Mariners Halfway To Going Wire-To-Wire
While I don’t necessarily agree with those who argue that Opening Day of the baseball season ought to be a national holiday, I do, at least, understand the sentiment. The wait is so long and the anticipation is so great, and the instant you see a baseball stadium get all dressed up, you slip into this warm state of comfort you forgot you ever felt. This is the feeling of belonging; this is the feeling of being at home. It doesn’t even matter where you are. It just matters what’s happening. Being in the car with a baseball game on feels more like home than home on any January 10th. All isn’t quite right, but it’s closer than it was.
Because it’s such a treasured event, and because at the end of the day we’re all just baseball fans, you hate for people to come away from the occasion disappointed. In a just world, Opening Day would be kind to fans of all 30 teams. Save the letdowns and the devastation for at least another game. Look around the league, and you see the Brewers lost 10-0. The White Sox lost 10-1, and the Rangers lost 8-0, very nearly getting no-hit. It doesn’t seem fair. You want there to be another way, a better way, but you just can’t always make everyone happy.
Which made this Mariners opener a particular treat. Usually, in a baseball game, half the fans come away happy, and half the fans come away sad. Rough for that latter half, on the first day of the season. But what we saw on Monday, that game had something for everybody. Everyone gets to consider their Opening Day a success. Angels fans got to watch their best player hit a home run, and then effectively hit another with a great play in the field. And Mariners fans got to watch their best player beat the crap out of the Angels. Thumbs-up all around. We’re all friends.
Look, I don’t have a great way to work this in, so this is going to function as a segue. The home opener in Safeco is always a production, and this year gave Safeco the rare opportunity to host both the home and season openers at once. As has been the norm, Mariners players jogged in from the outfield as they were introduced, with fog machines adding to the drama of the affair. As somebody who has written papers in high school, I understand that, if you look hard enough, you can identify hints of symbolism everywhere. There were definite hints in the intros. Here we see Robinson Cano, preparing to jog down the carpet:
The curtains part, and the fog drifts, revealing Cano as he lifts his head and prepares to be greeted. Everything fell exactly into place. There is, before Cano, a clear path forward, unobstructed by anything peripheral. For Robinson Cano, it’s always come easy. For Robinson Cano, it always looks easy. In truth, he’s the result of inconceivable talent and preparation, but when you see him he’s smooth as a man who knows he’s already won.
Two names later, it was Kyle Seager’s turn:
Kyle Seager always has to do shit the hard way. Curtains didn’t part? Guess he’ll part the damned curtains. Doesn’t look cool. Looks like he’s getting out of the shower. No one looks cool when they’re getting out of the shower. Kyle Seager never looks cool. Never will. It’s just not his “thing”. Doesn’t mean he can’t also get the job done. Doesn’t mean he can’t also be excellent. He’ll just always look like he’s working harder for it. Kyle Seager’s never going to not look like his middle name is Duerr.
So, that’s how Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager emerged from behind a Mariners curtain. Later, a game was played.
Years ago — years and years ago — there was an argument over which pitcher was better, between Felix Hernandez and Jered Weaver. And while Felix had the advantage of his debut, the reality was that the argument was justifiable. I mean, we used to argue about a lot of silly things. We used to get really emotional when we’d talk about Roberto Petagine. I remember that Felix/Weaver stuff. It was very much a “then” argument, and there were strong arguments to be made in Weaver’s favor. He really was an ace at one time. Felix, for his part, disappointed, as he took some time to get things to click. Felix had the stuff; Weaver had the run-prevention results. One thing the argument didn’t discuss much was the future.
