Great young baseball talent is relentlessly compared to legendary stars. Enthralling but usually unfair expectations in the extreme, we say, This player is the next; insert your favorite baseball player of all time. It’s true far too many highlights float through the digital ether to not juxtapose legendary players with great new players by position, skillset, batting stance, throwing motion, speed, and common physical factors like hair. Thursday evening, in Seattle, at T-Mobile Park, one game below five hundred, the Seattle Mariners Nation – they call themselves, “True To The Blue,” – will imagine, and project, as it’s happening in real-time, so manifest, a “What if?” for the decade: What if Junior and The Big Unit made Major League Baseball debuts in the same game? Some will say Jarred Kelenic is the next Ken Griffey Jr., and still, others will proclaim Logan Gilbert is the next Randy Johnson. What they actually are – for the Cleveland Browns of Major League Baseball, two decades of playoff drought ongoing – Kelenic, Gilbert, are a double-headed monster of hope for a team with a fanbase that cannot trust joy; and for a local sports media that does not welcome joy because, well, no one ever actually trusts it – at all, not anymore. The Seattle sports media know full well that the Seattle Mariners are not allowed any nice things, even a soul.
Until, perhaps, now.
During Spring Training, Seattle Mariners Manager, and former catcher, Scott Servais said not much of anything serious amidst an in-game interview with barely paying attention to ESPN broadcast team in booths somewhere not in Arizona until one particularly torrid topic of discussion. Everyone wanted to hear the answer to this: What would the Seattle Mariners organization do now with young ultra-superstar-to-be, Jarred Kelenic – 5 tool player, power hitter, for average hitter, good in every single outfield spot, and number 3 on ESPN’s national baseball prospect list – in the absence of a cancer of a man accused of and sued for sexual harassment, until he, Kevin Mather, glorified the MLB dark art of vast money saving via young players’ service time manipulation?
Scott Servais didn’t blink, with Jarred Kelenic in the middle of an at-bat in the split-screen beside his own streaming digital image; the skipper said, “You know? With young players, they kind of tell you when they’re ready.” And in that same breath, literally, Jarred Kelenic clobbered the first home run of the Seattle Mariners Spring Training campaign.
“Scott…are you kidding me?” Mariners Nation must have shouted at their televisions, maybe at the volumes. I did too. “Are you watching?”
The Baseball Gods have spoken. Pay attention. Chills.
Right now, the Seattle Mariners 18-19, have a Major League Baseball worst batting average .208, and their six-man starting pitching rotation has already strained, suffered, and been extended longer than what limitations the sixth man, in a historically five-man unit, sought to countenance, avoid, prevent. Clearly, Seattle requires some desperate and supercharged revitalization at the plate and the mound.
Well, Mariners fans who trust the process of rebuilding now get to ask with reasonable sincerity, and not just hype: What if Junior and The Big Unit made Major League Baseball debuts in the same game? I don’t tire of saying this aloud to my dog, Titus. He can tell I’m ecstatic; because Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert are a double-headed monster of hope.
Before ESPN’s Jeff Passan announced twice in twenty-four hours the confirmation of the wild Mariners baseball talent news to the nation – it went Kelenic’s call-up one evening, then Gilbert’s call-up the next night – some odd things occurred in the local Mariners news media world.
Not discounting very recent history, earlier this year, when Mariners Twitter, among other digital platforms, mobilized to petition for, and then oust the admitted service time manipulator, and former Seattle Mariners President, Kevin Mather – who met his long overdue demise at the hands of what must have been a Mariners fan horrified, then livid, as Mather was recorded mocking beloved Seattle baseball figures; not only a former and wildly popular international Ace pitcher, Hisashi Iwakuma, before clarifying his displeasure for every and all and any one international immigrant baseball player that’s ever required a translator; plus shellacking the veteran of this very young team, Kyle Seager; along with demeaning the vast majority of the current Mariners players that Mather was paid millions to manage, and then, also, many times making vile overtures against most anyone not born in America white and well spoken – because not only did Mather make copious and dull wittedly haphazard attempts at rapaciously antiquated and thoroughly, mystifyingly awful dark comedy in front of a Bellevue, Washington Rotary Club’s guest lecturer Zoom session; the big thing that happened was that Mather said the quiet part out loud. Baseball teams with toxic ownership practices kill the sport and the fans, all local lifeblood, when performing service time manipulation or do not constantly pursue the most complete and competitive versions of their team. To Mather, and many others, baseball is not baseball; it’s a long-term investment for wealthy white men who derive pleasure from profit only.
