New Mariners Win Like Old Mariners
For the Mariners, this was an offseason of change. There was change within the front office, somewhat in terms of personnel, but more in terms of philosophies. And this was reflected by change on the roster, as the Mariners added some experienced dinger hitters in an effort to add experience and dinger hitters. These Mariners just set a club record for dingers in spring training, and there’s been talk that for the first time in years, the Mariners have a legitimate core of the lineup. So on opening day the Mariners beat the A’s 2-0 thanks to excellent pitching and a groundball single.
Feeling like a pessimist? Argue that the changes didn’t make any difference. Feeling like an optimist? Argue that the Mariners didn’t even need the additions to chip in to win. Feeling like a realist? Argue nothing because it’s been one game of a baseball season. Do you remember how long these things are? Imagine how long you think a season is. Multiply that by seven and then add 40 more games. Don’t worry right now about the big picture. Worry about the little picture, in which the Mariners just won a regular-season baseball game. A game it feels like they’ve played a dozen dozen times before against the Oakland A’s alone.
Since 2008, now, the Mariners and A’s have played 96 times. In 19 of those games, one of the teams was shut out. In 96 of those games, at least one of the teams looked entirely, woefully inept. The A’s might be coming off a playoff berth, but when they get together with the Mariners, all that old familiar magic is rekindled, to the possible delight of some.
When I used to recap regularly, I think after every opening day I’d say the same thing: even though it’s only one win, it’s a meaningful win. If you expected the Mariners to win X% of 162 games, now they’d win X% of 161 games plus one win. Every win matters and you never know when they’ll really matter. This is the Mariners’ seventh opening-day win in a row. After the previous six opening days, they’ve gone 431-535. I can’t pretend to be super excited anymore, not over one win, but I can be generally pleased, over one win and over having the baseball soundtrack back. I didn’t expect today to feel as refreshing and enjoyable as it did. Not just the Mariners, even; all day, there was real baseball on TV, and it does make me feel a little more centered.
How meaningful is this win? Again, this is the seventh straight year the Mariners are starting 1-0. Last year, they started 1-0, and Dustin Ackley hit a dinger. The year before, they started 1-0, and Chone Figgins hit a dinger. The year before that, they started 1-0, and Rob Johnson hit a dinger. Tonight, nobody hit a dinger, and Felix Hernandez was excellent. There’s nothing to read into, nothing to extrapolate — the meaning is that Felix was excellent and that every fifth day, the Mariners aren’t actually at a disadvantage. This was a game on opening day that easily could’ve been a game in the middle of August. It didn’t feel special; Felix felt special, and the game felt mostly normal. Be happy to have baseball back, and to have one fewer day of possible complaining.
I’m not going to make a habit of doing this. I might not do this five times — it’s one of the main reasons I left Lookout Landing in the first place. I’m moving on from nightly Mariners recaps, but tonight gets an exception because tonight is opening night and there’s only one of these a year. Or, three of these, for Major League Baseball as a whole. Something has to be written about Felix dominating again on opening day, even if this is starting to feel like old hat. It would be weird for the outcome of the game to not be acknowledged.
Felix was actually perfect into the bottom of the fourth, when he coughed up a double to John Jaso. Prior to the game, Felix gifted Jaso with a Rolex out of gratitude for catching last year’s perfecto. This is precisely why Felix equipped that Rolex with a self-destruct mechanism operated remotely. The A’s didn’t get their second hit until the sixth, and it sucked. The third hit came in the eighth, and it was legitimate, and then Felix issued a walk when he was fatigued. Up until the end, Felix was incredibly strong, and his changeup was so lethal it literally killed six guys, the game stopped for ambulances and everything. Felix did have to grimace through some bullpen anxiety, and this easily could’ve wound up another no-decision, but the memory of all those no-decisions makes this winning decision all the more sweet. In that way the Mariners have actually been good for Felix’s psychological health.
Felix would’ve allowed a run were it not for Brendan Ryan in the fourth. With two down and a runner on third, Yoenis Cespedes bounced a grounder up the middle that Ryan fielded on the outfield grass. He spun and threw a strike to first, across his body yet strong and on the fly. Cespedes was retired by a step and Ryan returned to the dugout unencumbered by carrying a heavy Gold Glove in his pocket. It was Ryan who made the defensive play of the day, and it was Ryan who went 1-for-1 with two walks. Brendan Ryan said he wanted to play more like David Eckstein, and it was mission accomplished tonight, as Ryan was annoying.
As for Jaso, if you miss him, he popped out, he doubled, he struck out on ten pitches, he allowed a stolen base, he missed a few borderline strike calls, and he was pinch-hit for against a lefty reliever. So Oakland got the same John Jaso experience we all basically got to have last season. It’s a fine experience that doesn’t measure up to the Felix Hernandez experience. The Mariners’ new regular catcher, Jesus Montero, had a ball foul-tipped so hard off his mask in the ninth inning it gave the ROOT Sports camera feed a concussion. Kenji Johjima used to make a habit of getting hit in the junk. Jesus Montero is making a habit of getting hit in the head. He and Franklin Gutierrez are not allowed to be friends.
The Mariners scored on a walk, a single, and a single. They did nothing else, although in fairness Brett Anderson is terrific. Tonight it was enough. Most nights it will not be enough, but most nights the Mariners probably won’t be limited to two runs. Mariners relievers threw just 12 strikes out of 27 pitches and that’s how this game actually got interesting, but it’s good they did that in retrospect, because it made things more electric. The Mariners now have the same record as the Astros. Happy opening day.