I traveled to Safeco Field to catch Felix Hernandez’s start against the Astros on September 16th. It’s tough for me to make my way from Puyallup to Safeco on a school day, but I made myself a promise to sit in the King’s Court, so the King was pitchin’, maybe for the last time at home this season and I was there.
Gah, what a mistake. Just to be clear, I’d rather handcuff myself to a carboard cut-out of Chone Figgins and try to sell season tickets in a homeless encampment than sit in the King’s Court again. I lay down my dough to see a Mariners game, watch every pitch, and see every play. That’s all I’m there for, and usually I love it. Unfortunately, the other folks in the King’s Court are there for something else, and it mostly doesn’t involve a baseball game. Major drinking, behavior that reminded me of my mostly enjoyable days teaching 10 and 11 year olds-but not so pretty in somebody 20 years older. No sense of baseball etiquette. And the inexplicable compulsion of a few lost souls to wear their Seahawks jerseys to a Mariners game in which they’ve just gotten a free yellow Felix Hernandez shirts.
Of course, making the experience even less fun was the game itself. The King, was not very King-like. In 4.1 innings, Felix allowed 6 runs, 5 earned, with only three K’s. He was aided and abetted in his ineffectiveness by Ketel Marte and Kyle Seager, who made three errors between the two of them. Unforgivable clankers, they simply weren’t paying enough attention to. Nothing to cheer for here.
Adding to all of this was the M’s relative ineffectiveness against the Houston starter, right-hander Collin McHugh. McHugh is a 6’2″, skinny right hander, who doesn’t have overpowering stuff. He’s not a death-dealing lefty who often negates a lot of the Mariners strength. On that Sept. 16th evening McHugh held the M’s to two hits, walked a pair and struck out six in seven innings of work. They looked bad, and never threatened to score in the 6-0 final.
The real problem is that McHugh is the Astros pitcher facing Hisashi Iwakuma when the M’s take the field tonight in Minute Maid Field in what amounts to a must-win game. With seven games remaining and 2.5 games behind Baltimore for the second wild card spot, the Mariners are running out of time and very little margin for error.
It would be one thing if the September game was just one of those nights, but in four starts this year, McHugh has owned the Mariners. In 25 innings, McHugh has allowed 16 hits, 8 walks and 3 (!) earned runs, and struck out 24. That is good for 4-0 with a 1.08 ERA.
It hasn’t always been that way. For his career, McHugh had success against the M’s, but not utter dominance. Coming into the 2016 season he was 5-3, and his career ERA against Seattle is 3.96, including this year’s microscopic rating. And just by comparison, for the rest of the league, McHugh is 12-10 with a 4.61 ERA in 170 innings. Walter Johnson, he ain’t.
So the M’s better figure out what vitamins ol’ Collin has been taking, or at least manage to deal with his off speed and breaking stuff that many pitchers are using effectively against Seattle the last month of the season. Tonight is really important and they badly need a win against a stubborn Houston team.