The other day I was in a small fender bender with another car at the gas station. I was immediately frustrated; I had been distracted in the moment by forces beyond my control, didn’t do a full re-sweep behind me after the distraction, and bumped into a car that had, unbeknownst to me, drawn up into my blind spot in the interim, Waiting for a spot at one of the pumps to open. Immediately, I was livid; It was the latest frustration in what had been an exhausting, frustrating day, and this felt like the last straw. You know in Inside Out, when Anger’s head lights on fire? That’s what it felt like.
That’s also what it felt like to watch the Mariners bullpen blow another game in something that is increasingly becoming a glaring weakness for the club. It was especially galling because George Kirby, facing a lineup that was a good challenge for him, fought through five innings despite not having a great handle on his secondary pitches and was in line for his first MLB win (more on that later).
Kirby came into the game with an attack plan against the fastball-hunting A’s: to throw more of his off-speed stuff, both earlier in counts and earlier in the game. He threw his first curveball on the fourth pitch of the game, whereas in previous starts he might not have thrown a curveball until the fourth inning. It’s a good plan, but unfortunately didn’t work well tonight as he found himself fighting his slider command in the first inning, where the A’s drew first blood after a typically pesky Tony Kemp leadoff single, a steal, and then a poorly located curveball to Chad Pinder got punched into right field, scoring Kemp. After a clean second, Kirby ran into trouble again in the third inning when the top of the lineup came up again, and the incredibly pesky Tony Kemp punched yet another pitch — this time a pretty well-located changeup — right over Adam Frazier’s head. A misplay by Ty France allowing a ball off the bat of Jed Lowrie — exit velo 84 MPH, so not exactly a hot shot — to sneak past him let the speedy Kemp score from first, staking the A’s to an early 2-0 lead.
To their credit, the offense didn’t allow Kirby to twist in the wind, coming back to score two runs off James Kaprielian in the third after Taylor Trammell got on via the walk and Jesse Winker, Leadoff Hitter, punched a ball into right, allowing Trammell to get to third. That brought up Ty France, who is exactly the player you want to come up in that situation, and France, as he so often does, delivered:
However, after a clean fourth where he started to find his slider and struck out the side, it was time for the Mariners-killing duo of Kemp and Lowrie again. Kemp singled on a bunt, and then Kirby served up a pretty bad fastball that caught too much of the plate that Lowrie gleefully pounced all over, leading to this painful existential moment in the dugout, right before he was lifted from the game:
9 strikeouts is a new record for Kirby, but you wouldn’t know it from his staring into the middle distance here. Been there, George. Been. There.
The Mariners were able to claw another run off Kaprielian in the bottom of the fifth: back-to-back singles from Cal Raleigh and Jesse Winker put runners on the corners for Ty France, who didn’t come through as big as he always did but at least got the run in on a groundout. That brought up Julio, who loves big moments, and also always wants to have his pitchers’ back. That was an overwhelming combination for Kaprielian, who attempted to sneak a slider past Julio but hung it badly:
Julio didn’t even get all of that! He’s just so danged strong. Anyway, we don’t have a picture of Kirby, but we’ll assume this dugout celebration mirrors what he was feeling. The vibes were very good!
And then it was time for the bullpen, and it was a swift reminder that this is not the bullpen of 2021, who could be handed a one-run lead and trusted to protect it like a museum conservator protecting a precious and delicate Fabergé egg; no, the 2022 bullpen treats leads like Justin Bieber treats eggs.
Drew Steckenrider continued his ’22 swoon, giving up a game-tying home run to literally Elvis Andrus, which is frustrating enough, but then also couldn’t finish his inning, having to have Anthony Misiewicz come in to do clean-up on Aisle A’s. For reasons beyond my comprehension, Misiewicz then came out for another inning of work and issued a four pitch walk to Sean Murphy before giving up another single to Andrus, followed by some outfield hijinks that let Murphy score the go-ahead run even with #catcherspeed . But wait, there’s more: a double to Luis Barrera that added another insurance run, not that the A’s would need it as the bats went quiet after Julio’s homer.
The bullpen meltdown is frustrating enough, but thinking back on the defensive miscuses — JP whiffing on a catch in the first inning that could have cut down Pinder on his double, Julio and Winker crossing wires in the outfield causing a misplay that allowed a run to score, Ty France letting that ball get past him — rubs salt in the wound. This team has been playing poorly enough when they don’t make mistakes that they simply can’t give away free bases like that (the bullpen had as many walks as they did strikeouts) and expect to win. Cue the Anger rage-head.
And yet. Let me take you back to the gas station parking lot for a moment.
After the initial exchange of information and insurance info, and reconstructing the events as they had happened, the other driver — Aziz — stepped from his car and assessed the damage. He studied the car, looked at my car, looked at me.
“Not so bad,” he pronounced after a moment. “It’s fine, really. Don’t you think it’s fine? ”
My boiling frustration turned to incredulity, as the basketball-shaped indent on his rear bumper looked anything but fine. He shrugged. “It’s an old car and needs some work in the front anyway, some new paint, I’ve been meaning to take it in.” ButI said, gesturing to the damage. But your car.
He waved his hand, seemingly sweeping away the damage, the very idea of my car. “It’s just a car, you know? This happened, and it’s over now. I could be angry about it, but why? That won’t change anything. It’s not in my control, so it’s useless to be angry about. The car needed to be fixed anyway, you and I are both okay, and that is what’s important. “
Today has given me a lot to think about in regards to what’s important, and what’s worth the time and energy of being truly angry about. It’s also made me think about what is and isn’t in my control, and how angry to be about that. Victor Frankl writes in Man’s Search For MeaningBooka book I’ve turned to at darker points in my own life and also one I know the Mariners suggest as part of their book club:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
Sometimes all it takes is stepping back, examining the damage, and making an active choice about how to feel. It’s just a car.
I insisted Aziz take my name and number anyway, so I could pay for at least my part of the damages. I don’t think I will ever hear from him, but I wish I would.