Sports

Mariners defeat Astros, Minute Maid Park, old behavior patterns, magical thinking itself

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We probably all have some experience with magical thinking: the belief what we do (or think, or believe, or rituals we engage with, etc.) can influence events outside of ourselves. Many of these magical beliefs fall away as we move out of childhood and collect enough information to understand that stepping on a crack will not, in fact, break anyone’s back, but some stubborn, deep-held beliefs persist: maybe you make a wish at 11:11, or say “rabbit rabbit” first thing on the first day of each month, or believe in supply-side economics. No judgment here.

But there’s a point where magical thinking can turn toxic, especially when thoughts become intrusive, as is often the case with OCD and other disorders, or when those long-inured beliefs prevent people from breaking out of patterns that might inhibit growth or be outright harmful.

The Mariners’ career record with the AL West Astros isn’t all magic — the Astros have, over the years, built a juggernaut designed to self-perpetuate through smart drafting and development and some good old-fashioned competitive-advantage-making, up to and including outright cheating. But there’s also a haze of mystic fog around the god-like Astros, and specifically around visiting Minute Maid Park, a place where the Mariners have gone a truly miserable 4-26 since 2019, which seems to inhibit them. It’s a problem they themselves seem to recognize:

(For those of you who don’t know, burning sage is believed to clear negative energy from a space. It’s also delicious sauteed in a little brown butter and layered on some sweet potato stacks, if that’s more your jam.)

Not all ritual thinking is necessarily bad. Rites of passage help people cope with massive changes in life stages: the journey into this world and out of it, the transition from child to adult; even those cheesy grim reaper posters and black balloons with a banner that says like “lordy lordy Cathy’s 40” can help mark a change of life, namely the change when you realize that helping a friend move means a full day of recovery like you were out drinking on Bourbon Street the night before. But sometimes rites become constrictive or prescriptive, especially when outside expectations are brought in; a friend recently left a bridal shop upset after being told she was a last-minute bride because she hadn’t picked out her dress six months in advance. Sometimes the rite can grow bigger than it represents, and that’s where you run into problems.

Today, it felt for a while like the Mariners might fall back into the belief pattern that says we can’t beat the Astros at Minute Maid Park. The Mariners sought to change the narrative early, squaring Cristian Javier up right from the jump: Jesse Winker didn’t get a hit but led off the game with a 400-foot flyout (.660 xBA, in tribute to 6/6 maybe? ), and then with two outs, Julio took advantage from some shoddy command from Javier to get ahead 3-1 before lacing a 111 MPH single up the middle. JP Crawford followed with a double down the left-field line and just like that, the Mariners had scored more runs (1) than they did off Javier the last time they saw him, and tied the number of hits they recorded off of him in five innings of work back in May (2), all in the first inning. The vibes were … good?

But then Robbie Ray surrendered a game-tying homer on the third pitch to José Altuve — and it wasn’t a cheapie, either: 107.1 EV, 409 feet. But Cal Raleigh said no, he doesn’t really hold with this sage burning business, but he knows pitchers and he could tell Javier didn’t have his good stuff today after starting the second walking Adam Frazier and hitting Dylan Moore with a pitch, setting up this BEEF BOY BOMB:

Obviously, four runs against the literal Houston Astros in literally Minute Maid Park would not be enough, but after the offensive somnambulism of the team over May, four runs sure felt like a good start. But ah. The Lucy-snatching-away-the-football feeling returned in the bottom of the second inning, when Robbie Ray gave that lead right back in his no-no-no notorious Big Inning: Kyle Tucker crushed a terrible middle-middle slider deep into the Texas night, and one batter later, Chas McCormick (!) hit another solo shot, this one more of a wall-scraper but enough to draw the Astros within one. An uncharacteristic throwing error by JP Crawford allowed the slug-footed Maldonado to reach, a wild pitch between a crossed-up Cal Raleigh and Ray got him to second, and then Altuve singled home the chugging Maldonado for a 4-4 tie.

Also, a moment to appreciate the fact that DMo, taking over in the right field, had two key outfield assists to cut down José No-Longer-As-Fast-As-He-Thinks-He-Is Altuve, once here and once in a play at the plate that would turn out to be pretty key later on.

