The valiant but vanquished Mariners

Jeremy Peña

The Mariners fought the Astros off long and luminously in their ALDS Game Three, but Astros rookie Jeremy Peña brought the fight near to the end with his eighteen-inning, scoreless tie-breaking bomb that proved the end of the Mariners’ season.

Maybe nobody really expected the Mariners to get to their first postseason since the wake of the 9/11 atrocities in the first place. Maybe nobody really expected them to stay there when they up and bumped the Blue Jays to one side in a wild card series.

But they did.

Maybe nobody expected them to survive against the American League West ogres from Houston. Even if they made a reasonable enough-all-things-considered 7-12 showing against them on the regular season. Even if they’d beaten the Astros two out of three in two first-half sets.

They didn’t.

But a three-game sweep out of their division series still stings, no matter how valiant the Mariners effort was. Even if the series was as close as a closed clothespin, the Mariners compelling the Astros to win the first two games by comeback.

Mariners fans and just about everyone else couldn’t possibly have been surprised that Yordan Alvarez was the bombardier who flattened the Mariners in Games One and Two, first with that jolting three-run homer to turn a 7-5 lead into an 8-7 Game One win in the bottom of the ninth, then with a just-as-jolting two-run homer in the Game Two bottom of the sixth.

But going long distance two games’ worth in Game Three to see it end via Astro rookie Jeremy Peña’s leadoff bomb off Penn Murfee, after Luis (Rock-a-Bye) Garcia held them at bay over four relief innings with only one measurable threat against him, had to sting soul deep.

After a marathon exhibition of run prevention—the 42 combined strikeouts (20 by Astro batters, 22 by Mariners batters) set a postseason record; the Astros going 11-for-63 and the Mariners going 7-for-60 all night, it couldn’t feel otherwise.

“It’s kind of what we’re accustomed to, playing those tight games and finding a way,” said Mariners manager Scott Servais postgame Saturday night. “I mean, that is a big league game, with the pitching and defense that was fired out there. We just weren’t able to put anything together.”

“This at-bat,” Pena said, after his homer broke the foot-thick ice at last, “was not going to be possible if our pitching staff didn’t keep us in the ballgame. They dominated all game. Their pitching staff dominated all game.”

Sometimes you had to think what was wrong with these Astros—if they were going to prevail anyway against the Seattle upstarts, how the hell could they not have just done it in the regulation nine? Didn’t they want to avoid wheeling Justin Verlander to the mound in a Game Four if they could help it?

Now, of course, Verlander and Framber Valdez can have a little extra rest/rejuvenate time before opening the Astros’ unprecedented-in-the-divisional-play-era sixth consecutive American League Championship Series. They won’t know their opponent until things are settled between the Guardians and the Yankees in New York Monday night.

But how could these Astros, whose stocks in trade include becoming the biggest pains in the ass in the AL West with runners in scoring position, do worse with RISP (0-for-11) than the Mariners (0-for-8) did all night long?

How could Kyle Tucker and Jose Altuve hitting back-to-back one-out singles and pulling off a double-steal in the top of the second end with Mariners starting pitcher George Kirby striking Chas McCormick out to strand them?

How could Kirby plunk two Astros in the top of the third—Alvarez leading off, Trey Mancini to set up ducks on the pond—and escape with his life after McCormick’s deep fly to center was run down and hauled down by Julio Rodríguez?

How could the Astros plant first and second on Kirby with one out in the top of the seventh—and strand them by way of Christian Vazquez flying out to center and Altuve striking out?

How did Mariners reliever (and erstwhile Rays bullpen bull) Diego Castillo slither out of second and third and one out in the top of the ninth by striking Vazquez and Altuve out back-to-back swinging?

How did six Mariners out of the bullpen keep the Astros hitless from the tenth through the fifteenth, with their only baserunner of the span coming when Paul Sewald plunked McCormick to open the the top of the twelfth?

And how did Murfee save Matthew Boyd’s bones midway through the top of the sixteenth, after Boyd surrendered a base hit (Alex Bregman) and a walk (Kyle Tucker) following a leadoff fly out? Murfee got Yuli Gurriel to line out to fairly deep right center and Aledmys Diaz to pop out beyond first base in foul ground.