So, again, and perhaps more radicalized than in recent years, or decades, the Seattle Mariners fans base online reached what I observed was a consensus voice, a fervent pitch, an apotheosis, and a sterling and classy and joyous clarity of message unheard of and unseen in all my time as what I’d like to believe is my rendition of an eagle-eyed Mariners Twitter follower.
On Twitter, I saw the majority of much of what I’ll recount for you now.
When it was time to ask, then answer the question, What if Junior and The Big Unit made Major League Baseball debuts in the same game? (Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert, double-headed monster of hope…) Seattle Times, Mariners Beat Reporter, Ryan Divish tried to do exactly this; tried answering the – now only several hundred thousand inquiries, but in the future, maybe – multi-million dollar question, himself, first.
And oh my word, leave it to a Seattle Mariners reporter to sour the mood and ruin anything worth adoring when a Seattle team plays baseball, because, I have to repeat this now, OH MY WORD, did extra dense, Ryan Divish blunder, blow it, and play himself, ruining it for everyone.
I’m not sure it’s ever happened, or at least I cannot remember the last time I’ve watched a baseball organization exact such clearly retributive BIG NEWS scoop stealing revenge on a reporter whose baseball beat clout’s clearly gone forever. Maybe it’s happened before, but never have I once seen a professional baseball writer with more years of experience covering one team for the fourth largest daily circulation newspaper in the country miss out on what is the biggest Seattle Mariners News story since the lurid Kevin Mather recording, investigation and termination.
Not more than one dozen hours before ESPN’s Jeff Passan confirmed that Jarred Kelenic would make his major league debut for the Seattle Mariners Thursday, against the Cleveland Indians, Ryan Divish spent much of the day on a rampage against Mariners Twitter. At the same time, armed with only the not yet developed news storylines of half-truth, because, maybe as an act of retribution – Divish posted a scathing Tweet Thread critical of the Mariners organization and railed against Mather and Dipoto and what the staff had done and were doing still – the Mariners decided to leak the privileged high click rate earning information to a man who did not spend months turning rancid, raving opinion into what amounted to News-Y noxiousness not totally accurate nor separate from a style of writing when Divish has had hard news to report on Twitter. In short, The Mariners decided to ignore Divish and give the sweetest melody of music to Seattle fans’ ears in decades to a bigger megaphone with a quality of sound, not unlike the leap in quality made from old dial-up internet connections to 5G when it’s finally ubiquitous.
This is all relevant for those, “True To The Blue” because social media is perhaps the best way to learn about how minor league baseball players, Kelenic and Gilbert, are ready for the show. None of us could have ever asked, What if Junior and The Big Unit made Major League Baseball debuts in the same game? Because we wouldn’t have known about these prospects with the detail some Divish has provided, without what in the end killed Divish’s chances of delivering the best good news for Mariners fans first despite his extraordinarily privileged position to learn of and report the Big Scoop(s).
Maybe the Mariners organization chose to listen finally – as they learned not to allow demons to shout down – exclusively to their better angels? I don’t know. Cliches are too simple for it all. This is complex. But then, Ryan Divish, maybe as an admission of his own catastrophic motor-mouthing, changed his Twitter profile picture from a nice, handsome mug shot to a close-up of a countertop featuring bananas and a rich and buxom and deeply melodramatic full bottle of Crown Royal whiskey. What does it mean? Was he punished for doing the right thing two weeks ago when railing against the ownership? Should this mean anything? Is it just that Divish is drawing us all a candid cartoon from life that he’s become a softening drunk monkey who wishes he were not recently made an example of leap-frogged sour mouthed curmudgeon?
Not more than half a day before the Kelenic news broke, Divish wrote on Twitter the following, “People who create fake Twitter accounts to send out false news reports should be forced to pick up freeway garbage for a year.” And, “Lock them in full port-a-john on a 95-degree day.” And all because Divish believed he was the victim of a fake Mariners PR Twitter account trolling the Seattle fanbase, with what became completely accurate information, Divish never really acknowledge he got wrong but did manage to compliment someone who later admitted to the trolling of the fanbase, when he said, “Best work of your life.”
I’m not sure he didn’t have someone craft a fake troll admission Tweet to cover his own…credibility. Sketchier still, I’m also sure of another dark, vengeful fiction fact I ponder: the Mariners left Divish out of the loop. On purpose. Precisely because he behaved like a jackass one week before the great big new wonderful news Divish should have known he would receive the first crack when the time was right, is probably how the Mariners front office views this strange and still enthralling situation.
