Simply put, having the previous series entirely wiped out sucked out loud. With the M’s winning seven of their last ten games, rebounding from a truly brutal beating from the Angels on Saturday to finish dividing a four-game set, and Marco having thrown the best starting performance of the season, it was more than enough. ‘a little deflating to suddenly have three days when Seattle and Oakland were the only two teams not playing baseball. Ty France and Luis Torrens Mariner debuts should wait, like opening all your Christmas presents and not being able to play with them until you have lunch with your grandma. Never mind. It’s life.
Tonight was worth the wait.
Yusei Kikuchi, after a full week of rest, walked out the door hitting Leody Taveras on a nasty 93 MPH cutter, and didn’t look back after that. Although he fought all night – he only got three first hits on the top ten hitters he faced, and home plate umpire John Libka was calling a fairly tight area for both teams – his business had extra life. The fastball never hit the heights of 98 like in San Diego, but his cutter was consistently sitting 92-93, and he shuffled his slider all night, spotting it for strikes and getting four puffs. He persuaded a lot of ground balls from Texas Bats, allowing Evan White to do things to Evan White again in the third:
The Mariners managed to snatch a run in under a second and started with a Kyle Seager walk on a generous four-call in a full count. After an errant catch throw (side note: in a delicious In an in-game interview with Dee Strange-Gordon, he gave us a hilarious quote about how Seager was “a terrible baserunner” before Dee came to Seattle. Truer words were never spoken) moved Kyle to second place, Ty France made his first at bat as a sailor an endearing:
We have won the trade! Sadly, France would be fully baptized at Marinerdom five throws later by first being kicked out on a José Marmolejos flyout while attempting a direct flight. Don’t worry, though – they had the advantage, and Kikuchi kept rolling, putting down the first ten Rangers he saw. New Mariner devastator Isiah Kiner-Falefa hit him in fourth, pushing a single with a strikeout between Seager and JP, but Nick Solak engaged a fairly routine against Dylan Moore for a nice 4-6-3 double.
Once again, the lower sleeve brought the joy of the bats. After a unique rally from a Seager plunk, a walk in France and a single from Marmolejos, Evan delivered the loaded basics:
Contrary to the constant vigilance of the Padres series, a 90.1% victory expectation at this point was pretty certain, and you wouldn’t know it, they held on to seal the victory. Woohoo! That’s not to say there weren’t several other good things to take away from tonight:
- Yusei finished six times, allowing just one point from fifth on a solo shot from José Trevino. It was only the second dinger he allowed all year, and he came out of a cutter that didn’t catch enough enough from the insider’s corner. Was he perfect? No. Are the Rangers an offensively anemic and happy swinging team? Absolutely Was His command great tonight? With only seven first strikes, I don’t think anyone can tell that was the case. Despite all these warnings, however, he caused ten strikes, wormed ten kicks, and failed to walk a soul of the night. Oh, and he ended his outing with perhaps getting the only weak hitting call in the game, thanks in large part to some wonderful executive work from Luis Torrens:
If he can squeeze that control a little better and keep shuffling the cursor like he did tonight? Warning.
- New dad Dylan Moore made his return tonight, back in his familiar second place in the roster. He didn’t disappoint either, securing a 104.8 mph double in the right corner of the field in the fifth. It ended up being the worst hit bullet of the night, and I gave up trying to figure out where this man got his power from. It is beyond mortal comprehension.
Kendall Graveman made his relief debut, fresh off the injured list. We have had confirmation that thanks to a benign bone tumor in his neck he will be in the bullpen for the remainder of the season, and the Grave Man has been anxiously awaiting the opportunity. After tonight, me too! Graveman hit 99 on his lead and retained every move he had had earlier in the year. After getting two easy grounders from Kiner-Falefa and Solak, he abandoned Joey Gallo with 97 on the corner:
Graveman has a $ 3.5 million team option for 2021 in his contract, and if he continues to have more fire exits like this, picking it up should be a no-brainer. The startup-to-succession pipeline can be a frustrating process, but when does it work? You like to see it.
- Evan White arguably had the best game of his young career in the big league tonight. I’ve gushed out of his perpetually positive defense and two-run double before, but he also worked a pair of steps and hit a single in the middle at 101 mph in the eighth. For the first time this season, his takedown rate starts with a 3, and his WRC + season has climbed to 72. Oh, and that double he hit? Out of a brittle bullet. Keep eating that crow, Mr. Heyman.
- Of course, how could I forget the biggest hit of the night?
According to Statcast, it wasn’t really the biggest hit of the night. An output bike of only 94.8? An xBA of .280? For JP, however, it was his very first career home run as a southpaw, gave the team confidence that proved crucial and kept a good length at home. After tonight he completely got out of the three week crunch he was mired in and is sitting on a 98 wRC +. Combine that with his plus glove, and he’s right around 4 WAR / 600 this year. What’s the plan, however?
Yoshihisa Hirano struggled to close the match, dropping a pair of runs on a few bloop hits and a walk. No problem, however. Tonight’s game was about as perfect as a baseball comeback as it could get. Strong starting pitch? Timely strikes? Are the recruits thriving? Steamrolling a division rival through your core? It was all there tonight. Justus Sheffield will look to get things done tomorrow night against Kyle Gibson, and the M’s have a shot at taking nine of their last twelve. Regardless, I take these chances.