As a devoted watcher of America’s Next Top Model over its early seasons (mostly so I could breathlessly log on the next day to the website Television Without Pity to read each perfect word of the recap penned by Tracie “Potes” Potochnik, who inspired my own internet writing voice), I internalized a few key lessons about how to make the most perfect pho-to. You must smize; you must perfect the tooch (never the hoochie tooch, always the Gucci tooch); you must embrace your flawsomeness; and you must always, always Find Your Light. Like so many of host Tyra Banks’s other dictums, finding your light is partly physical (know where your light source is and how to work your angles to get the most flattering or dramatic light on your face); and partly spiritual (absorb the light to where you don’t just reflect it, but become the glow). It took a while, but today the Mariners eventually found their light, in both senses, in a 10-4 win and sweep of the Diamondbacks on a day where the playoff implications in the game lay as heavily as the air in the room where Tyra would intone how many pho-tos she had in her hands.
Like life itself, this game began in darkness, literally and metaphorically. Chris Flexen was good-but-not-great, missing his spots and having to go deep into counts against Arizona’s slate of “wait didn’t I just see that guy playing for the Reno Aces?” hitters. A rare throwing error from J.P. Crawford in the first, extending Flexen’s inning, didn’t help, and also underscored the sense of maybe-this-isn’t-their-dayness that pervaded the game early. For sure, Flexen—who lives on the edges of the zone—was fighting an uphill battle against HP umpire Ted Barrett’s zone today, as Barrett stubbornly refused to call the low strike no matter how many times Flexen threw it right on the edge there.
Meanwhile, the Mariners couldn’t get a lot going off rookie Tyler Gilbert, he of the recent no-hitter, although Ty France made sure it wouldn’t be a no-no repeat by singling right away. That was it until the fourth, when Mitch Haniger led off with a walk, followed by Ty France, of course, with a brilliant piece of two-strike hitting to split a ball between first and second, allowing a gingerly-running Haniger to advance to third. Then the Mariners got a little help from the D-Backs, MLB’s worst-fielding team, when Kyle Seager tapped into what looked like a surefire double play ball, but first baseman Pavin Smith attempted to throw home to save the run and instead sailed the ball to Tucson. “Bases loaded, no outs” has been an unfortunately cursed phrase for Mariners fans this year, but Toro managed to beat out a double play of his own, collecting an RBI, and then Tom Murphy hit a sac fly as the Mariners continued to score on one dollar scratch-off lottery tickets. Still, two runs is better than no runs, but with Flexen not showcasing his best stuff today, the Mariners would need more.
It’s a mark of how well Flexen has performed this season that a 90-pitch (with almost 60 strikes despite the tight zone), six-inning performance with two walks goes down as one of his rougher outings, but that wobble in command did come back to hurt him in the sixth. Flexen had given up some hard contact on the day, fortunately hauled in by his outfielders in a cavernous, dark, largely empty Chase Field, but he opened the sixth inning falling behind Josh Rojas 3-1 before gifting him a fastball in the middle of the plate for a double. Flexen was able to retire Ketel Marte on a flyball on the changeup, moving Rojas to third, but then failed to elevate a fastball to Pavin Smith, who smacked it into the gap for a double, scoring the D-Backs’ first run of the day. Flexen followed that up by serving up a two-run homer to David Peralta, again on a fastball that wasn’t elevated enough, giving the D-Backs at 3-2 advantage.
Arizona opted to run Gilbert back out for the top of the seventh, and Abraham Toro greeted him first-pitch swinging for a solid double on a pitch at the bottom of the zone. A leadoff double sounds so exciting until you realize three sub-Mendoza line hitters and a pitcher are due up behind him, alas. Tom Murphy, to his credit, singled in a 3-1 count, moving Toro to third, which brought up Kelenic, who to his credit, didn’t strike out on the same curveball Gilbert had thrown him in the last at-bat, smartly laying off of it. Not to his credit, Jarred then grounded into a double play chasing a fastball off the plate, which essentially extinguished any hope of the Mariners going ahead in this inning, as Dylan Moore flew out for the third time that day to Ketel Marte. If Jarred had just struck out, Moore—whose outs today totaled 1,166 feet aside from a bad at-bat late in the game—would have gotten the run in with the sac fly, and Luis Torrens would have had a chance to bat. Alas. But: tied game, and now the battle of the bullpens was on, where the Mariners should have had a clear advantage. Right?