Anyway. Finally. 7:10 PST at T-Mobile Park. The Cleveland Indians visiting the Seattle Mariners.
710 ESPN Seattle’s Shannon Drayer tweeted a video of Logan Gilbert applauded by M’s fans, walking by himself through the shadow-striped outfield to the M’s bullpen hour ahead of the first pitch. Gilbert throws right-handed; the Big Unit was a lefty. But Gilbert is also lean and 6’6” and with flocculent shaggy golden curly hair spilling out of his hat as he spins mid to upper nineties gas from the bump in front of those Seattle fans most “True To The Blue.” The Randy Johnson 2.0 comparisons are almost too on the nose. Then, Gilbert on the mound before the game, my word, is the big unit updated for the new millennium.
Sunshine in Seattle at the start of the game. Well done, Baseball Gods.
Jarred Kelenic is starting in left field. And Logan Gilbert’s first 96 MPH fastball, a pop fly to RF, Mitch Haniger with the catch. The next, a strike at the knees. And the next pitch after, the same thing, a pop fly to Haniger. Then Gilbert against Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez, eighth pitch of the game, a pop fly to CF. That’s it, smooth, breezy, flawless. Logan Gilbert’s first inning of major league baseball is perfect.
Jarred Kelenic, now wearing the number 10 – 58 during his time in the Mariners minor league farm system – is leading off. Two thick double eye black stripes across the cheeks. White batting gloves. Standing ovation behind him. First pitch from Zach Plesac. And Kelenic swats at it, pulls the ball hard, down the line, Josh Naylor dives into the first base stands, steals a foul ball for an out from a man in Ken Griffey Jr. jersey.
Hmm. Alright. Onward. Haniger out. Seager walks. Up fourth, Kyle Lewis, reigning AL Rookie of the Year, and the other player Mariners fans will constantly compare to Junior though he’s still not yet played one full season’s portion of big-league games, steps in against Plesac. In his 95th career game, Lewis works the count full, check swing, walk. Plesac through 7 starts this year, has issued only 7 walks, has 2 walks with two outs in the first. Another young prospect turned professional, Ty France, slumping late, steps in and grounds out to 2B, stranding 2.
Scoreless after 1.
Kelenic makes a catch in left to start the top of the second inning. Still perfect, Gilbert has thrown nothing but fastballs so far. Pitch 13 is a gloriously delirious curveball for a strike.
Next pitch, slider in the zone, and Franmil Reyes crushes it, 111.4 MPH exit velocity straight to center for a solo HR. Then Josh Naylor singles to shallow left-center. Gilbert had a mark of 11 K per 9 innings in the minors. He should work out of this. Pop-out to Lewis in CF. 2 outs. Gilbert attended Stetson University, located in DeLand, Florida. Notable alumni from the Hatters baseball team include Jacob DeGrom and Corey Kluber. Excellent pedigree? High fastball, swing and a miss, strike two, then pitch 25, skips it in the dirt, Naylor advances to second, wild pitch. All five outs so far have been pop flies. Single to left field. Naylor scores. Pop-out to another recent prospect turned pro, reigning AL Gold Glove winner, 1B, Evan White. 2-0 Indians. Gilbert’s given up 3 Hits. True, this is not going as well as it could and won’t go well if the worst hitting team in baseball does not find some runs. And fast.
And of course, then, next, as reliably wet-firecracker as it’s been this entire season, the M’s don’t even come close to threatening at the plate during their half of the second inning, Crawford, Torrens, Moore go down in order. Gilbert back out on the mound for the top of the third.
29 pitches so far. Curveball looks great. First career strike out on a nasty slider that skips into Torrens’ glove past César Hernández bat. 8 of 11 first pitch strikes for Gilbert so far. He gives up a single to Amed Rosario, and then Rosario steals 2B on the first pitch after Gilbert skips a ball throwing over to check on Rosario. Jose Ramirez homers to RF. Jesus. 4-0 Indians. 43 pitches. M’s pitching coach, Pete Woodworth, comes out to settle Logan Gilbert, who was clearly not ready for The Show. Gets another pop out. 45 pitches. Hard to watch everything shatter suddenly. Then the 52 pitch is a wonderfully coy, at first, but finally hard cutting gem of a slider off the outside of the plate, well away from Franmill Reyes bat for strike 3. End of the third inning. Maybe Gilbert is more ready than I thought because that was nasty. Pitching Ninja caliber.
