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Mariners-Royals commit to the bit, Mariners come out ahead 6-5 in extras

Seattle Mariners v Kansas City Royals
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Mariners dodge their first sweep of the season with extra-innings win in Kansas City

When you’ve recently lost someone important to you, every day without them is like wandering through a landscape of cactuses, trying to avoid getting pricked by memory; you can avoid the big, obvious ones (major holidays, birthdays), or at least safeguard yourself against them, but when you’re not looking, a sneaky spine will occasionally lodge in there nevertheless. Today that memory-spine is of one of my dad’s favorite, most often-repeated bits: following a narrow, seat-clenching Mariners win, he’d love to call me up and, as an opening salvo, chortle wickedly, we had ‘em all the way.

The Mariners decidedly did not have the Royals all the way in this one, because these two teams love to play the most bonkers games possible and are committed to this bit with an intensity that would make Strasberg jealous. Today’s game was, on paper, a pitcher’s duel, and for much of the game, that’s what it was, until the Mariners-Royals mojo took over down the back stretch.

The Mariners were lucky to miss Cole Ragans the last time they faced the Royals, but the luck ran out today, as Ragans ruthlessly, efficiently dismantled the Mariners lineup from top to bottom over his six innings of work, over which time he struck out nine. After giving up a leadoff home run to J.P. Crawford, because apparently Ragans is the last person in MLB to know that J.P. actually stands for Jiant Power, Ragans immediately rebounded to set down the next eight batters, six of them on strikeouts, before giving up another two-out single to Crawford in the third. Unfortunately, Dylan Moore didn’t learn from his first at-bat, and struck out on four pitches to end the inning. At the end of his outing, Ragans would record a league-high 22 whiffs, which I feel pretty comfortable predicting will end up atop the leaderboard for the day even with Glasnow v. Gil on deck for Sunday Night Baseball.

Okay but back to that J.P. Crawford home run, because that’s all the Mariners got off Ragans over the first two-thirds of this game: this is only the second home run the lefty Ragans has allowed to another lefty. The other one? Ohtani.

Meanwhile, George Kirby carried that small candle of a one-run lead carefully through the first part of the game. The Royals threatened to tie the game up immediately in the bottom of the first: after two quick outs, Vinnie Pasquantino worked a ten-pitch at-bat against Kirby, eventually slugging 98 at the bottom of the zone deep into right field for a triple (maybe a double if Haniger doesn’t try to dive for the ball). Salvador Pérez then worked a tough at-bat against Kirby, bringing him to a full count before getting punched out looking on a perfectly placed slider.

The slider was the sharpest arrow in Kirby’s quiver today: he threw it about 35% of the time, throwing it for strikes both called and swinging, and easy groundball outs. Postgame, Kirby said the slider was a focus for him against the aggressive Royals, who love to swing on the first pitch and don’t strike out a lot: “I knew if I got it to the right spot, they’d ground out because they’re aggressive.” He also said his new position on the mound, shifting slightly over towards the third-base side, is helping the pitch play up:

“[The slider] was great today. I threw it well below the zone, out of the zone, stole some strikes with it. Ever since I moved over [on the rubber] I’ve been feeling a lot better, just starting it in the zone, letting the hitter think it’s a strike, and then it goes out of the zone.”

The second inning also required some deep counts for Kirby to get out of it unscathed: after going 0-2 on the first two batters of the inning, Kirby struggled to put them away with his secondary stuff, not tempting batters into swings on either his curveball or splitter, and getting too much contact (albeit for foul balls) on his slider. But by the third inning it felt like Kirby was in more of a groove as he was able to establish his signature “picking apart of the zone”: he landed the slider for some weak ground-ball outs, and should have had an out on a curveball that rolled too slowly off the bat of Kyle Isbel for Tyler Locklear to field (despite a heroic diving effort). After needing 37 pitches in the first two innings, he cleared the next two in 22, with six of those getting chewed up on a strikeout to Pérez.

The Royals broke through against Kirby in the fifth, when Freddy Fermin snuck a ground ball base hit past Locklear at first, followed by a solid base hit from Hunter Renfroe that pushed Fermin to third. Kyle Isbel then sacrifice bunted Fermin home, because the Royals love them some small ball. It looked like they might add on in the sixth, when Bobby Witt Jr. opened the inning scalding a first-pitch sinker for yet another ground ball base hit, but Kirby proceeded to get three outs on four pitches to quell the threat. With his pitch count at something a golfer would envy, Kirby worked through the seventh, as well, disposing of the bottom of the Royals’ lineup easily, again getting them swinging early in counts to make quick outs. Kirby threw about 81% first-pitch strikes today, which is high even for him, and the sliders-heavy/pitch-to-contact approach worked well against the aggressive Royals, who postgame Servais called “pesky as hell”. Now, to get him some offense.