The longer this one went, the more improbably it continued to look. And not one muscle in T-Mobile Park dared obey any Mariner fans’ thoughts of making for the exits.

The Mariners proved just as good at leaving runners for dead as the Astros until the eighteenth. They stranded Cal Raleigh on third in the second, Ty France on first in the third, J.P. Crawford on first in the fifth, Rodríguez on second (a two-out double) in the eighth, Eugenio Suarez (leadoff single) and Mitch Haniger (one-out plunk) in the ninth, France (two-out walk, then stealing second) on second in the thirteenth, Haniger on first in the fourteenth, and Carlos Santana (two-out single; to second on a wild pitch) on second in the seventeenth.

This game threatened to end as a classic case of long-term, non-constructive abandonment against both side. (For the first time in his major league life Altuve took an 0-for-8 collar, big enough to fit Secretariat.) It only began with Astros starter Lance McCullers, Jr. pitching two-hit, six-inning shutout ball, and Mariners rook Kirby plus his defense keeping the Astros at bay for seven innings despite six hits and five walks.

Raleigh, the Mariners catcher, played all eighteen innings with a thumb fracture and a torn ligament or two that he’s dealth with for over a month. Some call it toughness. Others might call it foolishness.

He had a Clete Boyer kind of regular season at the plate: 27 home runs (leading all Show catchers) plus 20 doubles but a .284 on-base percentage. He clinched the Mariners’ postseason trip in the first place with a game-winning home run; he scored what proved the game-winning run that pushed the Blue Jays out of the postseason.

The league-average Mariners backstop who handled his pitchers well enough to help them deliver a collective 3.30 ERA on the season struck out three times in six plate appearances Saturday night, batted only once with a man in scoring position, in the bottom of the ninth, and hit into a force out.

At last Raleigh will be able to visit a hand specialist and get that paw repaired. Who knows what further damage catching two games’ worth without a break might have done? The spirit may be willing but more often than not all or part of the body can be defiant. Which reminds me that Rodríguez’s late-season back injury needs to be pondered more thoroughly, too—did he feel lingering after-effects the rest of the way?

But Peña turned on Murfee’s full-count fastball almost down the central pipe and sent it over the left center field fence and turned all eyes upon him. Peña, the rookie who slotted in at shortstop for the departed Carlos Correa. And, earned no less than his manager Dusty Baker’s lasting respect.

“You could tell by his brightness in his eyes and his alertness on the field,” Baker said postgame, “that he wasn’t scared and he wasn’t fazed by this. Boy, he’s been a godsend to us, especially since we lost Carlos, because this could have been a disastrous situation had he not performed the way he has.”

It proved a disastrous situation for the Mariners in the end. They’re likely to remain competitive with a few patches to sew and gaps to fill during their off-season. But nobody can accuse them of going down without one of the grandest and longest fights in postseason history, either. Be proud, Seattle. There was honour to spare in this defeat.

Nuke box music

Yordan Alvarez home run

Artist’s rendition of the nuke Yordan Alvarez dropped—covering Texas, half of Oklahoma, and a third of the Gulf of Mexico; and, enabling the Astros to take ALDS Game One. (Kidding . . . kind of . . .)

The one man in Astros silks nobody wants to face in the bottom of the ninth with men on base stepped in with two out in the bottom of the ninth in Minute Maid Park Tuesday afternoon. This lefthanded swinger had first and second and one out. He had a lefthanded pitcher to face on the mound.

It didn’t matter to Yordan Alvarez. But it came to matter phenomenally to the Mariners, who came into the half inning having seen an early 7-3 lead cut down to 7-5. And it came to matter even more to Robbie Ray, the defending Cy Young Award winner who usually starts but was brought in now for the lefty-lefty gambit.

First, Alvarez fouled off a sinker that arrived a little outside and just under the middle of the plate. Then, Ray threw him a second sinker, just under the middle of the plate but a little inside. In other words, right into one of Alvarez’s wheelhouse spots.

The two-out mushroom cloud from the warhead that won American League division series Game One for the Astros spread its umbrella over all Texas, half of Oklahoma, and maybe a third of the Gulf of Mexico. The Mariners might have sung a sailor’s lament, but the Astros probably thought it was the sweetest nuke box music this side of heaven.

