M's take wacky series from Chisox
Dee Gordon treats Omar Narváez to a celebratory Gatorade bath after Narváez hit a home run that wasn't really a home run to win Saturday's game against Chicago
September 16, 2019
That was nuts.
The just-concluded weekend series against the Chicago White Sox saw the Mariners win two of three in bizarre fashion, which seems fitting for a series that saw each game go at least three-and-a-half hours in duration, each game use at least 31 players (Baskin Robbins could have sponsored it), and each game ultimately come down to which team could outscore its own bullpen. Pretty it was not, but it did entertain.
I attended Friday night's game with my friend Dave, a guy with Chicago roots who maintains his allegiance to the White Sox. Sox fans and Mariner fans are both long-suffering sorts, despite the differences in their teams' histories—the White Sox are a charter member of the league, the M's an expansion club; the White Sox's last championship was in 2005, the Mariners' was, well, you know—and Dave and I were both a bit cynical about our teams' performances as both starting pitchers—Dylan Covey and Yusei Kikuchi—flailed about while surrendering five earned runs apiece and 17 hits between them and getting the hook after just 21⁄3 (Kikuchi) and 32⁄3 (Covey) innings. We were also, however, somewhat bullish on our teams' respective futures, bolstered by the performance of the Sox and M's hitters. Dave touted the breakout years of former first-round draft pick Tim Anderson, the Chicago shortstop who's leading the AL in batting, and Yoan Moncada, the 24-year-old Sox third baseman that missed hitting for the cycle that night by about two feet on a lineout to the wall in his last at-bat. I expressed my optimism in Seattle shortstop J.P. Crawford and catcher Omar Narváez (who was DHing that night) while cautiously hoping for great things from newly-called-up Kyle Lewis. For now, though, these teams would be defined by their pitching, or lack thereof.
The bullpens are sad, and no clear path forward has made itself known for either club on that front. The Mariners got solid outings from Brandon Brennan, Erik Swanson, and (surprisingly to me) Matt Magill that night, but Wade LeBlanc and Austin Adams didn't fare so well. Brennan and Swanson may well have a place in next year's relief corps, but the M's are really no closer now than they were at the start of this year's let's-try-anybody bullpen tryout camp at finding a solid mix. The White Sox had a better game from their 'pen, but it was a bit of an outlier despite a four-out save from the generally reliable ex-Mariner Alex Colomé.
Chicago took that first game by a score of 9-7 on the strength of three solo home runs and Moncada's near-cycle (single in the first inning, RBI triple in the third, bases-clearing double in the fourth). The Mariners kept it close by taking advantage of Covey's wildness (three consecutive walks followed by a wild pitch in the first) and with uncharacteristic two-out clutch hitting (from Shed Long and Daniel Vogelbach), but it wasn't enough. The game ended at 11:00 and Dave and I skipped the Ichiro-celebratory fireworks to head home, Dave pleased to have finally seen the Sox win a close one in person.
Saturday was a far different type of contest; following the pre-game festivities honoring Ichiro, Felix Hernández took the hill and pitched like the King Felix of old. The King would go seven strong innings, tying his longest outing of the year, surrendering just one run on a groundout that was nearly an inning-ending double-play. It was a retro performance worthy of the cheers from the King's Court section in left field, but also worthy of Felix's history of getting lousy run support that nets him no-decisions instead of wins. The Mariners, meantime, had plated a run on Shed Long's solo homer in the fifth inning, and nothing else against surprisingly strong Sox starter Dylan Cease. The uneven Chicago bullpen also outperformed expectations with four additional shutout frames, while Sam Tuivailala and Anthony "T-Fish" Bass shut down the Sox following Felix, thus sending the game to extra innings at 1-1. Which is when the weird happened. With Colomé on the mound for Chicago, Kyle Seager grounded out and Lewis struck out, bringing up Narváez—the guy Colomé had been traded for last offseason—and Narváez smacked one to the wall on the fly. The ball bounced off the top of the wall and was fielded by Sox center fielder Adam Engel, but the umpire called it a home run; after a brief delay while the umpires conferred with the Chicago bench, there was, oddly, no replay review, and the home-run-that-wasn't remained (weird), ending the game then and there and making a winner out of reliever Magill (weird) and a loser out of Colomé (also weird). Despite being a ten-inning affair, this was the shortest of the three games time-wise at "just" three-and-a-half hours. (Nice going on that pace-of-play BS, Commissioner Manfred.)