Javier bounced back in the third, seemingly having found his slider, to set down the Mariners 1-2-3 while meanwhile, Ray opened his half-inning by walking Gurriel on four pitches, but was able to get out of it (and also busted out a rare curveball for a strike on a foul ball against Tucker). He would also manage to work a clean fourth despite giving up back to back hits — a single to Altuve and a double to Brantley that should have scored the go-ahead run except for DMo, as noted above — and also worked around a Kyle Tucker single in the fifth to post five innings and somewhat save the bullpen. Okay, I promised it earlier, let’s see that DMo outfield assist and the AlTOOTBLANve:

Ray worked hard, but no one worked harder than Cal Raleigh, who was seen in the dugout getting quite a talking-to from Scott Servais, probably about switching up the game plan, and then had to go out and make a variety of Pitcher Wellness Visits to coax Ray through a very rocky five innings.

Hilariously, despite not pitching well, Ray would earn the win thanks to — who else — Cal Raleigh. Frazier led off the fourth with a BABIP-luck double that was just out of the glove of a diving McCormick Spices, and then Raleigh singled in the go-ahead run on a fastball he punched through the 3-4 hole.

Cal Raleigh: multidimensional hitter! We love to see it. Jesse Winker followed with a single that knocked Javier out of the game, and then it was on to the battle of the bullpens.

Penn Murfee, Ryan Borucki, and Sergio Romo, to whom I owe a large apology for the sound I made when I saw him coming out to protect a one-run lead against the Astros in the eighth, all worked clean innings, with Murfee’s 1.2 innings of scoreless work to create the bridge between the starter and backend of the bullpen earning him my Unsung Hero award of the night. The Astros similarly got 1.1 scoreless out of something called Seth Martinez, Parker Mushinski who I remember being a pest against the Arkansas Travelers back in the Texas league, Ryne Stanek, and Phil Maton, racking up seven strikeouts and no runs among them.

Then the ninth inning happened.

Hector Neris took the mound and what you need to know about Hector Neris is he’s appeared in 26 games so far this season with a K% of over 30% and a BB% of 4.6%. So we have established this is a very good reliever with a solid command of the zone, correct? Well. Not tonight. Neris hit Ty France, which from a content creator standpoint worked out for me because I got to bump Zach Mason’s excellent “Please Stop Hitting Ty France” piece from earlier, but also made Scott Servais actually hit the roof of MMP.

This led to a clearing of the benches, which led to some hilarious things that we can break down later, but a couple of things to highlight include Jesse Winker immediately running out next to Servais all you have my sword sir because the Bills Mafia runs strong in this one:

And also Julio immediately removing the perceived instigator Hector Neris, his countryman and 10 years his senior, to a safe distance from the proceedings. We love our peacemaking son who is just here to make sure only management gets fined:

Here’s the full thing, if you haven’t seen it, although I can’t promise it’ll make any more sense after:

Anyway, after Julio removed Neris from the proceedings, the next thing he did, because he has absolutely no respect for his elders, was this:

Let’s watch it again:

That’s right, after walking Neris out of the brawl all “okay grandpa let’s get you home” he hit a tank off him. I do not say this lightly: we stan a legend.

After all that excitement, the human equivalent of Xanax, Diego Castillo, came out and spun a bunch of sliders and got a couple of groundouts and a lineout to end the game. I am very much here for a calm, cool, collected Diego, although tell me why his face after getting the most fearsome hitter in baseball over the past week to ground out to end the game is the same as mine when I’m contemplating my Taco Bell order:

Jokes aside, it feels great to bust out of a pattern of negativity against the Astros. Burnt sage is not my favorite smell but I will stuff a bundle up each nostril like walrus tusks if the Mariners continue to play like this against the Astros at MMP. Angie Mentink said on the postgame show that Julio is an energy absorber of all kinds of energy — good, bad, whatever — and then he transmutes that energy to his will, reaffirming my belief that he’s a very powerful crystal. If 2021 was Chaos Ball, I’m here for 2022 being Witch Ball. Just keep the rites in check, and remember to create the patterns that serve you, not the other way around.

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