The Big Inning
I don’t know a damn thing about Preston Claiborne. Never heard of him in my life. Until today, anyway, and now I can tell you that he’s a pitcher on the New York Yankees. A few years ago he was drafted in the 17th round. Today he retired Dustin Ackley for the third out of the top of the first inning. Another thing I know about Claiborne is that he wasn’t today’s scheduled starting pitcher for New York. That was Phil Hughes, and Hughes didn’t get scratched shortly before game time. He took the mound, and he yielded to Claiborne, after having registered two outs. He did not leave hurt.
Hughes was pulled after allowing seven runs on six hits, two walks, and a dinger. He faced ten batters and got two of them out. The dinger was a grand slam by Raul Ibanez, as he followed up yesterday’s also-impressive dinger, and though I’d rather have Ackley dingers than Ibanez dingers, I’d rather have Ibanez dingers than no dingers, and I’m not going to allow myself to overthink this. Instead of playing favorites, I’m just going to settle for the fact that the Mariners hit a grand slam and knocked out the Yankees’ starting pitcher in the first. That’s a good way to recover from last night’s crushing disappointment, or what must have felt like a crushing disappointment to the players. Seven runs in an inning for the Mariners is more than they’ve scored in all but six full games.
If the Mariners win — and they’re in good shape — they’ll catch the A’s for second place in the AL West. Of course, a better way to put it might be that the Mariners would catch the A’s for fourth place, with the Rangers occupying the first three places, but at least the Mariners are more or less meeting expectations, while the A’s and Angels are falling short of them. If you can’t climb the tree, maybe the tree will fall down. In a wind storm. This wasn’t well thought through.
It’d been a while since the Mariners knocked a pitcher out in the first inning. You have to go back to August 28, 2007, when the Mariners blitzed Ervin Santana. In the span of seven batters, Ichiro and Adrian Beltre tripled, Jose Guillen doubled, Kenji Johjima singled, and Jose Vidro and Raul Ibanez walked. That game was part of Lollablueza, and I remember standing and cheering in my room as Santana trudged slowly to the Angels’ dugout. That was one of the last times the Mariners played a truly meaningful baseball game with real playoff implications. Of course, after the Mariners went up 5-0, they scored one run the rest of the way, while the Angels scored ten. The Angels won 10-6, they swept the Mariners on the Mariners’ own field, and the Mariners found themselves in a tailspin that got humiliating before it ever mercifully ended. There are a bunch of ways to fall out of a playoff race, and the 2007 Mariners might’ve found the quickest. Because of course a seven-run first inning in New York had to come back to Lollablueza. You just couldn’t let me fully enjoy this, baseball.
This was the first time the Mariners have knocked a pitcher out in the first inning during the Jack Zduriencik Era, if you have a thirst for symbolism.
Somehow even less importantly
On April 9, Brandon Maurer got knocked around by the Houston flipping Astros, facing ten batters and getting two of them out. That was the 53rd time in Mariners history that a Mariners starting pitcher failed to make it out of the first. Today was the 54th time in Mariners history that an opposing starting pitcher has failed to make it out of the first. The Mariners are winning statistical competitions you didn’t even know existed. Granted, some of these were due to injuries, and not performance, but don’t examine too closely. Just be happy with the broken deadlock in the Mariners’ favor. Think about this the way you think about a Raul Ibanez grand slam. Which is to say, smile, and think about it only very briefly.