Part of September baseball tradition is debate. More specifically, rosters expand and some people are pissed. “My favorite team only called up three players, but this guy’s favorite team added ten guys! What gives?”
There are valid arguments here – why do we change the rules for the last month? Why are teams allowed to have such unbalanced rosters? Does it give an unfair advantage to teams who are deep at AAA, or is that just part and parcel with their preferred method of roster construction? Do September callups even have an effect on the games? If that was a question before, it sure isn’t today.
Corey Hart, in his first game back from a lengthy rehab stint, was the man responsible for giving the Mariners the lead. He was a September callup, taking the place of nobody on the roster yet finding his way there anyway. Whether or not teams should be allowed to call up everyone they feel like calling up, that’s basically what they can do, and today the September rules meant the Mariners got to enjoy some bonus production from a guy who otherwise would likely still be sitting on the DL, or released, or here at someone else’s expense.
They said this would be a pitcher’s duel, and sure enough, this was a pitcher’s duel. Felix Hernandez and Jon Lester have been the two best pitchers in the American League this year – sorry, Corey Kluber – and today they went face-to-face with their teams locked in a tight battle for playoff position. Each lasted eight innings, and each made it known that runs were to be had, if only at a premium.
The premium, it turned out, was the solo homer. Adam Dunn continued to show his gratitude towards his likely playoff-bound new team with a shot off King Felix in the fourth. But Kyle Seager led off the seventh with a solo home run of his own, and then two pitches later Hart got in on the fun. Lester, who had kept the Mariners in check all night, was suddenly staring at a loss.
Felix was fantastic, pitching eight strong innings with only one earned run. He allowed two walks and three hits while striking out four. Not that classic blow-one-by-him dominance, but dominance nonetheless. Lester didn’t walk a soul, but allowed his two runs on seven hits. He too finished with an underwhelming strikeout total, notching five Ks in his eight frames. With the offenses hungry and on high alert, the arms tweaked their game and kept things close to the end.
So the Mariners went to Oakland and won two of three. That’s a fantastic outcome, especially given the bloodbath that was Chris Young on Monday. Even that loss gave us something to cheer about, since Taijuan Walker was so damn dominant. The Mariners are three and a half games out of the first wild card. They need to get themselves back into playoff position first, but if they do, then a home playoff game with Felix on the mound on September 30th becomes a viable goal.
Next stop Texas, where the Mariners get another chance to prove they can play acceptable baseball against the worst team in the league. The Rangers have been a pesky opponent as of late, but there’s no reason to believe the M’s inability to beat up on weak teams is anything that should continue. Why would it? That’s so counter-intuitive. There’s likely a bit of correction coming, even if it’s hard to believe given the way things have gone lately.
Roenis Elias and Robbie Ross go against each other tomorrow at 5:05. Elias is gunning to finish the year with an ERA under four. Reminder: when Elias was demoted to rest his arm a few weeks ago, it was the first time he’d ever been in AAA. Another reminder: most people who care about Mariners prospects had never so much as thought about Elias until the last week of spring training. What a long strange trip it’s been.