Bottom third. Second AB for Kelenic. Plesac’s tossed only 31 pitches. Ball outside. Still thinking about the Naylor Web Gem catch in the stands. What a way to begin a Major League career. Then, behind 1-2, Kelenic chases a fading changeup off the plate for strike three. Haniger pops out to the infield. Plesac has no-hit the Mariners through three; the start of the game could have gone much worse for the Mariners.
Fourth inning underway, 11 of 15 first pitch strikes for Gilbert. The weird Ken Griffey Jr theme continues gathering associations akimbo when Roots Sports broadcaster, and former Seattle Mariners pitcher, the Australian native, Ryan “Hyphen” Rowland-Smith tells Aaron Goldsmith and another former Mariners player, Dave Blowers; he actually struck out Griffey during his own big-league debut. First hitter too. Then Gilbert fools Jake Bauers with a slider for a fourth punch-out. Full count. The 71st pitch is an air-bending breaking ball for strike 3. Gilbert exits the game with a major league ERA dropped to 9.00.
The 5 Strikeouts were great, but 5 Hits, 4 Runs through 4 innings?
Plesac’s no-hit bid extends to 3 1/3 innings when Seager grounds out. Only 40 pitches. Plesac threw 112 in his last outing for Terry Francona. Another BB. Kyle Lewis on 1B for Ty France. Lewis picked off at 1B. France grounds out. Plesac with a no-hitter through 4. Only 46 pitches.
Drew Steckenrider comes in for Logan Gilbert.
Seattle Times M’s reporter Ryan Divish chimes in with a face-saving dose embittered rendition of cloddishly pointing out the obvious – though if I may do so myself, that’s what he’s, in fact, paid to do – when he Tweets, “We went from ‘call him up yesterday’ to ‘he’s not ready’ ….. God, I love Twitter so much.” And all I can think of – in non-volatile response – is, Go have a banana and a tumbler of you know what, Ryan.
Then Root Sports flashes a recent Jenn Mueller Tweet, where she frames then quotes the player transaction and trade happy, Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto, on Kelenic and Gilbert, “I don’t want to put too much pressure on the day. I do think there is symbolism in bringing up both these guys together.” Bottom of the fifth, Dylan Moore grounds out to preserve Zac Plesac’s no-hit bid through 5 innings. Maybe the symbolism on display is that nothing in baseball will change overnight.
Drew Steckenrider cruises in the sixth; and right before he finishes with six up, six down, in relief, the basso but oddly soothing, adenoidal, Mike Blowers says, “I’m looking forward to what Logan Gilbert says after the game…Probably a lot going through his mind.” Same here, Blow.
Top 6. Only Alex Rodriguez, Mike Zunino, and Ken Griffey Jr had fewer at-bats in the minor leagues than Kelenic before getting the call to the big leagues. Aaron Goldsmith says, “If you can’t tell, it’s a neon hat night at the ballpark.” Evan White flies out to RF. Kelenic’s third at-bat forthcoming. The 6th overall pick by the New York Mets in the 2018 MLB draft. 0-2 count, Kelenic grounds out to 1B. Team leader in both RBIs with 27, and HRs with 10, Mitch Haniger steps in, flies out to LF. The side retried in order, again. And Plesac’s no-hitter? After 68 pitches – despite 3 BB – it’s superlative. Sterling, super stuff. Carving up the M’s.
Maybe Ryan Divish will point this out later, and I know I must sound like him, but I’m not sure Mariners fans could have had a worse night.
With sports glasses and an M’s hat on, the halfway-sorta Adam Driver doppelgänger, Robert Dugger, comes out of the Mariners pen to face the bottom third of the Cleveland lineup in the top of the seventh.
Please, dear beloved and honorable Baseball Gods, don’t make me eventually sound like Ryan Divish. I don’t like bananas or Crown Royal. Maybe I’m not supposed to enjoy what an M’s beat reporter endures Dugger survives the seventh unscathed after Austin Hedges lines out right to the open and shut defending AL Gold Glove of J.P. Crawford.
