Killers of the Mariner Moon: strong pitching secures series win over Braves, 3-2 (2024)

“Who’s pitching tomorrow, Koufax?”

It was a light-hearted jape from an Atlanta beat writer in the elevator postgame, but other than Koufax’s handedness (it’d be nice to have a lefty in the mix, dangit Logan why aren’t you actually the big left-handed weirdo we all know you are at heart), it’s not entirely a joke that prime Koufax would fit right into this Mariners rotation—although, where they’d fit him would be another question.

And, apologies to the Hall of Famer, but the top of the rotation spot is already occupied by a large rocklike object. Sandy would have to be okay with being second (or maybe third or fourth) banana.

Had to update an old favorite

— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) May 1, 2024

Castillo cruised through the Braves lineup the first time through, only running into trouble in the fourth. Austin Riley shot a potential base hit towards the right-side hole, but Jorge Polanco made an excellent stop deep in the hole to nail the not-so-speedy Riley. However, Castillo then walked Matt Olson, and gave up a line-drive base hit to Marcell Ozuna on a sinker to put two on with just one out. But Castillo came back to absolutely pick apart Orlando Arcia on three straight sliders for his sixth strikeout of the day, and then got some help on a great defensive play from Polanco again, who captured a sharply-struck (105.5 EV) groundout off the bat of Michael Harris II.

As he so often does, Castillo seemingly only got stronger as the game moved along, putting the Braves down 1-2-3 in the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings. It was a brilliant outing from the Rock, who said postgame that Scott Servais had approached him in Toronto and reminded him who he is—“un matador,” a killer.

“He’s a killer,” said Servais. “You have to take that attitude when you’re out there. When you get them 0-2, 1-2...I’m killing you. You’re done. So I just reminded him of that. That’s who he is. When he does that, and he has that mentality out there, he’s electric.”

Meanwhile, the Mariners offense...well, that isn’t so historic. The first inning opened encouragingly, with Josh Rojas singling on the second pitch he saw from Braves starter and converted reliever Reynaldo López, ensuring there would be no talk of the Mariners getting no-hit tonight. The Mariners didn’t do anything with it, but in the third inning, lo and behold, Rojas would reach again, this time working a walk in a 3-1 count; he’d walk twice more in the game, reaching base in every plate appearance, and making me look very smart for arguing he is the Mariners’ early season MVP, especially as him being on board meant that, two batters later, when Jorge Polanco homered, two precious runs went on the board. Polanco’s homer came off a changeup with two outs, and it’s hard to decide which part of that feels more precious and unusual.

️ Hip, hip, Jorge!

— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) May 1, 2024

Okay, being honest: it’s probably the two-out part, because that is a pretty terrible changeup. But also! That’s what you have to do with those kinds of pitches, and Polanco did it. That’s only Lopez’s second home run given up all season.

After Castillo worked around the aforementioned trouble in the top of the fourth, it looked like the Mariners had an opportunity to really break the game open and create some separation. Mitch Haniger, breaking a tough stretch he’s been on, got in an 0-2 count but then managed to work his way into a full count, something we saw him do a lot of during spring training when he was able to really control counts, and ending much in the same way those spring training at-bats did: with a solid base hit (103.8 EV) into right field. Please let this be the start of a heater for Haniger, a notoriously streaky player. Two batters later, Luke Raley had a base knock of his own to put runners on at first and second with two outs for Dylan Moore, who ambushed a poorly-located slider in the middle of the plate and just missed a home run of his own but did cash in what would be the game’s winning run. Hey look, another two-out RBI!

Rojas then worked a walk because all he know is eat hot chip and walk, loading the bases for...Julio Rodríguez. Scott Servais has said over the past few weeks you’ll know when Julio’s timing is back because he will start hitting the ball in the air more, and it must still be missing, because he chopped the first pitch he saw into the ground for an inning-ending groundout. Don’t worry, this is the saddest the recap will get, although we have a bumpy section coming up here, so gird yourselves appropriately.

