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Baseball returns: Mariners beat Athletics in first official game of the season

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I wake up super early almost every morning. Today was no exception. Unlike most days, however, I had more to look at than my cats and more to do than wait for the sunrise: there was baseball — baseball that counted — on my TV. The Mariners took on the A’s in the Tokyo Dome at 5:30AM — which was 6:30PM, Japan time — in the first official regular season game of the year.

As far as games go it was light on the pitching and, a few dingers aside, was light on excitement, with the Mariners beating the A’s 9-7. But hey, less-than-exciting baseball is better than most things, right?

Oakland jumped out to an early lead thanks to a two-out first inning homer by Stephen Piscotty off of M’s starter Marco Gonzalez. The A’s added a second run in the second thanks to a Chad Pinder single, a throwing error which advanced him to third and a Marcus Semien RBI single.

The top of the third provided some chills: Ichiro, batting ninth for Seattle, came to bat with no one out and a runner on first, facing A’s starter Mike Fiers. Flashbulbs popped and the Tokyo Dome crowd chanted his name. He popped out to the second baseman who caught it in shallow right, sadly, but still got an ovation as he walked to the dugout. One of the more exciting and emotional F4s you’ll see.

At that point the pitching took a powder. Dee Gordon would single in Tim Beckham later that inning to make the game 2-1, the M’s would load the bases and Domingo Santana would hit one out to the opposite field for a grand slam to make it 5-2. In the bottom of the third Khris Davis came up and hit a two-run blast to make it 5-4. They say the pitchers are ahead of the hitters early in the year but, uh, nah. By the way, it was the third straight Opening Day on which Davis has homered. The record is four. Mark your calendars for next year.

Ichiro came up again in the top of the fourth, again with a runner on first, this time facing Liam Hendriks instead of Fiers. He worked a 3-1 count, fouled one off to bring the count full, fouled one off his ankle, which looked like it hurt, fouled one that bounced off his back or arm or something which also looked like it hurt, and then took one in the dirt to draw the walk. Again, a bigger cheer than you get for most walks. Later in the inning Mitch Haniger hit a sac fly to make it 6-4.

The Mariners took the field for the bottom of the fourth. Before the inning began, M’s manager Scott Servais signaled to Ichiro in right, who came running back to the dugout. He was being taken out of the game, replaced by Jay Bruce, who moved out from first base, in such a way as to allow his teammates to give him hugs and to allow the Tokyo crowd to give Ichiro a standing ovation. A nice move from Servais. An 0-for-1, 1BB night on what may very well be the future Hall of Famer’s penultimate game.

Things sort of got out of hand after that. The M’s added three runs in the fifth, two of which came on a Beckham homer. It gave us our first bat flip of the season:

At that point my kids left for school and my wife left for work and the game sort of blended into the background of the morning. Matt Chapman hit a three-run bomb for the A’s in the 7th to make it 9-7, which is a score more appropriate for the glorified spring training game this truly was than a regular season tilt, but such is life. And that, after a couple of scoreless innings, was the ballgame.

It was a game that, in the grand scheme of things, means nothing beyond the stats it created and the smallest of small impacts it will have on season standings that will almost certainly not turn on this game. Which is to say it didn’t matter all that much. It was not a big event. It did not change our day nor impact it beyond the moments of enjoyment and amusement it gave us as it unfolded. It did not insist upon itself like so many games in other sports, TV shows and news events which unfold seem so hellbent on doing.

It just happened. As baseball, when it’s at its best, simply does. Welcome back.

And That Happened: Tuesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Giants 7, Blue Jays 6: Kevin Pillar made his first return to Toronto after being traded away a couple of weeks ago, got a warm welcome from his former hometown crowd ad then knocked in a run in the second inning. I feel like that’s the baseball equivalent of coming back home during Thanksgiving break during your freshman year in college, seeing “old friends” that you were JUST hanging out with in early August and having them buy you shots. I mean, it’s nice, don’t get me wrong, but let’s not pretend this is some long-in-coming reunion or whatever. To extend this tortured analogy, Pillar’s Giants teammates were like the guys from his dorm who nonetheless came back with him and who were kinda rude to all his old high school buddies. Pablo Sandoval, Joe Panik, Evan Longoria and Brandon Belt all homered, which is the equivalent of them drinking too much, hitting on the old high school friends’ sisters and just not knowing how things are done back home, man. “You’ve changed, Kevin” they said. “Why don’t you go back to college. You seem to like those guys more anyway.”

Padres 6, Mariners 3: For the second time in three days someone ally-ooped a would-be fly out into a homer. Here it was Mallex Smith, who did the honors for Austin Hedges:

It didn’t matter that much — the Padres had already established what would be their winning margin — but guys should really stop doing that. Franmil Reyes homered twice for the Friars. He required no assists in doing so.

Astros 10, Twins 4: Minnesota jumped out to a 3-0 lead and then was outscored 10-1 the rest of the way. José Altuve hit a three-run homer. Alex Bregman drove in three. Michael Brantley had an RBI single.

In related news, ten years ago today Michael Brantley went 0-for-4 with a strikeout for the Columbus Clippers in a 9-7 win over the Indianapolis Indians. I know this because, as Facebook reminds me this morning, that was the first baseball game I ever took my kids to. That game also featured Andrew McCutchen leading off, Neil Walker at third base, Luis Cruz at second, Garrett Jones in right and Erik Kratz catching for Indy. For Columbus, in addition to Brantley, David Delucci was in left, Luis Valbuena (RIP) at short, and Chris Gimenez at DH. Matt LaPorta played in that game too. He’s the guy the Brewers sent to Cleveland the year before in the CC Sabathia trade. I thought he’d be a good one, but alas. Torey Lovullo was the manager for the Clippers. My son, not yet four, got kinda sick to his stomach on cotton candy that evening. My daughter, then five, wore all pink, which would mortify her today (she can blame her mom for that). They’re gonna kill me for posting photos too, but I don’t care. Ah, memories.

