Long before Josh Bell blasted the Pirates to victory with his first career walk-off home run on Friday night, Jedd Gyorko struck a two-run homer to put the Cardinals on the board in the first inning. Andrew McCutchen scaled the wall and came up short by several feet, watching it sail right over the top of the fence and into the outstretched glove of a Pirates fan in the right field bleachers.
The ball was officially clocked at 405 feet off of Gyorko’s bat, but its final resting place was much further from home plate. The fan who caught the home run, later identified as Jeff, promptly turned toward the crowd and chucked the ball, which cleared the bleachers and riverside concourse to find a new home in the depths of the nearby Allegheny River.
“I put all my weight into it, about 285 pounds,” Jeff told ROOT Sports’ Robby Incmikoski. While throwing toward the crowd isn’t an advisable course of action for every bleacher fan, Jeff was quick to encourage other “true fans” to toss the tradition of returning home balls to the field: “If you’re a Pirates fan — a true Pirates fan and a true Pittsburgher — you will throw away home run balls into the river.”
To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.
So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”
When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.
Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.