We fear no team, the Mariners all but said entering this set, after a regular season surprise of finishing second to the Astros in the American League West, then sweeping the  Blue Jays out in a wild card series. They may fear no team, but they wouldn’t be the only ones to determine a little fear of Alvarez might be gentler upon their health. Short and long term.

Mariners manager Scott Servais had no reason to fear Ray faltering against a lefthanded hitter, since he kept them to a .212/.260/.347 slash line and a .647 OPS on the regular season. When his ninth-inning man Paul Sewald got a quick ground out to open but plunked rookie pinch-hitter David Hensley on a full count, then struck Jose Altuve out before Jeremy Peña singled, Servais went to the percentages.

He wasn’t going to let his righthander who’d already been bopped for the two-run homer by Alex Bregman that pulled the Astros back to within a pair an inning earlier stick around to incur further disaster. But as the mushroom cloud dissipated, the skipper was left to shake it off, remind himself it’s a best-of-five, and wait till Game Two for vengeance.

Servais may have forgotten the percentage that might have reminded him Alvarez is almost as deadly against lefthanded pitching as he is against righthanded pitching. He might have hit 17 more home runs against the starboard side, but his OPS against the port side is a deadly enough .947, and his on-base percentage is eight points higher.

Not to mention his Real Batting Average (total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances) against the port side (.651) is only 62 points lower than against the starboard—and would be a career year for a lot of batters no matter what side.

The data tells you what’s been. It only suggests what might be. But Alvarez’s data suggestion should have alerted Servais that, as tenacious a competitor as Ray is—and this was only the seventh relief appearance of Ray’s major league career—there was at least a 50-50 chance that Ray confronting Alvarez might not end well for his team.

Alvarez also started the Houston scoring with a two-run double in the third, cutting the early 4-0 Seattle lead exactly in half. Only nobody’s going to remember that cruise missile as vividly as they’re going to remember that ninth-inning hydrogen bomb.

Yordan Alvarez

Very well, this is the real look of Alvarez bombing the Mariners away Tuesday . . .

He didn’t just nuke the Mariners at Game One’s eleventh hour. He bombed his way into the history books. He’s only the second man in postseason history—after Kirk Gibson (Game One, 1988 World Series)—to walk it off with a home run when his team was down to their final out of the game. It was also the first postseason game-ending bomb hit with the bombardier’s team in a multiple-run deficit.

Alvarez also reminded the Mariners it’s not wise to assume that getting the early drop on a future Hall of Famer means it’s going to finish in their favour. The Mariners thumped Justin Verlander—who’d pitched a comeback season that has him in the Cy Young Award conversation—for six runs on ten hits in the first four innings, including a two-run double by Julio Rodríguez in the second and a solo blast by J.P. Crawford in the fourth.

Verlander’s final four batters faced, in fact, hit for the reverse cycle: Crawford’s homer plus Rodríguez’s immediate triple, Ty France’s immediate RBI double, and Eugenio Suárez’s single—that might have been an RBI job itself but for France being thrown out at the plate.

Yuli Gurriel cut another Mariners lead in half with his fourth inning solo launch, leaving the score 6-3, before Eugenio Suárez made it 7-3 with his own solo but Bregman—with Alvarez aboard on a one-out single— took hold of a Sewald sinker that didn’t sink quite far enough down and sent it over the left center field fence in the bottom of the eighth.

One inning later, Alvarez trained his bomb sight, pushed the button, and put a finish to one of the Astros’ more dubious streaks: until Tuesday, they’d been 0-48 in postseason play when they entered the ninth trailling by two runs or more.

It didn’t necessarily have to take the most monstrous home run hit in Minute Maid Park since now-retired, Hall of Famer-in-waiting Albert Pujols’s ICBM in the 2005 National League Championship Series. (The ancient days, before the Astros were the team to be named later in the deal making a National League franchise out of the Brewers.)

But it didn’t exactly hurt, unless you wore a Mariners uniform. And in that moment the number on Alvarez’s Astros uniform looked huge considering a little piece of baseball history involving that number. 44.

Another year, ejection, and autographed ball

Jesse Winker

Jesse Winker (27) triggering a bench-clearing brawl after taking a leadoff pitch on the can in the second Sunday . . .