Seattle’s bullpen did their job: Erik Swanson’s splitter was in fine form, and he collected two strikeouts, although he did allow a base hit to Henry Ramos, who should be currently serving a suspension for throwing his helmet at Donovan Walton in a Triple-A game the other night and instead collected his first MLB hit. Swanson then fell behind Josh Rojas 3-1 before he blessedly flew out to Dylan Moore, who juggled it a bit but hauled it in. Maybe that’s the tradeoff for hitting a bunch of deep flyouts, at least one of which would have been a home run at T-Mobile, in which case, ask the monkey paw better next time, DMo. Paul Sewald got the top of Arizona’s lineup in the 8th, collecting strikeouts off Marte and Peralta, and Drew Steckenrider covered the ninth, striking out Andrew Young to end the regulation game.
Seattle’s lineup, however, did not do their jobs against Arizona’s Oops! All Former Athletics bullpen. J.B. Wendelken, somehow not the proprietor of a 19th century shop specializing in cabinets of curios but instead a major league pitcher, spun an 11-pitch inning against pinch-hitter José Marmolejos, J.P. Crawford, and Mitch Haniger. The Mariners also couldn’t capitalize against Tyler Clippard, who throws like he’s driving a schoolbus full of antique china, despite Ty France reaching on yet another error by the Diamondbacks infield. To his credit, Jarred Kelenic did work an eight-pitch at-bat and made solid contact, just at exactly the wrong outfielder in Marte, but that positioned the bottom of Seattle’s lineup to come up in extras.
Kelenic, a fast runner, started the 10th inning at second, and instead of letting Dylan Moore and his twenty-three thousand feet of outs on the day swing the bat, the Mariners put a bunt on, maybe with the idea that DMo could beat out a good bunt. Narrator: it was not a good bunt. Kelenic was thrown at at third easily, and then Dylan Moore was caught stealing during Torrens’s at-bat, despite Joe Mantiply throwing over to first base not once, not twice, but five (5) times. Joe Mantiply to the Hague. Torrens—who had seen one pitch in literally ten minutes thanks to the pickoffs, and a replay review of the caught stealing—then doubled, because of course he did, but then J.P. Crawford popped it up to end the inning and the Mariners were turned away. Darkness.
In a tight spot, Yohan Ramírez got the job done. Arizona bunted the Manfred runner over to third, but Yohan struck out Christian Walker on a beautiful slider and then got Josh Rojas to pop out harmlessly, again on the slider, to end the threat.
Then, the Mariners found their light, both figuratively and literally. I’m not sure if Chase Field was built for late-afternoon Sunday games, because this seems less than ideal for your pitcher:
Of course, it didn’t help that Taylor Clarke, despite having a big fastball and a slider, had trouble locating both. Maybe the sun was in his eyes. He opened the 11th with back-to-back walks to Haniger and France, bringing up Kyle Seager, currently campaigning for Mayor of Phoenix:
Here’s what it looks like when you find your light AND perfect the booch tooch all at once:
Sean Poppen then took over for Arizona, and Abraham Toro promptly walloped an RBI single up the middle scoring France, followed by a Tom Murphy single scoring Seager. A pinch-hit double from Jake Bauers scored two more.
They say the light in Rome hits different; I say they haven’t seen the light gleaming on Abraham Toro in Chase Field when the Mariners are up big and aiming for a sweep.
After the Bauers double, it was [spins Improbable Name Wheel]…Brett de Geus’s turn to try to get the elusive final out. Instead De Geus allowed back-to-back singles to J.P. Crawford and Mitch Haniger to stretch the Mariners’ lead to 10-3. He also hit Ty France, because when in Rome you enjoy both good light and the local custom of bagging on the French.
Matt Andriese wasn’t exactly sharp in the bottom of the eleventh, but with a significant lead, there were limits to how much damage he could do. A single to Ketel Marte scored the Manfred runner, making the game 10-4, and then a J.P. DP cleaned up the rest:
David Peralta almost snuck a double over the wall to extend the game, but on review it was ruled to have been foul, and Andriese struck out Peralta anyway to end the game and sew up a sweep for the Mariners on a day when all their Wild Card competitors—and the Astros!—lost. Like an ANTM contestant blossoming mid-season, the Mariners found their late-game light, ensuring Tyra has their pho-to in her hands for at least one more week.