Yesterday began with some horrible news, as word began to circulate that Hall of Famer and all-around wonderful human being Tony Gwynn had passed away at the age of 54. I started watching baseball in the nineties, but perhaps you were lucky (read: old) enough to tune in earlier than that. In that case, you had the chance to watch even more of Gwynn’s twenty-year career than I did. As hard as it is to say with Edgar Martinez and Ichiro Suzuki looking over my shoulder, Gwynn was the best pure hitter of the last quarter century. He’s absolutely an all-time great, and his passing was rightfully mourned across the game and not just in San Diego, the city he never left.
So it was an awkward position the Seattle Mariners found themselves in, having to begin a series against the San Diego Padres right after news broke that their most iconic player ever was gone. This is a four-game set spanning two cities, so it’s about as intimate and involved as a baseball series can be. In one sense, we’re lucky for the opportunity to be on hand to witness the team and city’s celebration of a legend. But when the ceremonies end the games begin, and the M’s goal in those games is to throttle the Padres. Which is exactly what they did last night.
Mariners starting pitcher Chris Young entered the game having faced every MLB team over the course of his career, with one exception. He’d never pitched against the Padres, largely because he’d spent five of his seven NL seasons in San Diego. Like most people who have ever in any way been associated with the Padres organization, Young had crafted a relationship with Gwynn and had a tremendous deal of respect for him. But even with the fun sucked out of this start, Young still made it his best outing of the year.
For a day, Chris Young was a star, pitching better than his still-unreasonable ERA would suggest. Six innings of shutout ball with a K per frame? Only one walk? Four scattered singles? That’s… well, San Diego has a terrible, terrible offense, but that’s a pretty phenomenal start. If Hisashi Iwakuma did that, we’d be thrilled. That’s a typical, if not slightly abbreviated, Hisashi Iwakuma line, but it’s a line belonging to Chris Young. He’s definitely not in danger of losing his rotation spot to Taijuan Walker, which is still absolutely amazing.
Kyle Seager got things going with a three-run bomb off Tyson Ross in the first inning. Endy Chavez singled, James Jones bunted into a fielder’s choice, Robinson Cano walked, Jones stole third, and Seager put one way over the fence. Kyle Seager is such an absolute treat, and when he’s on he looks like an all-star. He’s streaky, like almost all players, but man is he fun. A good, young, home-grown Mariner! It’s not impossible!
Brad Miller hit a home run of his own in the second, and his was even deeper than Seager’s. I can’t wait until Miller’s April and May seem like impossible aberrations. How could a player like him have sucked so bad for so long? He’s a power-hitting shortstop with good hands and natural range. His is an easy turnaround to believe in, if only because of the impossible depths he’s returning from. Chavez walked, Jones again forced him out at second, stole second, and scored on a Cano double to the corner. Five runs in two frames, and that was all they’d need. Carlos Quentin homered off Tom Wilhelmsen in the ninth, but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t even almost enough. The Mariners cruised to an easy win on a somber day.
Afternoon game today in Seattle before the series shifts to southern California. Roenis Elias sure would like to forget his last start. Everyone would sure like to forget his last start, in fact. Eric Stults takes the hill for the Padres. 12:40 start time. Jesus Montero playing first base in the majors alert! John Buck DHing in the cleanup spot! This is such a weird baseball team. Go Mariners!