Fann: Mariners missed opportunities vs Astros both painful and confidence-inspiring
This is not a story about silver linings or optimism about the overall direction of where the franchise is headed. That will come, but it would be a disservice to Mariners fans and disrespectful to this team to go down the road of moral victories. This is about the here and now and what’s at stake this weekend as Seattle returns home for Game 3 of the ALDS against the Houston Astros.
We’ve seen the mettle of this club all season long, and so I will say this without mincing words: This series is not over yet. I guarantee you nobody in the Astros’ clubhouse is trivializing what it will take to win a series-clinching game at T-Mobile Park this weekend. They’ve been taken to the limit in Games 1 and 2 and surely feel fortunate to hold a 2-0 advantage, well-earned as it may be.
And that’s what’s so frustrating about what has transpired thus far. The Mariners have been the better team for the majority of these first these first two games yet have nothing to show for it.
Game 1 was infuriating. Seattle played darn-near flawlessly, chasing expected 2022 AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander after four innings and touching him up for six runs on 10 hits. Julio Rodríguez had his first signature moments in the postseason with a pair of extra-base hits, three runs scored and two RBI. Eugenio Suárez stayed hot with two hits, including his first home run of the playoffs. J.P. Crawford hit an unexpected homer off Verlander. Seemingly everything went right for the Mariners, resulting in a 7-3 eighth inning lead.
Seattle was six outs from stealing Game 1, which would have resulted in taking over home field advantage and having the chance to go up 2-0 with Luis Castillo on the mound in Game 2. Obviously that’s not what transpired as things went south in excruciating fashion. Andres Muñoz couldn’t locate and gave up two runs in the eighth. It was a similar story in the ninth with Paul Sewald.
Then of course, it was Robbie Ray who gave up the three-run walk-off homer to Yordan Alvarez. There’s plenty of blame to go around. It’s easy to second guess Scott Servais turning to Ray and taking the ball out of Sewald’s hands (or even forgoing another bullpen arm in favor of Ray). And that scrutiny is more than fair. It was a bold decision akin to a coach calling a trick play in football: you either look like a genius if it works or a fool if it doesn’t.
My personal frustration is more focused toward Ray. Seattle’s $115 million man was well aware of his role going into the ALDS, and being utilized out of the bullpen wasn’t a day-of surprise. To feed one of, if not the best hitter, in all of baseball two straight center-cut fastballs remains hard to fathom even three days removed from the soul-crushing walk-off. Ray got away with a mistake on his first pitch, and his second offering should have never touched the strike zone, especially being up 0-1. That’s not a guarantee the result would have been different. Game 2 showed us that Alvarez is more than capable of hitting homers on pitches off the plate.
But when you see the location of Ray’s second fastball, it’s no surprise that Alvarez sent it to the moon. With one swing, 7.5 innings of near-perfect baseball on the road against the best team in the American League went out the window. For me, there’s no excuse for Ray to not be more competitive in that at-bat.
Game 2 featured a series of “that’s just baseball” events that all went against the Mariners: Jeremy Peña’s bloop single, a pair of brutal strike three calls against Ty France and Cal Raleigh, line drives from Raleigh, Suárez and Crawford that were hit right at Astros defenders, Jarred Kelenic’s tease of a warning track flyout, etc. Those moments, resulting in nine men left on base and Seattle going 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position, doomed the Mariners on Thursday and squandered a sterling outing from Castillo (7 innings, three earned runs and seven strikeouts).
Probably the most vexing layer of it all is how the bullpen has been such an edge in favor of the Astros. Houston’s bullpen has pitched 8.1 innings through two games, surrendering just one run. By comparison, Seattle’s has allowed six earned runs over 4 1/3 innings. One of the Mariners predominant strengths all season has let them down immensely in a pair of winnable games this series.
That’s far more troublesome than the seemingly inevitable outcomes of Yordan being Yordan.
There’s no denying that the Mariners getting whooped in Houston would have been easier to stomach. At that point you just tip your cap to the better team and recognize the gap that still exists between the two franchises. But that hasn’t remotely been the case, and it’s evident these Mariners are ready to go toe-to-toe with MLB’s best on this stage.
That reality is demoralizing given Seattle’s 0-2 deficit and simultaneously confidence-inspiring that these Mariners aren’t done yet.
The Electric Factory will be rocking on Saturday and hopefully on Sunday as well for Game 4. I’ll be in attendance and can’t wait to experience a raucous postseason atmosphere alongside 47,000 of you. Let there be chaos.