya (@FabianArdaya) May 2, 2021
Our AL West Pest is Moore Best!
The Mariners would add one more run in the next inning, small-balling a run off Bundy thanks to Sweet Birthday Baby Luis Torrens, who led off the inning with this ringing double.
Haggerty bunted him over to third and then Haniger sacrificed him home to give the Mariners a 2-0 lead, which would be all Seattle needed to secure today’s victory.
That didn’t look like how the game would go from the first few innings. The Angels came into the game with both the best batting average in baseball and its highest slugging percentage, and they made Justus work hard. Sheff dealt with trouble right off the bat when he hit the second batter of the game, Ohtani—who was fine, obviously, as he went on to steal second and third base. Sheffield did get Trout to ground out, but walked Rendon before eventually getting another ground out from last night’s big slugger Jared Walsh. Still, it was a stressful 20-pitch inning for Justus, and could have been longer if he hadn’t started the game by retiring pesky David Fletcher on two pitches.
The second inning was similarly tough for Sheffield, who didn’t help his own case when he hit his second batter of the game, pinging a slider at the cement shoes of Albert Pujols, after giving up a leadoff single to Upton to put two on with none out. A groundout from Jose Iglesias that was too slow off the bat to be a double play put a runner on third with just one out, but again, Sheffield escaped the jam, striking out Max Stassi looking and getting some help from his defense as Sam Haggerty snared a line out off the bat of David Fletcher.
Sheff’s defense didn’t help him out in the third; the normally sure-handed Dylan Moore couldn’t handle a chop off the bat of Ohtani, putting him on first, and then Sheffield walked Trout. A flyout from Rendon moved a runner to third base with just one out for the second consecutive inning, but again Justus skirted around trouble at the expense of Jared Walsh, who couldn’t resist a slider perfectly located inside and rolled it over to J.P. Crawford. Sheffield escaped without the run scoring, but at the cost of another ding in his pitch count: he stood at 48 pitches at the end of three innings. With the long arms in the bullpen taxed from yesterday’s blowout and Casey Sadler hitting the IL, the team needed Sheffield to get as deep as he could in today’s game.
Justus responded by buckling down and taking care of business. Sheff protected his pitch count with a 1-2-3 inning in the fourth with his first strikeout of the game, a beautiful slide piece to Iglesias. After his offense got him a run in the fourth, he responded in the fifth with another shutdown inning, allowing a walk to David Fletcher but retiring Ohtani and Trout to earn himself a sixth inning and save the bullpen. With a 2-0 lead, Sheffield provided maybe the grittiest inning of his career, striking out Rendon looking in a lengthy, nine-pitch battle with a perfectly placed fastball at the bottom of the zone. Jared Walsh did have his revenge, singling in a 1-0 count, but Servais let Sheffield continue on to face Justin Upton, whom eventually Sheffield got to pop out after another lengthy battle, using the changeup to induce weak contact. At 98 pitches, Servais opted to leave Sheffield in for one more batter to see if he could retire Pujols and complete the sixth inning.
In a 2-2 count, Sheffield pulled out the slider one more time, and Pujols pulled his bat into Puget Sound:
Games like these are where flesh-and-blood players bump up against the paper tigers of projections. On paper, Dylan Bundy and the Angels star-powered offense should have steamrollered a shaky Sheffield and the Mariners’s starlite offense. But where the rubber meets the road, Justus Sheffield out-gritted everyone in a hundred mile radius, and the Mariners offense kept Bundy just busy enough wondering dog, pig, or loaf of bread to sneak two runs past for the win—an imperfect, wabi-sabi, utterly human win.