After Castillo left in the seventh, things unraveled quickly. Ryne Stanek came in and immediately allowed a first-pitch base hit to Travis d’Arnaud. Jarred Kelenic then reached on a broken bat single that Polanco couldn’t get a clean throw on, putting two on with none out for the dangerous top of the Braves lineup. Ronald Acuña Jr., who the Mariners have kept quiet this series, hit a ball hard but directly at Mitch Haniger, which nonetheless moved the runner to third. Riley then popped a line-drive single in front of Luke Raley for the Braves’ first run of the game, and continued trouble for Andrés Muñoz, summoned from the ‘pen to take over for Stanek facing the equally-dangerous middle of the Atlanta lineup.

Muñoz had Austin Riley in a 1-2 count when he chopped a little slider into the dirt and Muñoz made the poor decision to 1) field the ball and 2) attempt to make a play on it, throwing it past Ty France at first and allowing a second run to score. The Mariners then opted to intentionally walk Matt Olson, setting up a right-on-right matchup with Ozuna. Muñoz got ahead of Ozuna before getting him swinging at 98 up to bring up the shortstop Arcia. Arcia chopped a tricky ground ball to Moore, who fielded it cleanly and threw to first for the inning-ending out, but the Mariners’ lead had been compacted down to one measly run. About that tricky ground ball, though: a moment of appreciation for DMo, filling in at short for the injured J.P. Crawford. He had a ball get by him he probably should have had yesterday that broke up the no-hitter but today he made an even bigger play in an even tighter spot.

Dylan Moore, saving a run.

And some how, some way, the Mariners escape as big of a jam as could be and hang on to a one-run lead against Atlanta.

— Daniel Kramer (@DKramer_) May 1, 2024

Lefty Aaron Bummer came in and charitably allowed Cal Raleigh, on a particularly rough skid—0 for his last 16 with 10 strikeouts—to scald a base hit up the middle. Hopefully that knocks back into place whatever hit-maker his dental procedure shook out. Unfortunately, although the Mariners hit the ball hard, they weren’t able to add anything else. Out came Andrés Muñoz to attempt his first ever five-out save, just a few weeks removed from his first ever four-out save.

First up was lefty Michael Harris II, and Muñoz quickly fell behind 3-0 but worked his way back to strike him out on a slider. d’Arnaud was next, and flew out easily to Julio on a slider, bringing up...of course Jarred Kelenic for the final out. Sometimes the baseball gods do have a sense of humor. The Northwest definitely remembers, as the boos were extra loud and lusty for Kelenic all through tonight’s game, and the roar when he struck out, epic.

That was Muñoz’s first ever five-out save, made even more impressive by his bounceback after the error—something that really shook Muñoz, as he said he absolutely didn’t want to be the one to mess up all the good his teammates had done so far, saying he brought a little extra fire back to the mound.

“He didn’t melt,” said Servais postgame. “Adversity, you gotta figure it out against a really good team, just keep executing and that’s what he did.”

That ability to not “melt” in the moment is related to work put in prior to the game, a meaningful chat that Muñoz had with Servais, who pulled him into his office to give him a confidence-building pep talk designed to remind him of “how good he is.”

“Sometimes you feel like you’re not doing the right thing,” said Muñoz postgame. “Like you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do, and if no one came to you and elevated your confidence again...that was really important to me, that he called me to his office and talked to me, helped bring that confidence back to me. That helped me a lot.”

The Mariners have now secured a series win against one of the best teams in baseball, right after they took series from the two teams that played in the World Series last year.

“It’s not always pretty offensively,” said Servais. “I get it. We need to continue to get better there. But timely hitting covers up a lot of that, and when you have that kind of pitching, you’re always going to be in the game.”

It might not be Koufax. But as long as Muñoz, Castillo, and all the other Mariners pitchers keep remembering who they are—history-makers in their own right, matadors on the mound—they can take on anyone.

Killers of the Mariner Moon: strong pitching secures series win over Braves, 3-2 (2024)
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