Marco Gonzales has never seemed to be much of a star. He’s in no way a typical front-of-the-rotation pitcher. He seems to take a page from the Russell Wilson school of athlete interviews: Say what you’re supposed to, wrap it in clichés. He’s invited some attention with his online presence, but mostly as the straight-man to Wade LeBlanc’s pseudo-straight-man. In a charming spring training video, the Mariners strapped microphones to Wade and Marco, and the results are perfectly enjoyable. But Marco doesn’t do much, aside from stand next to Wade, who riffs and cracks wise with his former Seibu Lions teammate Yusei Kikuchi. Marco seems like a very nice young man, all the way down to his “Oh geez,” after an errant toss.
Last year, Jerry Dipoto and company extended the very nice young man, after shortly after bringing him to Seattle, in exchange for one of the franchise’s most intriguing prospects (sentient human bicep, Tyler O’Neill). He looked fine. Plenty solid. And in light of an unproven Kikuchi and a fizzling Felix Hernandez, Marco was named the opening day starter for 2019. He had looked steady so far this year, getting credit for two wins in two starts.
Tuesday night felt different, though. Marco thrived on an abundance of weak contact from the Angels, who seemed overmatched on the night. There was nothing the Angels could do, it seemed. Marco had a slew of first-pitch strikes, he stayed in control. After a first-inning base hit to Trout and a ground-rule double to Jonathan Lucroy in the second, Marco retired seventeen in a row until Lucroy dribbled a single up the middle with two outs in the seventh.
But if the Angels looked helpless against Marco, the Mariners appeared to be equally inept against Trevor Cahill. The Mariners offense has been a fairy tale through seven games, but on Tuesday night, that all seemed to sputter and stall. Cahill was just as efficient as Gonzales, sitting down the Mariners in order in four of his six innings. Aside from doubles to Dee Gordon, Mitch Haniger, and Dan Vogelbach (who Aaron Goldsmith described as “rumbling into second base”), Cahill kept the game moving, allowing only one run over six frames.
No one expects the Mariners offense to continue to create runs at the rate they have thus far (54 runs in seven games entering Tuesday’s match up), so the cold bats weren’t a shock. But even more significantly, no one expects the Mariners defense to ever quite get its act together this season. Coming into Tuesday’s game, Seattle had committed a stunning thirteen errors in seven games.
When, in the top of the eighth, Ryon Healy made an impressive play on a hard grounder (his second or third solid defensive play of the game), I gasped at the realization: The Mariners had an opportunity to finish a game errorless for the first time this year. A liner into center raised the stakes, but it turns out Mallex Smith is very fast. Another out. Ryon Healy made a routine play (in spite of the unprecedented error-potential percolating from the hot corner this season), and suddenly Marco Gonzales was through eight innings with one run on three hits and only 88 pitches. And no errors.
A nice exchange from the television crew, discussing the 1-1 tie into the eighth:
Blowers: “Couple nights ago it was 10-8. I thought it was pretty entertaining, pretty fun.”
Goldsmith: “I mean, I’m not trying to put down a 10-8 game.”
Blowers: “Feels like you are.”
Goldsmith: “But I do like a pitchers duel.”
Daniel Vogelbach came to the plate, still a rare sight this season, and he did what he was made to do: He parked one over the centerfield fence, extending the Mariners streak to eight consecutive games with at least one home run.
As the camera followed Vogey into the dugout, bombarded by high fives, the words “Funk Blast” dancing in magenta above his head, Blowers chimed in.
“Daniel likes the looks of a 2-1 ballgame, doesn’t he?”
Marco stayed in for the ninth, walked Trout with one out (who could blame him?), and gave up a single to Simmons after a tough battle. With his starter at 100 pitches, Scott Servais called upon Anthony Swarzak to make his Mariners debut after being activated from the injured list earlier in the day. Two on, one out, one-run game in the ninth–no pressure. After striking out Pujols, he coaxed Lucroy into a ground out to Dee Gordon to end the game. Frankly, it was a fantastic play by Gordon–running full-speed to his left, fielding and throwing the ball in one smooth movement, in spite of all his pesky momentum–and it was profoundly unlike the infield defense we’ve seen so far from this squad. Something new, something intriguing. There will be errors. So many more. But Tuesday night, they got the job done in a close game. Time for high-fives.
Though I’m not ready to fully buy into the absurdity of this team’s torrential start, it’s worth noting:
- The 2019 Seattle Mariners won their fourth consecutive game tonight.
- The actual 2019 Seattle Mariners played their fourth consecutive game in which a different pitcher recorded the save (for three of the four, it was their first career save).
- Literally, the actual, real 2019 Seattle Mariners of Major League Baseball reached their first 7-1 start in franchise history. Literally.
In a postgame interview, Marco said all the right, boring, plain, fine things (“This team has a lot of fight,” and “I’m a competitor,” etc.), but what sounded the most sincere was maybe the simplest thing out of his mouth: “Big win for the M’s.”
None of this makes sense, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.