When pondering how to attract and keep today’s youth bound to baseball, I’m pretty sure a bench-clearing brawl depriving a particular young fan from southern California of seeing a favourite player all game long isn’t exactly what we should have had in mind. It’s hard enough being a Reds fan anywhere these days without that.

Last year, a little California girl named Abigail Courtney got to see her first live major league game when her beloved Reds hit town to play the Padres. She really wanted to see her personal favourite, first baseman (and future Hall of Famer) Joey Votto. Except that Votto got tossed from the outset after arguing a nebulous pitch call.

The girl’s heartbreak went viral, enough so that it reached Votto himself. He promptly sent her a ball that he signed, “I am sorry that I didn’t play the entire game. Joey Votto.” The next day, Votto granted Abigail a personal audience when the Reds blew her family to tickets for that game.

Abigail’s Reds rooting includes sticking with players after they move on, as several did when the Reds decided to push the plunger on 2022 before the lockout-threatened season even began. And there the Courtneys were in Angel Stadium Sunday afternoon, where Abigail wanted to see two of her now-former Reds heroes, Mariners left fielder Jesse Winker and infielder Eugenio Suárez.

If the little girl has been taught anything about Hall of Fame catcher/malaproprietor Yogi Berra, don’t be shocked if it includes one of the most fabled Berraisms flashing in neon before her pretty eyes in the second inning: It’s déjà vu all over again.

She either didn’t know or didn’t quite comprehend that there might be a little bad blood between the Angels and the Mariners after the Angels’ future Hall of Famer Mike Trout was almost decapitated in the ninth inning Saturday night. She didn’t know Angels opener Andrew Wantz was going to send a return message or two, zipping one past Julio Rodriguez’s head in the top of the first before drilling Winker on the right butt to open the top of the second.

She certainly didn’t know Winker would slip the umpires trying to restrain him and charge the Angels’ dugout on the third base side of the ballpark, luring the rest of the Mariners to pour over for a rumble against the dugout rail after the Angels—who looked to have been chirping at the Mariners after Winker took it on the cheek—came out to defend themselves.

Nor could she know yet that the umpires’ crew chief Adrian Johnson would tell a pool reporter, “I’m not aware of the incident with Trout from last night. You’re talking about the pitch that went over his head. That was nothing for us to issue warnings today. What happened today was a guy got hit. We had warnings in.”

A week earlier, while the Angels took four of five from the Mariners in Seattle, Angels pitcher (and yet another former Red) Michael Lorenzen reeled in horror after a pitch coned former Angel Justin Upton upside the head. Post-game, Lorenzen thundered over the inconsistent baseballs that pitchers were having numerous issues gripping properly including the ones they couldn’t grip well enough to control.

Abigail Courtney

. . . meant a second broken heart over an early ejection of a current or former Reds favourite for Abigail Courtney in slighty over a year . . .

Maybe for the Mariners the Upton splat meant beware. Maybe they didn’t necessarily accept Lorenzen’s post-game commentary as sincere. Maybe both sides pitching inside and tight this weekend was a little bit of mutual messaging. But just how Johnson could have figured that that didn’t mean buzzing Trout’s tower in the ninth Saturday merited pre-game warnings Sunday escapes.

A pre-game warning would have dispatched Wantz post-haste after he’d zipped Rodriguez’s head. It also would have knocked into the proverbial cocked hat any suspicion that Angels manager Phil Nevin elected to go with an opener just to have him take one or two for the team and send the Mariners messages without costing himself too heavily.

Considering the Angels’ usual wounding flaw of inconsistent-to-insufferable pitching rearing its head yet again this season—and contributing well enough to that fourteen-game losing streak that deflated their earlier-season success—Nevin was playing with matches if that was really his plan.

Abigail Courtney knew none of that going in. All she knew in the moment in the top of the second was that here she was at the ballpark to watch a couple of her favourite former Reds (we presume Votto remains her number one man in Cincinnati) and one of them got a shot in the ass, triggered one of the wildest brawls of the season, if not the wildest, then got thrown out of the game.

So did Winker’s fellow Mariners Rodriguez and J.P. Crawford, not to mention Mariners manager Scott Servais. So were Nevin and Angels Wantz, Raisel Iglesias, and Ryan Tepera. (Iglesias had a message of his own to send after his ejection, throwing a large tub of sunflower seed bags out towars the third base line in protest. Brilliant.)

