When you come at the Houston Astros, you’d best not miss.
The Mariners had the Astros in Game 1. Perhaps they will long rue Tuesday afternoon. Perhaps it will be just another building block into a Mariners era, depending on where they go from here on their arc, another character builder that sweetens their first appearance in a World Series or even winning it one day soon. Losing this series won’t actually wound Mariners fans that much, considering what this season has already been for them in comparison to the 22 that came before. But that’s only if the Mariners go on to do better. If they continue to do Mariners things, Robbie Ray’s fastball down the dick will be what all their fans see when the demons come.
And yet…it was there. A first strike in this series was there.
Yes, playoff baseball is different. It has to be managed differently. Especially in a five-game series, you have to get any win you can in any way you can. You have to be a little less patient with starters, a little more patient with relievers, and pull some levers you wouldn’t ever consider in June. But that doesn’t mean you absolutely have to.
Calling on starters to come out of the ‘pen is something of a postseason tradition. But it’s only necessary in a very specific situation. It’s when you don’t have a starter you trust to go a third time through a lineup, and there are only a couple of relievers you trust to get out a plus lineup, leaving you with six or nine outs you can’t figure out how to get. The Nationals won a World Series by expertly rotating through Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, and Stephen Strasburg between their starts, but they only had three relievers that Davey Martinez trusted and saw Joe Ross and Anibal Sanchez start games. There was a window for it.
The Mariners are not that team. They had the AL’s best bullpen, and the one most geared for October. So it takes some real brain-yoga to think that Ray, coming in the middle of an inning, in the middle of the ninth inning with runners on, is a better option than Paul Sewald, who came out of the pen all year to the tune of a 2.67 ERA, to the tune of holding lefties to a .253 wOBA all season. Also, it’s Sewald’s job. Ray has had one relief appearance in the past eight seasons.
If manager Scott Servais really needed to find a lefty to face Yordan Alvarez, and he didn’t because Alvarez has pulverized lefties this year pretty much to the same tune as righties, Matthew Boyd was out there, and this is his job.
Maybe Servais was a little spooked by Sewald’s performance in the Wild Card round. But that ignores that Ray got cuffed around the ears in his one start against the Jays as well. So recency bias wouldn’t account for this. Sewald had held Alvarez to one hit over seven ABs the past two years with three Ks. A soft single and one HBP does not really signal that Sewald had lost it. It was merely an excuse for Servais to MANAGE HARD while in plain sight.
It smacked of doing something for the sake of doing it. To look like you were treating a playoff game differently, to exhibit that a manager understood the urgency without understanding his own team. It was Stanley Kubrick-level “LOOK WHAT I’M DOING!!”
The Mariners’ trajectory should lessen the sting of this one in time. But you never know. These chances aren’t guaranteed. It was there, and their manager was in too much of a hurry to manage on TV.
The meat of the NHL season began last night in New York, and someone thought it was a good idea for a ref to welcome us into it:
Chris Rooney was only wearing a mic for TV for this, and you can tell that both Mika Zibanejad and Brayden Point are wondering if he’s talking to either one of them while also bewildered that he’s not actually looking at them. Maybe they thought he was having some sort of episode. This does one better than when the referee welcomes the team captains to the Super Bowl. Buddy, they got here at the same time you did! Now we’ve got NHL refs going PT Barnum.