NEW YORK – What shouldn’t be lost in the dramatics ‐ and relief – of the Mariners’ walk-off win Wednesday over the Texas Rangers was the performance of Taijuan Walker. Was it one of his best? Not necessarily by the numbers. But by the circumstances, it certainly was one of his better ones and one where I think we saw a little something different from him.
Heading into the game I was curious to see how Walker would approach it. With the team having lost five games in a row, I wondered if it would be in his mind to be the stopper. If he lives up to his potential, that will be a role he fills for many years. While after the game he said that being the stopper was not something that was on his mind, his actions – namely barking at home plate umpire Laz Diaz as he came off the mound after finishing the sixth inning – would suggest otherwise.
I had not seen Walker display that kind of fire before, on or off the field. While it is never completely good to yell at an umpire, I liked seeing the fire. The more I thought about it, however, I wondered if it was wise for a pitcher, let alone a young pitcher, to have words with an umpire. He will, after all, be behind the plate again for Walker. I asked manager Scott Servais about what he saw. Servais has often said that he wants his players to be who they are and that it is okay to show emotion in this game. What we saw from Walker on Wednesday fell into that category as far as he was concerned. What he liked even better, however, was what he saw before Walker came off the mound.
“He dialed it up in his last inning,” said Servais. “We saw the 95-96 we hadn’t seen earlier in the game. He really let it all out.”
Walker threw six pitches, all fastballs, to Ian Desmond, who hit a weak ground ball back to the mound to end the inning. After five straight losses, two 30-pitch innings, a number of questionable ball and strike calls and a ridiculously long replay delay, this was it for Walker and he wasn’t leaving anything on the field.
“I was just fired up,” said Walker. “Big moment, trying to get out of it. Things had happened. It was kind of building up. I knew it was my last hitter so here you go. All fastballs. If you can hit it, put it in play, do what you got to do.”
If there was emotion behind the pitches, it certainly didn’t hurt them, something that Walker noted.
“The ball was coming out good,” he said. “I thought I was letting it all go but it was in control. I felt I was painting the outside corner with the fastball well and it worked out. What I really liked was Chris (Iannetta) was behind the plate, ‘Let’s go! Trust me right here. Me and you! Every pitch, every fastball,’ and it really pumped me up even more. Just let it eat.”
As for the exchange with Diaz, Walker said that indeed was the first time he had words with an umpire and that it surprised him as well.
“Heat of the moment, it happened,” he said. “When I got in the dugout it was cool, everything was over with. It was one of those things, (laughs sheepishly) where when you stub your toe you start cussing and two minutes later it’s fine and you just move on.”
He moves on, but this outing appears to have been another stepping stone for Walker.
Norichika Aoki, LF
Seth Smith, DH
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nelson Cruz, RF
Kyle Seager, 3B
Adam Lind, 1B
Chris Iannetta, C
Leonys Martin, CF
Ketel Marte, SS
Nathan Karns, RHP
All players will wear number 42 for the game in honor of Jackie Robinson.
“It’s a historic day in baseball,” said Servais. “More important it should be an historic day in our country for what it’s done and how it changed the game and more importantly, how we do things in our country and around the world. Awesome day. Awesome to get the chance to celebrate that day here in New York. Our players are pretty excited about it.”
• I appeared on the Brock and Salk show Wednesday morning. Audio of my conversation with the guys can be found here.
• Kyle Seager is having a rough go of it early hitting just .152 with a .603 OPS in his first 9 games. Any panic? I doubt it. Slow starts are nothing new for Seager. Through nine starts the past three years he has hit .229, .133, and .147.
• Big pitching matchup coming Sunday as Hisashi Iwakuma goes for the Mariners and Masahiro Tanaka for the Yankees.
• Courtesy of the Mariners’ pregame notes, some interesting details on Dae-Ho Lee’s walk-off home run:
The home run was just the 3rd pinch hit walk-off home run in team history. Kendrys Morales hit the last one, 6/23/13 vs OAK and Ken Phelps the first in club history on 9/3/86 vs DET.
According to SABR home run guru David Vincent the home run was the first time in Major League history a pinch-hit walk-off home run was hit by a player born in an Asian country.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, at age 33 Lee becomes the oldest rookie to hit a walk-off hme run since Luke Easter hit one for the 1950 Indians at age 35.