An otherwise dreary 8-2 Opening Day defeat in Houston, evoking the demons of 2019, was enlivened by rookie Kyle Lewis’s 438-foot home run off Justin Verlander.
Before the opening game of the 2020 irregular season Friday in Houston, Scott Servais sounded more like he was at the end of something instead of the beginning.
“I wasn’t sure,” the Mariners manager said, “we’d ever get here.”
The major league baseball season, in jeopardy since mid-March not only by a pandemic but by the industry’s penchant to self-destruct over money, finally lurched to its feet this week. But the degree of difficulty left Servais a little drawn.
Particularly when he found out where “here” was — in one of the nation’s covid-19 hotspots against the defending American League champion Houston Trashcanstros, who are held in such contempt that the baseball world wished the Mariners would plunk Alex Bregman in the butt, just for the vicarious gratification.
But that wasn’t happening. The Mariners were 0-10 in Houston a year ago, and facing Friday magnum ace Justin Verlander, there was no way they were giving those guys a free baserunner.
Now they’re 0-11. One more runner in the 8-2 defeat (box) wouldn’t have made a difference. The outcome was representative of no progress at all. The same debacles that rendered asunder 2019, defense and bullpen, made the transition to 2020.
Of course we all know better than to make sweeping judgments off a first game. But because of the rolling crises of virus, unemployment and race that have depleted the national soul, all 30 MLB fan bases deserved an opening-day win.
But the Mariners are in no position to provide.
As Root Sports broadcasters pointed out maybe a half-dozen times, the Mariners, by average age on opening day rosters, are the youngest team in baseball, thereby establishing a season-long platform from which to beg for fans’ indulgence.
The roster included four players who made their major league debuts (1B Evan White, OF Jose Marmolejos and relievers Anthony Misiewicz and Yohan Ramirez) and another six who were on an MLB opening day roster for the first time — pitchers Justin Dunn, Justus Sheffield and Matt Magill, and position players Kyle Lewis, Shed Long Jr., Tim Lopes and Austin Nola.
The opener was a debut like no other in the sport’s history — eerie. The absence of fans was everything that we were told it wouldn’t be.
“It starts in batting practice,” Servais said post-game. “You walk out on the road, we’re playing a team that was in the World Series last year and there’s nobody there.
“It’s just crazy. Just a different feel.”
At least one Mariner was unperturbed. The fourth batter up against Verlander, who needed only six pitches to retire the first three, Lewis sent a belt-high fastball 438 feet, coming to rest upon the tracks of Minute Maid Park’s hokey little left field train.
That was about it for Seattle highlights. It was a good one.
“I had a few homers last September,” said Lewis, referring to six in 71 ABs. “But this is Verlander and opening day — how sweet. Oh, that’s great, man. That’s great.
“You always wonder when you’ll get your first hit of the year. So to get that out the way in my first at-bat was really cool.”
After that, there was a litany of miscues — Long pulling White off first base with a bad throw, Kyle Seager throwing away a potential double-play grounder, Crawford taking too many steps before throwing to first, allowing a run, Marmolejos in left somehow losing a white ball against a dark roof, letting it fall front of him for a double.
But all those sorts of things were, well, traditional. What was definitely not traditional was the pre-game ceremony.
Both clubs’ personnel streamed out along each foul line, holding a part of a single black cloth, and knelt in silence to memorialize lives lost in police killings and from covid-19, a gesture seen the day before in openers in Los Angeles and Washington.
Then all the Mariners and most of the Astros stood for the anthem. Six Black Mariners — Sheffield, Long, Lewis, Crawford, Dee Gordon and Mallex Smith — clenched their right fists at shoulder height.
According to Lewis, the gestures had been planned awhile, with the discussion led by Gordon, the senior eminence, without any restrictions on expression from club management.
The day was an intense experience for Lewis, a budding star who started his first opening day in center field, the land of Griffey.
“You’re representing your community back home,” Lewis said, “and for me, playing my whole life to try to play an opening day, with so many things going on in the world at the same time, you got a lot of different emotions going.
“Just trying to balance all those, trying to take this in stride and continue to push forward each day. I’m really appreciative of every opportunity. Today was really special.”
Again, no sweeping conclusions from opening day. But if you want to say Lewis is really special too, your case has evidence.