But that was just the teaser. The finale Sunday afternoon was truly wacky, with back-to-back bat-around half-innings contributing to a see-saw scoring progression that ended with the Mariners up 11-10. The Mariners used 21 players—in a DH game, at that—thanks to the expanded September roster in the win, with Braden Bishop scoring the winning run as a pinch-runner for Austin Nola, who had a tremendous day with four hits and a walk to bring his season on-base mark over .350. Kyle Lewis also banged out three hits, including his fourth homer in six games. It didn't seem like it would be a 21-run game at first—Seattle starter Justus Sheffield was cruising through three innings, facing the minimum nine batters and striking out six of them, and got out of trouble in the fourth with another K with two runners on base. Chicago starter Iván Nova was also holding his own, shutting out the M's through the first three frames despite a few hits allowed. But the bottom of the fourth saw the wheels come off for Nova, with six Mariners reaching base and three scoring before one out was recorded. Nola would drive in two more to knock Nova out of the game, then the M's reverted to previous season form against reliever Hector Santiago, striking out twice with the bases loaded to end the frame. At 5-0 Mariners, though, and Sheffield dominating, things seemed in the bag. Not so fast. The White Sox would bat around themselves in the top of the fifth, sending Sheffield to the showers and greeting Brandon Brennan with a hit and a grand slam—from former Mariner Welington Castillo—to put Chicago up 8-5. They'd plate two more runs in the seventh to make it 10-5 and again, seemed like things were in the bag (just the other side's bag). Not so fast. After scoring one off Santiago in the eighth, the Sox went to Kelvin Herrera, who threw two pitches to Kyle Lewis and saw the second one fly 420 feet for a three-run bomb. Mallex Smith would drive in another with a base hit before the inning came to a close, with Seattle batting around for the second time in the game. That left things improbably tied at ten, and the crazy game would end in the bottom of the ninth with José Ruiz on to pitch for Chicago: A Nola single, line-drive hit from Lewis, and intentional walk to pinch-hitter Dee Gordon would load the bases with one out for catcher Tom Murphy, who ran the count full before taking ball four for the "walk-off walk," arguably the worst way to end a game from a pitcher's point of view. This bananas end to the penultimate homestand of the year took three hours and forty-five minutes to play, making the three-game set in total clock in at eleven hours of baseball. Those of us in attendance to any of the three certainly got our money's worth.
The M's are on the road now for the final time in 2019, with three games on tap in Pittsburgh and three more in Baltimore. What wackiness will ensue there?
Mariners vs. White Sox, by the numbers
- Total runs scored: 40 (SEA 20, CWS 20)
- Home runs hit: 8 (SEA 3, CWS 5)
- Bases stolen/attempts: 4/7 (SEA 3 - Smith 3, CWS 1)
- Errors committed: 4 (SEA 3 - Crawford, Lewis, Nola; CWS 1)
- Quality starts: 1 (SEA 1 - Hernández)
- Pitching changes: 28 (SEA 13, CWS 15)
- Starters ERA (includes “openers”): 8.06 (SEA 7.24, CWS 8.25)
- Bullpen ERA (includes “headliners”): 5.22 (SEA 5.02, CWS 5.40)
- Runners left on base: 49 (SEA 34, CWS 15)
Of the Mariners recently promoted from the minors, who are you most interested in seeing play?