Safeco Field. April 23. Bottom of the ninth, one out, Mariners down a run. M’s third baseman Kyle Seager at the plate with runners at first and second. If Seager hits into a double play, the M’s lose their ninth straight and fall to last in the A.L. West. Instead, Seager hammers a 95 mph fastball deep into the right-field seats, and the Mariners win. Since that pitch, they’ve had the best record in baseball. With apologies to Buzzfeed, here are four headlines you never saw coming (#2 made us gasp!)
58 Things You Never Knew Kyle Seager Could Do
In his first college season, Kyle Seager hit two home runs. In his first minor league season, he hit one home run. In his first Mariners season, he hit three home runs. The next year, 20. The next year, 22. This year, 13 already, and there are 75 games left. Middle infielders drafted in the third round are not supposed to lead their team in home runs. But Seager’s 58 home runs in his first four seasons are the most by a Mariner draftee since Alex Rodriguez.
Seager’s dramatic home run against Houston signaled an awakening for him as well as the team. He’d come into the game hitting just .156, without a home run, raising questions about whether his early career success was a fluke. Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon had evinced no concern, saying “If I’ve got to worry about Kyle Seager, I probably need to quit this job.” Since the homer, Seager’s hit .305. He leads the Mariners in home runs and RBI and has been, by Wins Above Replacement, a more valuable player than Miguel Cabrera, Dustin Pedroia and, yes, Robinson Cano.
Felix Hernandez Will Make You Rethink Everything You Thought You Knew About Pitching
King Felix Hernandez has the American League’s fifth-highest strikeout rate and fourth-lowest walk rate. You equate that with a guy firing his fastball over the plate and daring opponents to hit it. Not Hernandez. He’s throwing his fastball just 47 percent of the time, the lowest rate of his career. Hernandez’ weapon is his change-up—but not the straight, slow change-up some pitchers throw. The King’s version hurtles toward the batter at 89 mph, then dives down and sideways out of the strike zone, like a shoddy paper airplane. It’s unhittable.
Hernandez was named to his fourth consecutive All-Star Game on Sunday, and rightfully so; he’s been the best pitcher in the American League. Most important, the Mariners have won 12 of Hernandez’ last 14 starts.
61 Signs You Aren’t Going to Make the Majors This Year
Baseball Prospectus is the annual bible of serious baseball fans and executives; it’s the most in-depth analysis of the sport and its players available. The 2014 edition deemed 61 Seattle Mariners worthy of mention. Neither outfielder James Jones nor pitcher Roenis Elias were among them. Despite the absence of preseason interest, Elias made the starting rotation and has been just about average—in other words, the Yankees would pay $10 million a year for him. Jones claimed the centerfield job in early May and has squeezed just enough value out of his hand/eye coordination and speed to hold onto it. He hasn’t hit a home run, but has stolen 17 bases in 18 tries. With Jones in center, McClendon has been able to use Endy Chavez or Michael Saunders in right, giving the M’s the stellar outfield defense they need to win in Safeco Field.
Mind-Blowing Performances Only People Who Saw Return of the Jedi in a Theater Will Understand
You think of the Mariners as a young team, but five children of the 1970s have played important roles. Lefty reliever Joe Beimel (age 37) has allowed just four earned runs in 29 appearances. Starting pitcher Chris Young (35), an emergency pickup a few days before the season, is second on the team in wins. Willie Bloomquist and Endy Chavez (both 36) have been dependable fill-ins; between them they’ve played every position but catcher and have both even DHed. And the top Carter-administration product of all, closer Fernando Rodney (37), has been, after a frightening start, what he’s paid to be—the team’s most effective reliever. Rodney walked six batters in his first eight games of the season, somehow escaping with only one blown save. In the 28 games since, he’s walked only five batters, and now his season looks extraordinary: he leads the American League in saves with 25. E