The 14-game win streak and its attendant bouncy are decidedly in the rear view mirror now. It calls to mind a cliche about good things and endings. But you know what? The reverse of that cliche holds too. All bad things must come to an end. Ask the Red Sox or the White Sox or the Cubs or the Royals. Even after an unfortanate start to the second half, the Mariners still have a 1.5-game lead on the Guardians in the Wild Card race. Seattle’s just begun a tough 20-game stretch, where they need only hold serve to stay in the playoff picture. Losing two games to the Astros doesn’t change that one bit. And yet it still stings to leverage a historic win streak into a weekend of sell-out(ish) crowds and then get rained on by what might be the best team in baseball.
In that way, this game reminded me of Mack Robinson. If you’re not familiar with Mack Robinson, he was an Olympic sprinter. At the 1936 Games in Berlin, he ran the 200-meter dash in 21.1 seconds, breaking Eddie Tolan’s Olympic record. But it was only good enough for a silver medal because in the next lane was Jesse Owens. That’d make anyone feel overshadowed, but Robinson wasn’t even the best athlete in his own family since his younger brother’s number now hangs in every stadium in MLB.
The Mariners are having a terrific season, back from the dead and rejuvenating the spirit of baseball in Seattle. But they still play in the same division as those damned Astros.
It was particularly brutal given that Logan Gilbert put on one of the best performances of his young career. He started the game by dotting 95 mph on the outside corner, but didn’t get the call. He came back on the inside corner for a foul ball. At 2-1, Gilbert threw two perfect knuckle curves for swinging strikes from the guy with the 16th-best swinging-strike rate among active players.
You’d think Altuve of all people would have an easier time with a pitch so close to the ground.
Unsatisfied with striking out Altuve, Gilbert let Walter come out, and got his next two batters—more than worthy opponents, Jeremy Peña and Yordan Álvarez—to strike out swinging too. Still unsatisfied, Gilbert came back out for the second inning and immediately got Alex Bregman 0-2 on a fastball and a curve. After failing to put him away with the slider, Gilbert froze Bregman with a fastball on the black for his fourth strikeout in four batters.
This was Gilbert’s MO the whole ballgame, mixing his pitches but mostly relying on his fastball and curve to carve through the Astros. He got five whiffs with his curve today, while throwing it 25 times, which I’m pretty sure is a career high. Houston’s lineup boasts three of the top-20 active hitters by strikeout rate and also the best hitter in baseball, and Gilbert got five strikeouts off of those guys. His final line looks like a win: 6 IP, 2 R, 5 H, 8 K, 1 BB with 18 whiffs and another 8 called strikes on just 89 pitches.
Even the two runs came via some sequencing luck, clustering the walk and two hits in the same inning, one run scoring on a misplay by Dylan Moore, playing out of position in centerfield for reasons best ignored. DMo did quickly make up for it by getting Gilbert out of the inning with a classic DMo highlight.
sick catch alert
Dylan Moore bails out Logan Gilbert with a diving grab on a 104.3 mph line drive from Chas McCormick … He covered 41 feet in 3.1 seconds. That one had a 45% catch probability, per Statcast. pic.twitter.com/QtaNC52QwW
— Daniel Kramer (@DKramer_) July 23, 2022
This may have been a flash in the pan, but if Gilbert has turned his knuckle curve into a legitimate weapon to pair with his flame-broiled fastball, I think it’s game over for the rest of the League. Not to get ahead of myself, but that’s James Paxton. It’s the easiest call yet to award Gilbert with his second Sun Hat of the year for his performance today.
But in Robinsonian fashion, even though Gilbert won a Sun Hat Award, he was running a lane over from Justin Verlander. The Mariners plan was clearly to attack Verlander’s fastball early in the count. It’s not a bad plan—that’s how they hit four homers off of him earlier this year. But Verlander was ready for them today, putting his heater up out of the zone. The Julio-less Mariners couldn’t lay off it to save their lives. With everyone chasing the high heat, Verlander easily dropped breaking balls in the zone, freezing the Mariners for stolen strikes.
The Mariners almost almost got him in the seventh. Carlos Santana started off the action with a solo home run, forcing his way into Fan Favorite status faster than any Mariner since Denard Span. Then Eugenio Suárez finally got the memo and laid off four fastballs out of the zone, walking on a 3-2 count. Adam Frazier moved him to third with a seeing-eye single, his second hit on the day, which extended his hit streak to nine games. Paying attention to base runners is apparently beneath Mr. Perfect, so Frazier then stole second to put the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position with one out. But Verlander responded by turning his fastball up to 11.
Justin Verlander pitches 98.0 MPH or harder this season before today: 3
Justin Verlander pitches 98.0 MPH or harder in the 7th inning today: 9
—Jordan Shusterman (@j_shusterman_) July 23, 2022
Cal Raleigh responded admirably, laying off two high fastballs coming in at 98 and 99 and fouling off three more. When Verlander went to his same old schtick, trying to freeze Cal with a curve for a stolen strike at the bottom of the zone, Cal fouled it off, despite it coming in almost 20 mph slower wtih literally 50 inches of vertical break. But having changed Cal’s eye level, Verlander got him to chase a high fastball on the eighth pitch. It ended with an out, but to me, this was the most impressive at-bat of the game. If Cal had gotten to see Verlander just one more time, I swear he would have parked one 450 feet away. Yes, I am once again dwelling on a Cal Raleigh strikeout as a positive thing. Don’t @ me.
Now with two outs, Scott Servais went to the King Slayer, Kyle Lewis, who’s beaten up Verlander twice. It would have been too much to ask of the universe for Lewis to hit another home run here, but he did work a walk, loading the bases for … Sam Haggerty, who broke my heart. He broke my heart.
And that was that. Apart from one more Astro run, scored on a wild pitch, the last couple innings went by without note (though Kate might fire me if I don’t shoutout Ryan Borucki’s strikeout of Álvarez).
Simply put, Verlander and the Astros came in and drank Gilbert and the Mariners’ milkshake. Dropping two to the Astros doesn’t really change things. But sometimes you’re born into the same family as one of the most important athletes ever, and sometimes you have to play in the same division as the Astros. I hope they can win tomorrow and not waste the city’s attention; they’re selling out T-Mobile park, but a church can be full of members and still empty in conversions.