And I don’t know what would’ve been argued. I don’t know how those futures would’ve been projected. Was a time when everyone thought Felix’s arm was a ticking time bomb. We’ve come a long way. But now we have the benefit of knowing exactly how things have taken place. Felix doesn’t throw as hard as he used to. That was never going to keep up. Thankfully, he figured out command, and he figured out a changeup, and he’s maybe the best starting pitcher in his league. And Weaver? Weaver doesn’t throw as hard as he used to. Today I saw him throw a pitch above 86 miles per hour, once. It seems like it should’ve been painfully obvious even a decade ago that Weaver would need to develop pinpoint command to keep things going smoothly. That command doesn’t seem to be with him. He’s working with a razor-thin margin of error. Today he looked like a guy who’d deserve the 6.00 ERA that’ll be by his name at least another few days.
Seth Smith doubled in the first. Fastball, 82, over the middle.
Austin Jackson doubled in the third. Curveball, 65, over the middle.
Smith tripled in the third. Curveball, 66, over the middle.
Cano singled in the third. Fastball, 83, over the middle.
Dustin Ackley homered in the fifth. Fastball, 81, over the middle.
Brad Miller singled in the fifth. Changeup, 74, at the belt.
Smith doubled in the fifth. Fastball, 83, at the belt.
You can’t count Weaver out, and you certainly can’t judge by one game at the start of a long season, but this was a game that would be thrown by a pitcher about to be cut. This version of Jered Weaver, throwing away his track record, might not get a major-league contract as a free agent. We just watched something like a right-handed Barry Zito with the flu, and Weaver used to be a guy who succeeded in part because he got hitters to swing and hit pitches on or beyond the edges. Nothing about Weaver today was about the edges. Except perhaps a career edge. It’s a long way down. Gotta watch your step.
As Weaver gets worse, Felix sustains. I don’t know how he does it, either, but, recognize our fortune. There was a time that Weaver might’ve been better. Imagine that. I know this gets awful jinx-y when you’re discussing two active careers, but look at them side-by-side today. At the moment, there is no comparison, not in stuff and not in ability. Today Felix faced 24 batters. Whiffed 10. Today Weaver faced 25 batters. Whiffed one. It was Mike Zunino, which doesn’t even count.
Once again, Felix coughed one up to Trout on Opening Day, getting a high fastball not high enough. Once again, it was reduced to a footnote, as Felix settled in just as his support did the same. Yeah, this could’ve gone a little differently. Smith’s game-tying triple in the third narrowly avoided Kole Calhoun. Smith’s insurance double in the fifth narrowly avoided a sliding Matt Joyce. With a couple more half-steps, who knows if those get down, and who knows what game we have? But on the other hand, that same sliding Matt Joyce collided with a not-sliding Mike Trout, and while Trout avoided any kind of injury, we’ve seen that play go tits-up. The Mariners were lucky to not have a double taken away. The Angels were lucky to not have their entire season crippled before the first seventh-inning stretch. Fun thought exercise: turn Joyce into would-be outfielder Josh Hamilton. Have Hamilton also not make the catch. This time, have Trout get hurt. Would Hamilton have been released on the spot? Probably not, but I can’t imagine he’d be allowed back in Anaheim.
Maybe that’s not a fun thought exercise. That’s a dreadful thought exercise. Kind of like having the Hamilton, Weaver, Albert Pujols, and C.J. Wilson contracts at the same time. That’s how you get Johnny Giavotella standing in against Felix Hernandez on Opening Day and trying his best.
Not everything went well for the Mariners. If everything went well for the Mariners, they might’ve won by twenty. The point is to make sure enough goes well, and this year, more than any other year recently, “enough” shouldn’t be too difficult a bar to clear. You saw some elements of a playoff team today. They didn’t all chip in as much as they could’ve, but this team has a lot of potential chipper-inners. Roster’s littered with ’em. Someday Nelson Cruz will probably get a hit.
Nine straight Opening Days, the Mariners have left us smiling. Nine straight Opening Days, I’ve written something to the effect of how, even though it’s incredibly early, every game matters, every single game matters, and when you’re 1-0, that makes it incrementally easier to be there in the playoffs at the end. It’s all about the probability, right? Winning on Opening Day improves the probability. Nine straight Opening Days of this. Try not to worry about what happened after the first eight.