This year, for the first time since 1783, alewives made a 70-mile journey from the ocean to China Lake in Maine. The alewives, a type of river herring, are a sea run fish that migrate to fresh waters for their spawning season, much like the salmon in the Pacific Northwest the Seattle Mariners call home. The Seattle Mariners are attempting to find their way back to important waters as well, although their hopes are to spawn a winning record and a return of the goodwill of their fanbase.
Since their last day off, the Mariners have scored four or more runs in six out of ten games. Of those ten, they have won only three. The alewives as a species have a bit of a nebulous relationship with their conservation status. They are listed as “least concern”, although their populations have declined across much of their range, in large part due to loss of habitat, including access to their spawning areas. The Mariners situation is far less nebulous. They are coming off of a twenty year drought from appearing in the playoffs, and this season was marketed as a departure from those troubled waters, yet they are currently in a torrential downslide. They seem to be their own worst enemies, whenever one area of concern is addressed, a new worry springs up to block their path. To put it bluntly, the state of the goodwill of the fanbase is much easier to define, and it is critically endangered.
Cliché though it may be, every journey begins with one small step. For the alewives, their journey is many steps big and small, and until recently their path to China Lake has long been blocked by a series of dams, insurmountable. If the Mariners wish to advance in their journey they need to win a game, and then win another. They need to not succeed as individuals, but as a team.
For his part, Logan Gilbert did his best to help his team win today. Over his seven innings he only gave up five hits, two walks, and three earned runs. He struck out four, muted in comparison to the nine he fanned in his last two starts, but admirable nonetheless. When he left the game the M’s offense had put two on the board, failing to overcome or even match the three runs from his few mistakes, including solo home runs given up to Christian Arroyo in the 2nd inning and Trevor Story in the 6th. Gilbert has not been perfect, but he deserves recognition for the steps he’s taken into his sophomore season.
For their part, the offense really did seem to have some life in today’s game, tying the game in the ninth, and even pulling ahead by a run in the tenth. Overall they had nine hits compared to Boston’s ten, but scored half as many runs, going only 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Yet, score they did, making this game more interesting for me to watch than the last few games I’ve covered for LL.
The first damage didn’t come until the sixth inning. Taylor Trammell, who made his season debut today after time with extended spring training and before that on the IL, set the situation up by drawing the count 3-1 and then working the walk. Adam Frazier, who had a 3-for-5 night, was not about to let that go to waste and complimented his teammate’s effort with this:
Okay sure, that wouldn’t have been a home run in any other park, and as sacrilegious as it may be I’m somewhat averse to the odd dimensions of Fenway Park’s outfield, but if the Chaos Ball giveth then as a fan I will gladly receive, and I’m sure Frazier shares that sentiment. That two run blast was still not enough to catch up to the three runs Boston had put on the board though. What Eugenio Suárez did in the top of the ninth inning, when the Mariners were down to their last out, was though. He absolutely ambushed a first pitch slider from Hansel Robels, his monster of a blast overcoming the infamous green monster of Boston, and tying the game at three apiece.
From there, Haggerty popped out to send it to the bottom of the ninth and it was up to the stalwart Sewald to keep hope alive. Given the bullpen troubles of late, it would have been easy watching it to give up hope on that alone. Paul Sewald managed to get Cordero to hit a liner right to Frazier, who snatched it out of the air with a short hop that betrayed the effort of bringing down the ball that came 109.3 mph off the bat. Next, Arroyo worked it 2-2 and fouled a couple off, and then promptly struck out swinging. Briefly hope plummeted when Jackie Bradley Jr. Hit a sharp grounder into the left field corner for a double, but was salvaged at the last minute when Dalbec flew out to Dylan Moore (who took over for Trammell in the 8th) in the right field.
The salvaging of hope continued when the persistent fish that was today’s Seattle offense continued to climb upstream, first when Dylan Moore hit a single moving Haggerty to third. Then more so when Frazier, ever the hero in today’s game, hit a bloop single to shallow center to bring home Haggerty.
France and Crawford then struck out to end the inning, but the one run lead would have been enough if the Mariners could have kept the rushing rapids that have been the Boston Red Sox in the last four games under fin. Enter 23 year old Andrés Muñoz. When Muñoz is on, he is absolutely on, blowing his fastball faster than bats can keep up with it. Today, he was washed away with the current, loading the bases and giving up a walk off grand slam to Franchy Cordero, ending the game 4-8.
For the hardy alewives, their momentous return to historical grounds was not an easy journey, or one done without aid. The efforts to restore their path was met with resistance, protest. I can’t help but draw a parallel with the current rebuild, and the initial reaction I saw from most when that decision was made. In order for the alewives to succeed, multiple dams had to be outright removed, and fishways constructed as alternate routes to bypass the dams that would not be. It was a seven year, coordinated effort. There were probably at times, when the whole effort seemed pointless. Yet, this year they made it back, they reached the end of their journey, a journey they will continue to make hopefully for years to come.
I am not suggesting that we avoid criticizing the front office for their missteps. I am not suggesting that we avoid reveling in misery when it’s a constant stream in front of us, as that can be cathartic. However, today there were signs the Mariners are making their way up some of those fishways, even if there are still dams that need to be destroyed in order for them to succeed. In pain, you can still find joy, and in the journey that is the Seattle Mariners, there is still hope for a path forward. For this year, and hopefully many more to come.