Tigers 7, Red Sox 4; Tigers 4, Red Sox 2: Chris Sale was a lot more Chris Sale-like in game one of yesterday’s doubleheader, striking out ten guys in five innings and looking much sharper than he’s been. The Red Sox bullpen has continued to be a tire fire, though, coughing up five runs in four innings of work. Josh Harrison hit a tiebreaking, two-run double in the eighth. Ronny Rodriguez had three hits, including a homer. Xander Bogaerts homered twice in a losing cause. Detroit took the nightcap too, with Brandon Dixon hitting a three-run double and Ron Gardenhire using eight pitchers in a nine inning game. This when his starter went five. Dear God, his feet must be tired from walking out the mound so much. But hey, results are results. The Tigers have won four of five.

Marlins 3, Indians 1: Carlos Carrasco was cruising until he injured his knee and had to leave. That sucked for this game but sucks worse long term if he has to miss a lot of time. As soon as he left, Jorge Alfaro homered on the first pitch from reliever Neil Ramírez, giving the Fish a 1-0 lead. They’d never trail in the game thanks to solid starting work from Pablo López, who allowed only one run, unearned, while pitching into the seventh.

Mets 9, Phillies 0: Zack Wheeler struck out 11 dudes in seven shutout innings doubled in two and hit a homer and scored a run on another play. What a night. Todd Frazier hit a grand slam. Late in the game Mets reliever Jacob Rhame sent a couple of fastballs over Rhys Hoskins‘ head, apparently in retaliation for a plunking in Monday’s game. The benches halfheartedly cleared but nothing came of it. Anyway, the Phillies look terrible lately. They’ve lost five of six.

Diamondbacks 2, Pirates 1: Luke Weaver outdueled Trevor Williams, allowing one run to Williams’ two while scattering six hits over six and a third. The winning run came on a diving slide by Jarrod Dyson, who was on third but dashed home on a hot shot to second base with the corners drawn in. He was originally called out but was ruled safe on replay:

Wheels, man.

Reds 7, Braves 6: Yasiel Puig is heating up. He was 2-for-3 with a homer and three driven in. The Reds blew an early 3-0 lead, though, and found themselves trailing by the sixth before battling back and then holding on to thwart a second Braves rally. Reds batters drew nine walks off of Atlanta pitching. Woof. In related news, I’ll be at tonight’s Braves-Reds game, sitting behind home plate. I’ll be the guy in the Braves cap wondering how he’s gonna drive home two hours after the game and get enough sleep to wake up to do tomorrow’s recaps. If the game is anything less than crisp I may just put up a list of scores tomorrow. We’re all allowed to mail one in, right?

Orioles 9, White Sox 1: Dwight Smith Jr. hit a three-run homer and teammates Renato Núñez, Chris Davis and Joey Rickard all went deep as well, all off of Ivan Nova. Andrew Cashner gave up one run over seven innings to win his fourth straight start. It’d own if the O’s lost 100+ games but Cashner somehow won 20. He’s currently in a five-way tie for the AL lead in that department and is on pace for 26 right now.

Rays 5, Royals 2: Jalen Beeks — who came in in the second inning following an opener — struck out seven in four and two-thirds shutout innings and Mike Zunino homered for the second straight game to break the Rays’ losing streak. The Royals, however, have dropped five in a row.

Cardinals 4, Brewers 3Paul DeJong hit a tie-breaking, leadoff homer in the eighth and Yadier Molina had three hits and two RBI. All three of the Brewers’ runs came on solo homers. All Milwaukee’s runs came on home runs in Monday’s big loss too. If they were the Yankees three columnists would be writing “do they hit too many homers” columns today. Thank god they’re not the Yankees. The Cardinals have won four in a row. The Brewers have lost five of six.

Cubs 7, Dodgers 2: Chicago built up a 6-0 lead after the second inning and skated from there. Willson Contreras‘ bases-loaded double in the first was the biggest hit, Anthony Rizzo‘s two-run homer in the second the next biggest. Javier Báez homered for the Cubbies as well. Báez also did this:

Which was somehow not called as running out of the baseline but since he got stranded at first base and since it didn’t matter in the game’s outcome who cares? It was fun.

Nationals 6, Rockies 3: Patrick Corbin pitched six pretty strong innings and singled and scored a run when Víctor Robles hit a three-run double. Not a bad night for a pitcher at Coors Field.

Yankees 7, Angels 5: Luke Voit hit two solo homers as the walking wounded Yankees won again. Mike Ford, who is a person I’ve totally heard of before today, yes sir, also homered. The Yankees have won five straight and seven of their last eight despite having 13 players on the injured list. A dead cat bounce? Maybe. Playing a bunch of games against the Royals and Angels helps too.

Athletics 11, Rangers 5: Seems like every Rangers game features someone scoring 10-12 runs every night, be it them or the opposition. Last night it was the opposition as Matt Chapman homered and walked three times, Marcus Semien had a two-run double and Stephen Piscotty banged out four hits and scored three times. The A’s put up a six-run fourth inning. Game over.