Winker didn’t exactly go gently into that good not-so-grey afternoon. Before he disappeared into the Mariners clubhouse, he flipped the double bird to a section of the seats behind the dugout.

“The only thing I’m gonna apologize for is flipping the fans off,” the left fielder said after the game. “That’s it . . . They pay their hard-earned money to come and see a game, and they didn’t deserve that, so I apologize to the fans, especially the women and children.”

Lucky for Abigail that her mother is a psychologist by profession. “One of the first things I said was, ‘Honey, everybody’s fighting, but they’re all going to be OK’,” Kristin Courtney told Athletic writer Stephen J. Nesbitt. “‘Nobody’s going to get seriously injured. But Jesse’s not going to be playing anymore today’. So, there were more tears.

Abigail Courtney

. . . and, a second apologetically-autographed baseball to Abigail from a chastened player.

“She has a sensitive heart, and she really cares about baseball,” the lady continued. “She feels for everybody, and I know she was disappointed for herself because she’s been waiting to see Jesse. I kept telling her, ‘I don’t think Eugenio is going to get thrown out. I think he’ll be OK. You can cheer for Eugenio’.”

Concurrently, someone made Winker aware of Abigail’s second such broken heart in a year and eight days. And he did something about it.

When Votto got tossed in San Diego last year, he sent her the ball and made a point of meeting her before the next day’s game. When Winker was made aware Sunday, before the game ended in a 2-1 Angels win, he sent Abigail a ball he signed, “Sorry I was ejected! I hope to see you at another game soon.”

If Votto’s precedent is any indication, it’s a consummation devoutly to be wished. Before his ejection broke Abigail’s heart in San Diego, Votto was in something of a 41-game slump. After redeeming himself with her the following day, he went nuts enough to hit 19 home runs with a .674 slugging percentage over the following 52 games.

Winker could use a little of that kind of mojo. Even more than he could have used the pizza an Arkansas fan named Sofie Dill sent to him in the clubhouse. (When Winker texted her thanks, she texted back, “Thank you for being awesome, Jesse! There’s a ton of people on Twitter who love you right now man.”)

The bad news: Winker has a respectable .353 on-base percentage thus far this season, but he’s slugging 153 points below his career percentage. The next time the Mariners might have a chance to see Abigail will be the Fourth of July, when they visit the Padres on her home turf.

I suspect it’s very safe to say that, while she might appreciate the balls she got from Votto and Winker after their ejections broke her heart, Abigail would much rather watch them play baseball when she gets to the ballpark. Autographed baseballs aren’t half as much fun as baseballs diving for line drive hits or flying for home runs.

On Hector Santiago’s bust

Hector Santiago

So much for working up a good sweat on the mound. Hector Santiago, Sunday afternoon, sent to the cooler for ten days (with pay, mind you) for sweating into his rosin.

Jacob deGrom had the dubious pleasure of being first-come, first-frisked last Monday, when baseball government’s crackup of a crackdown on naughty sauce began officially. One night later, Sergio Romo became the first to drop trou—under his almost knee-length jersey, so nobody could bark at the moons—under the new stop-and-frisk policy.

Come Sunday, Hector Santiago, Mariners relief pitcher, had the likewise dubious pleasure of being stopped, frisked, and purged. For naughty sauce? Not exactly. The coppers saw something suspicious in what Santiago pleaded, and his team affirmed, was nothing but rosin and sweat.

Foreign substance? Only if you consider Santiago’s sweat to be of foreign origin. He was born in New Jersey. He’s of Puerto Rican descent. That makes him a natural born American.

“Says who?” Carroll O’Connor’s Archie Bunker once asked a Puerto Rican-born janitor with whom he was stuck in an elevator, in season one of All in the Family. Said the janitor, Carlos Mendoza, played by a very young Hector Elizondo, “In 1917, the Congress of the United States, says who. We are very good citizens.”

President Woodrow Wilson made that happen when he signed the Jones-Safroth Act. Therefore, Hector Santiago’s sweat is one hundred percent, bona fide, guaranteed not to rust American sweat.

“Therefore,” said Pistolero Pringole, sub-minors relief pitcher turned police criminologist, “they cannot just bust him for foreign substances. And the last I saw of that memo, rosin’s still allowed. Sunscreen, no. SpiderTack, no. All that medicated goo in a can, no. You cannot roust a man for sweating in the summertime.”