The Mariners pushed Ragans’ pitch count to over 100 in the sixth, threatening to score after Dylan Moore hit a one-out single, and Julio stung a ball but directly at the left fielder. Mitch Garver fought a long battle, seeing ten pitches before chasing after a slider, but did enough damage to Ragans’ pitch count to ensure the Royals would have to go to the bullpen in the seventh. That’s where, as is so often the case with these 2024 Mariners, they started to make some noise against the bullpen: today’s victim, Will Klein, fresh off his rumspringa. Cal Raleigh led off with a single, but Mitch Haniger threatened to spoil it with an almost-GIDP; luckily, Haniger was ruled safe, and then hustled home the go-ahead run on Tyler Locklear’s first MLB hit, which was also, happily, his first MLB RBI:

The Mariners picked up another run on a pinch-hit RBI single from Josh Rojas, making the game 3-1, which excuses the fact that he got caught in a TOOTBLAN later on in the inning when he could have probably been at third on a Ryan Bliss swinging bunt. But a wasted scoring opportunity certainly won’t come back and bite the Mariners, right?

In the eighth, the Mariners turned to Andrés Muñoz, who’s been on the shelf recently with some back issues, to face Kansas City’s 9-1-2 hitters. Isbel put up a fight, taking six pitches and grounding out thanks to a fantastic barehanded play by Ryan Bliss capped off by a beautiful stretch from Locklear. Because these two teams are incapable of playing a normal game and this pitcher’s duel had been far too normal so far, the next out was almost a mirror image of the first, but this time with Josh Rojas playing the role of Ryan Bliss, snagging a barehand grounder and tossing to the long-levered Locklear again.

Muñoz then decided it was his turn to contribute to the inning, and struck out Bobby Witt Jr. looking with a perfectly-placed fastball at the bottom of the zone. And this is where the game, and the recap, should have ended. Unfortunately, there was one more frame to go.

After the Mariners went down quietly against Chris Stratton in the top of the ninth, the Mariners threw Big Mike Baumann out there in a save situation, without realizing, perhaps, that Big Mike’s favorite thing to do, actually, is vulture wins. After getting the first two outs, Baumann gave up a double followed by a game-tying home run to MJ Melendez...again. Deja ewwww. That forced the game into extras, with the Royals bringing out hard-throwing James McArthur. Probably should have gotten some runs off Chris Stratton when the opportunity presented itself!

Again, because these teams cannot play a normal game if their lives depended on it, the Royals almost had (or maybe did) have Josh Rojas picked off at third as the ghost runner in the 10th. J.P. Crawford then battled for 11 pitches but got punched out on strikes for the second out, which made the WPA chart zig-zag around like my actual heart rate. Dylan Moore walked, bringing up Julio Rodríguez with two outs. Julio, who has hit well against the Royals, and already had a hit on the day, but who has also been on a well-publicized tough stretch of road this season.

But in a 2-1 count, McArthur made a mistake over the plate with a sinker, and Julio scalded it (109.8 EV) for the go-ahead RBI:

Continuing the theme of clutch hitting, Cal Raleigh, in an 0-2 count, saw a curveball in the middle of the plate and did not miss it, giving the Mariners what should have been a comfortable 6-3 lead.

But wait. Because, as we’ve learned, there is no such thing as a comfortable lead in this ballpark between these two teams. Austin Voth came on in the bottom of the tenth facing the bottom of the Royals lineup and struggled to find the zone, falling behind Hunter Renfroe 3-1 before serving up a sweeper that even the well-seasoned Renfroe didn’t miss, making the game 6-5. Kyle Isbel kept the pressure on with a single, turning the lineup over for the dangerous top of the Royals lineup.

To his credit, Voth hung in there and got two tough outs, getting García to ground out on two pitches and popping up Bobby Witt Jr. on another two pitches, both located mostly safely away (although the one to Witt sneaked onto the plate a little more than I’d like). With the lefty Pasquantino up, Servais summoned Tayler Saucedo for some more high leverage work, and Sauce came through, dropping a sinker down in the zone that Pasquantino pounded hard but directly into the ground for an easy, game-ending groundout—a laughably cool ending to such a high-stakes game, one little last fake-out from the baseball gods.

“It was wild, like they always are in Kansas City,” said an obviously-relieved Scott Servais postgame; Scott does not care about the bit. “It’s time to get out of here. Let’s go home and play there.”

Didn’t you hear, Scott? We had ‘em all the way.


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