You can absorb the experience that is Mariners baseball varied ways.
There is the ballpark environment, new name and all. That’s the best one, though not the most common. Not all of those who don Mariners caps live in the Seattle area or can afford the coin to rent a seat.
There is radio, sure. And social media, the newest way to follow along these days. Other ways exist as well, though listening to your neighbor scream, “Throw the freakin’ ball,” out his back window is so 20th century.
Nope, the typical way most fans get their Mariners fix is still through their TV.
So Friday we decided to go all in. Spend whatever time it took to watch the M’s begin their Midwest road trip with a day game from Chicago, hog butcher of the world.
And no, ground balls headed Tim Beckham’s way are not called “hogs.”
Here’s what we saw and heard. Despite the outcome, a 10-8 loss, the 2019 Mariners should be fun to watch.
• Most everyone was pleasantly surprised by the Mariners’ 7-1 start to a season even general manager Jerry Dipoto admitted would be “a step back.” But that doesn’t compare to turning on the television and finding out Dave Sims was not in the booth.
It’s not that Sims is so bad. (OK, that’s part of it.) It’s just that Aaron Goldsmith is so much better.
Goldsmith has been doing M’s radio since 2013, and he’s a perfect partner for Rick Rizzs. But when he gets a chance to move down a couple of boxes and pair with Mike Blowers on TV, it’s even better.
They like each other. They play well off each other. And they make even the dull parts of the game interesting.
Case in point: In the bottom of the fifth, during a typically slow part of the game, Goldsmith and Blowers bantered about a “chef” that recently retired at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Pretty mundane, right? Not really. Turns out he was akin to the Soup Nazi from the Seinfeld show. And Goldsmith’s description of how he panicked under the pressure was, to quote Kenny Bania, “Gold, Jerry! Gold.”
• Baseball needs such stories, especially on television or radio.
Games have become too long, averaging well north of 3 hours despite efforts to shorten the length.
According to Richard Justice of MLB.com, speaking on a recent Tony Kornheiser Show podcast, baseball did a survey of fans and game length. It told the powers that be most don’t mind long games at the park, but hate them when watching at home. And, because all professional sports are basically just television shows anyway, that’s worrisome.
Hence commissioner Rob Manfred’s exploration of ways to shorten games.
It’s not working. Friday’s first inning took 30 minutes. Two other innings took almost as long. The game itself, with the White Sox not batting in the bottom of the ninth, took 3 hours, 36 minutes.
Pro tip: Keep a TV on in the kitchen. Between innings, head there and pretend you are at the concession stand. The prices are way better for beer or a hot dog or Cracker Jack.
• The game itself was Seattle’s season in miniature. Heck, the first inning was.
The first two M’s struck out. Then new Mariner Domingo Santana, who hit 30 home runs for Milwaukee two years ago, rode a fastball out to right field.
That 1-0 lead lasted about 15 minutes. The first pitch Yusei Kikuchi, another newbie, threw was slapped to new shortstop Beckham. He butchered it.
A looping hit followed. Then Jose Abreu hit a routine three hopper to new shortstop Beckham. He butchered it. Instead of a double play, he tried to throw Abreu out at first. It was wide. New first baseman Jay Bruce came off the bag and made the catch but, in his hurry to take the ball out of his glove, dropped it and the Sox scored.
Two more errors, the M’s 16th of the season. (For some reason, Beckham was given all three, although Bruce should have been tagged with the third.)
When new center fielder Mallex Smith couldn’t hang on to Yoan Moncada’s fly ball two batters later – he did bring back what would have been a grand slam – the M’s trailed 3-1. An inning later it was 6-1.
And then the M’s rallied, hitting three home runs, giving them an 8-6 lead. They lead the major leagues with 24 after three more Saturday.
“They can hit some home runs,” is how Blowers described it.
• Then the bullpen took over. The second guy out of the reworked-on-the-cheap pen was Cory Gearrin. Yeah, he’s new, too.
The right-hander threw 14 pitches. None of them was actually in the strike zone. They resulted in two walks, a mental error by Beckham and a hit batter. Oh, and three more runs.
Bill Krueger, the former Mariners pitcher who joins the broadcast remotely at times, said manager Scott Servais is still trying to figure out the pen’s “personnel and order. Usually you have a handle on one or the other. I don’t think he has a handle on either.”
It better happen quickly. The M’s bullpen has started slowly, with an earned-run average of 5.44 after Friday.
That’s only slightly better than the defense, which has five more errors than any team – and the worst runs saved.
There is entertainment in all this. After all, if you dig the long ball and don’t care all that much about wins and losses, then this M’s experience is for you.
If not? Then maybe you’ll need to take a step back of your own.
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