From deGrom last Monday through Santiago come Sunday, there were 668 pitching appearances (you don’t think there are 668 pitchers in the Show this season, do you?) and not one of those pitchers got cuffed and stuffed after being served the search warrant until Santiago was carted off to the holding cell.

Well, maybe commissioner Rob Manfred was right. Maybe things were going smooth and steady most of the time from Monday through Sunday. If you don’t count Romo and Max Scherzer getting tempted to go Chippendales on a couple of stop-and-frisks.

And maybe they’ll solve the pillow case.

The way this crackup of a crackdown is going, so far, don’t be surprised if the next newlywed couple to remove the tag under penalty of law after they bring the new bed home finds itself the subject of a no-knock police raid.

“Never gonna happen,” Pistolero said. “The men and women in my department aren’t that crazy.”

“They’re not, but the people running baseball and enough of the people umpiring it are,” I said.

“Now, what’s so suspicious about Hector’s pitching this year,” Pistolero asked.

I mentioned that Santiago’s ERA in nine gigs since the Mariners exhumed him from the minors in late May is 2.65. And, that his fielding-independent pitching since then is 2.44. The former is 1.47 below his career mark; the latter, 2.43 below.

“And he’s had ERAs and FIPs within that range early in other seasons, too, sometimes even lower,” I said. “Not in the last couple, but it’s in his history.”

“I keep reading about the experiments with the baseball the last few years, “Pistolero said. “They’ve changed it more often than my wife changes her mind.”

“How often does your wife change her mind?”

“Woman’s prerogative to change her mind, right? If my wife goes a day without changing it three times we take her to the urgent care clinic. Lucky for her one of our children’s a doctor there.”

“Listen, Pistol,” I said to get back on message, “I don’t really get this all-of-a-sudden crackup of a crackdown any more than you do. I get people are afraid of cheating. I get that a lot of pitchers got wise to the spinning of their pitches a lot more acutely the last few years. And I get that baseball’s governors can’t figure out either how to make serviceable baseballs or how to come up with a syrup acceptable to both themselves and the pitchers who have to throw the damn balls.”

“What about the hitters who have to hit the ball?” Pistolero asked. He wasn’t trying to be a sabelotodo. I think.

“Well,” I said, “with less fast spin cycles on the pitches, maybe the hitters get a more even shot. Maybe the hitters were going to figure it out anyway by the time this Second Year of the Pitcher ended. If there’s one thing I know for dead last certain, it’s that pitchers and hitters usually figure each other out. Even if it takes awhile.”

“Already you sound like you’re commissioner material,” Pistolero said.

“Remember the last Year of the Pitcher?”

“Before my time.”

“Well, I remember it. By the time the World Series came around, the hitters weren’t looking all that futile even with Bob Gibson pitching three games. So sure they figured it out then. They were liable to figure it out again this time around.”

“Even with all this launch angle mierda?”

“Even with all this launch angle mierda.

“I thought your Spanish was worse than that.”

“It is.”

“Well, how come you can figure out the common sense of it all and this Senor Manfred can’t?” Pistolero asked.

“It’s not exactly forensics,” I said.

Suddenly I remembered “Santiago” in English means St. James. The patron saint of Spain, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and fishermen. Something was certainly fishy enough about umpires cuffing and stuffing a pitcher over a blend made in the U.S. of A.

Santiago’s pitching repertoire includes a decent fastball, breaking balls, changeups, and the occasional screwball. Don’t say it.

“I’m only afraid of one thing, Pistolero,” I said. “The way Manfred’s going, he’s going to try to find a way to make sweating in summer against the rules.”

Picture it. We may go from Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean putting an ice block on home plate “to cool off my fastball” to Rob Manfred ordering pitching on ice blocks to stop the sweat.

“Well, I have one thing to say to this Senor Manfred,” Pistolero said. “Que tenga un hotel con mil habitaciones y la venganza de Moctezuma en cada habitacion.

“What the hell does that mean,” I asked. “Remember, I still know about as much Spanish as you know how to solve the pillow case.”

Pistolero couldn’t help laughing while he translated: “May he have a hotel with a thousand rooms and Montezuma’s revenge in every room.”