Bottom of the seventh. Plesac’s thrown a cool 68 pitches through 6. Seager grounds out to 1B. Lewis grounds out to SS. Ty France flies out to RF. 78 pitches. The horrifying other side of all the hype, chatter, and hope that the double-headed monster of potential joy I thought Kelenic and Gilbert might embody, and what they’ve actually now brought with them tonight, is the hopelessness and utter strangeness of despair and wonder mingle while watching my favorite baseball team get no-hit by the Ace of a staff on a team that’s already been no-hit twice in a season with 4 no-hitters during what’s now historically the worst offensive season in the MLB over the last – I don’t even know – five, eight decades. And to top off the odd-ball-ish-ness on display, Plesac was the Cleveland starting pitcher in both games where the Indians were no-hit by others. Is this for real? What is going on? Why must the Mariners remain the Cleveland Browns of baseball? Oh, my, Baseball Gods. Cleveland Connection clarified at last. Next level bizarro baseball. Indians have won 8 of their last 9 games. The one loss was a no-hitter by, here we go, former Seattle Mariner, Wade Miley.
Top 8. Dugger gives up a single. The first Indians base hit since the 4th—two quick outs. Then Dugger picks off Cesar Hernandez at 1B.
Bottom 8. The man who has absolutely stolen the Gilbert-Kelenic show, Zac Plesac, is in cruise control, throwing only 78 pitches through 7 innings. Then J.P. Crawford finally singles up the middle to ensure that the team with the longest active no-hitter drought, Cleveland, 39 years and now more, continues the way it was. Tonight’s actual theme is solidified, “on display is that nothing in baseball will change overnight.”
88th pitch, Dylan Moore crushes a 2 RBI HR to deep LF off Plesac. 104.9 MPH Exit Velocity. Launch Angle 30 Degrees. Travels 406 feet to the upper deck. And an M’s fan catches the ball in his fisherman’s hat. If it wasn’t clear, a Mariner is usually a fisherman. And tonight, too, I went fishing as well in writing this. What I thought I might observe was imaginary, and this entire thing got a whole hell of a lot more sad, weird, and then also fun later, too, than I anticipated. I wrote nothing of what I thought I would. And now it’s a much, much, and way too long essay/reflection and game recap story about how what would have been the MLB’s fifth no-hitter was all but guaranteed until J.P. Crawford broke it up in the 8th. Then Moore homered. And Pleasac all but imploded the night the M’s gave away neon hats with the old Mariners home stadium King Dome, the seating arrangement of which my father worked on as a young architect in Seattle – and a true and real victim of another yet actual implosion on my mother’s first birthday of the new millennium, coincidentally – until Jarred Kelenic popped out to CF to end the 8th.
Bottom of the 9th. M’s down 4-2. The best bullpen in baseball, with a 2.61 ERA (it used to be the M’s), sends out Emmanuel Clase, who can hit 100 MPH, and has a 2% barrel rate – the mark of a hard hit ball – three teams lower than the rest of baseball to face Mitch Haniger, who pops out, Kyle Seager who pops out as well. And Kyle Lewis, who walks for the third time tonight. And finally, Ty France, 0 for 3, and a shadow of his much better – and soon’ll be revived, I’m sure – power-hitting version from earlier this season watches until he darts away from a 98 MPH fastball that zips within inches of his nose. Helmet flying. Hits the dirt. Next pitch in the dirt. 2-0 pitch, swing, and a miss. 2-1 pitch, same thing. 2-2 pitch, outside. 3-2 pitch, outside. A couple of two-out walks. The winning run coming to the plate, J.P. Crawford. First pitch, 100 MPH. High. Ball 1. Second pitch, 99 MPH, spikes it. Ball 2. Misses the plate at 100 MPH for ball 3. Then, ball 4. Bases loaded—bottom of the ninth. Game-winning run on 1B. Terry Francona, out of the dugout. Jose Ramirez squeezes Clase’s shoulder. Francona takes the ball. And there he goes. Pitching change. Commercial break. Luis Torrens – another very young Mariners player Jerry Dipoto snagged at the trade deadline last year – facing former Mariners pitcher Bryan Shaw. Torrens goes down two strikes quick, then takes a hack, swing, misses for strike 3.
I’ll let Ryan Divish have the last word tonight because I don’t feel so mad at him anymore. We didn’t see what we wanted, and it wasn’t a Mariners win in the end, but Divish said, “That’s five scoreless frames from the Mariners’ bullpen tonight.” For once, he’s not wrong about what’s worth celebrating. And I completely agree this fact is worth pointing out because this illuminates a brighter future for a young team. So what I’m saying, after all, is in devoting one’s entire day to writing about a complicated Seattle Mariners team, one embraces not just what is easy to idealize but the bizarre double-headed monster.