Are there such things as good losses?
In all my years of reporting on the Mariners, I haven’t written that. But the idea flickered Thursday night. Now that I look at it, it is disavowed.
A mere absence of humiliation is not a reason in major league baseball for offering praise, however faint. Way too Root Sports-y.
For seven innings of a rare Mariners game that was anticipated, drenched by rhetoric about a turning point for a breathtakingly success-resistant franchise, the Mariners were being no-hit, again, eight days after it happened against Baltimore.
The three-day buzz surrounding the simultaneous promotions of star prospects LF Jarred Kelenic and RHP Logan Gilbert seemingly was being killed by futility that is historical and relentless.
We all know it’s one game. We all know the cycle renews tomorrow. But players, not just fans, need moments, too.
As Gilbert said post-game, referring to his first rookie start, “This only happens once.”
Long after Gilbert left after four innings of a solid but flawed first outing trailing 4-0, the Mariners escaped from their torpor against Indians starter Zach Plesac. J.P. Crawford broke the spell leading off the eighth with a line single to center, then came home on an upper-deck home run from Dylan Moore.
After Cleveland’s fireball closer Emmanuel Clase obtained two outs on three pitches in the ninth, he went all Fernando Rodney, walking the bases full, causing Indians manager Terry Francona to pull him in favor of a Mariners washout from 2020, Bryan Shaw.
Yet Shaw struck out C Luis Torrens, a seasonal liability at the plate and in the field, and the Indians hung on, 4-2 (box). A disappointing game artificially turned close offered a veneer of hope that was baseless.
It was the fifth loss in a row. Gilbert took the L, Kelenic was 0-for-4 batting leadoff. There was no first-day spark.
“We’ve seen this game too many times,” manager Scott Servais said. “We really don’t get anything going early on in the ball game. Plesac did throw the ball well, but we got to be more competitive early. We put some pressure on him late, but certainly not enough.”
Gilbert threw 52 strikes among his 71 pitches, struck out five, walked none, erring on a solo homer to Franmil Reyes in the second, and in the fourth, a two-run shot to Jose Ramirez for his 11th, tops in the American League.
“I felt fine out there,” said Gilbert, the No. 28-rated prospect by MLB Pipeline. “I was showing up the zone and threw a lot of strikes. That’s what I wanted to come in and do. I don’t really want to make excuses too much for just being in the beginning this season, but I do feel like as I continue make more starts, I’ll get a better feel for all the pitches.
“I definitely feel like I belong here. My stuff plays up here.”
Given the inevitably over-amped expectations for a kid who had one start with AAA Tacoma, and one start in spring training, he did well.
“I was very excited about what I saw tonight,” Servais said. “You feel you can take a deep breath, after so much anxiety built up for that first one. He’ll be better next time out. He understands what he needs to improve upon.”
Earlier in the day, general manager Jerry Dipoto held a Zoom conference to discuss the promotions, as well as a raft of roster moves. They included placing two starting pitchers on the 60-day injured list, Ljay Newsome (elbow ligament) and Nick Margevicius (thoracic outlet syndrome). James Paxton was already there for Tommy John surgery, lost for the season.
Of Kelenic and Gilbert, Dipoto said, “Players sometimes hit the ground running, and sometimes they don’t. The major leagues are difficult. But there’s never any more excitement than with the anticipation of the arrival of talented young players like these. We’re excited to see what happens across the board. It’s gonna be a fun time for us.”
He also lamented the burden of the Mariners’ history, and predictably resents its discussion every time a move is or isn’t made, or a player disappoints.
“I think it’s too much put on anybody — veteran players, free agents or young players making their debut,” he said. “It brings to mind that somebody much, much smarter than me many, many years before I was born once said: ‘You can learn from the past, but you can’t live in it.’
“I think it’s just time to move on and accept that this is a new group. Not a single player here has been responsible for past issues, or developmental problems, or years without playoffs. It’s a new, fresh group. We’re a young team, and we’re growing and trending in the right direction. And I think that’s a good thing.”
That’s the only possible attitude Dipoto can bring to work every day. But neither can he dismiss the skepticism that longtime fans bring to the park or TV.
He’s right about the major leagues being difficult, even for fans. Thursday was a good example. Skeptics bought in to the hype, and were open to being dazzled. Instead, for seven innings, a second humiliation in a week hung in the air.
Especially for a team with the Mariners’ history, there are no good losses.