It was my turn to laugh. “I thought you were a good American citizen and cop. Don’t you know there’s still such a thing as the Eighth Amendment?”

On Mather’s cringeable blather

Kevin Mather has put more than his foot in it.

You say you’d like to know why it is that right-thinking baseball fans trust major league owners about as far as Walter Alston could hit major league pitching? (Alston grew up to be a four-time World Series-winning manager—but he struck out in his lone major league plate appearance.) Four words: Seattle Mariners, Kevin Mather.

Over the weekend now past, we learned Mather informed the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club via early February Zoom conference of many things the Mariners probably preferred not reach the public eye and ear. That’s Bellevue the city in Washington state, not Bellevue the legendary New York City psychiatric hospital.

According to Mather’s 5 February blather, the Mariners think nothing of player service time manipulations. Former Mariners pitcher/freshly minted Mariners special assignment coach Hisashi Iwakuma improved his English “dramatically” when told his interpreter would cost the team $75,000 a year. Outfield prospect Julio Rodriguez is larger than life but he “is loud, his English is not tremendous.”

Mather’s English is only too tremendous, alas.

“Perhaps Mather is at the extreme with his discriminatory remarks . . .  and what he perceived as the difficulty [Iwakuma and Rodriguez] have faced in learning English as a second language,” writes The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal. “Or maybe some other executives think this way, but he was the only one in his position dumb enough to say such things in a public forum.”

The Mather blather turned up on YouTube this past Friday but was taken down Sunday—after the SB Nation blog Lookout Landing posted a complete transcript. Rosenthal wonders whether the Mariners, who were tone-deaf enough not to fire Mather after he was accused of sexual misconduct in 2018—resulting in financial settlements to women accusing Mather and two other team executives—will tune their hearing enough to fire him now.

Mather admitted to the Rotarians that the Mariners offered another top outfield prospect, Jason Kelenic, a six-year deal with three team options that Kepnic rejected while planning to demote Kelenic back to what’s left of the minors in April. Mather described Kelenic as “betting on himself,” as though the Mariners president thought the outfielder was plain out of his noodle.

“[Mather’s] cringeworthy musings, one more misguided than the next,” Rosenthal writes, “are Exhibits A through Z in why many players and fans hold owners in contempt. If this is how ownership types really think, why should any of them be trusted?”

“After pondering it for several days and talking to the union, he’s turned us down and in his words, he’s going to bet on himself,” Mather said of Kelenic according to the full transcript. “He thinks after six years, he’ll be such a star player that the 7th, 8th, 9th year options will be under value. He might be right, he might be right, we offered and he turned us down.”

We’re not exactly taking about a group of people who were simon pure in the past. Too often, baseball owners and their designated operators have pointed the way to wisdom by exercising behaviours and offering opinions completely contemptuous of it.

But even among a group historically infamous for disparaging players at designated strategic moments (think for openers of Branch Rickey’s infamous and boneheaded bid to run down Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner during a contract haggle by comparing him to Babe Ruth, with several false arguments), Mather stands now with his own singular infamy.

His “requisite” apology (Rosenthal’s word) seemed just that, little enough more. Thom Brennaman’s spontaneous on-air apology after an unexpected hot-mike moment in which he blurted about “one of the –g capitals of the world” before returning to the Reds play-by-play was more substantial and less scripted.

“By the time the session was over, Mather had given the union 45 minutes of bulletin-board material, at a time when tensions between the players and owners are the highest they have been since the players were on strike in 1994-95,” Rosenthal writes.

His comments about Iwakuma and Rodriguez alone should be enough to prompt his dismissal. But then, the outcome of the team’s investigation after Mather was the subject of two complaints from female employees in 2009-10 should have been enough to remove him. And the good ship Mariner rolled merrily along.

It would be a rank understatement to say here that the Show suffers a long-continuing pandemic of foot-in-mouth disease. To those who think Mather’s firing would be arbitrary and not long overdue, you might care to remember an ancient musing from the historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Peter Viereck: “Any bid to scrape the barnacles off an excellent ship is never taken to be an attack on the ship itself. Except by the barnacles.”


Update: Kevin Mather resigned as the Mariners’ president Monday afternoon. Managing partner John Stanton will act as interim president until hiring Mather’s replacement.