We always used to like the person who willingly takes a knee to acknowledge fault, because we are apology junkies. In fact, one of our last flowering skills as a species is our ability to judge intent, motive, and essential character based on an apology—points for swiftness, points off for reading off a paper, points on for not using “to anyone I might have offended,” points off for not taking questions afterward. We want our pound of flesh in full, we want it properly marbled, and we don’t want the butcher thumbing the scale.
So what to do about Oakland A’s pitcher Cole Irvin? He went full face-first prostrate after the Seattle Mariners removed another thumbless 16 ounces from him Monday night in a game that revivified the Mariners’ postseason aspirations while flat-stomping what is left of the Athletics’ dreams, and for all the athletes who have long memories about the slights of others, he has equally vivid memories of his own. And it’s hard to know how to feel about someone who apologizes so profusely for a misdeed nobody else much remembered.
Go back to May 25, when he gave up 10 hits in 4.2 innings in a 4-3 loss to the then-uninspiring M’s. “A team like that should not be putting up 10 hits against me or anyone,” he said afterward, and it was not hard to see his point; the Mariners were collectively hitting a Mendozian .202 and were already 49 to the bad in the run differential sweepstakes, in part because they’d been no-hit twice in the previous three weeks. They were also a surprisingly successful 23-26 given those Orioletastic numbers, and since then their team average is still .226, their plus/minus is an additional minus-three, but their record is 64-44, and they are only a game and a half behind the second wild card spot currently held by the wholly undeserving Boston Red Sox.
Since that outing, Irvin has imagined the Mariners have actively hated him. They have beaten him 4-3, 5-1, 4-1 and 13-4 last night, and he is 0-5 with an 8.69 ERA against Seattle overall. A case can be made that this might also be a run support issue, but his willingness to eat ashes last night was almost discomfiting.
“Baseball has a way of humbling itself,” Irvin said, a weird enough construction but also an adequate way of describing the Manfred administration. “To be honest, it goes back to the comments I made early in the season. They’re hungry every time. They want to face me and beat me into the ground, and they did that every time I faced them. My job is to be able to execute pitches, and I felt like I have at times, but not enough when they want it more. I wasn’t good enough. It’s embarrassing on my end.”
The score: Points for sincerity, sureness and swiftness of delivery, and also credit for not sucking anyone else into his circle of shame. “I wasn’t good enough” is a decent line, made better by not adding needless caveats. He owned it all. Points off, though, for going over the top with “when they want it more.” This doesn’t seem to be a desire-based shortcoming as much as it is a Mitch Haniger (six RBI last night) issue, and the best apologies are rooted in facts rather than nebulous measurements like want-to.
Then again, maybe Irvin is reacting to the fact that this loss pretty much finishes the A’s for 2021, and that his first start against the Mariners back in May also produced the smallest crowd in baseball this year for any game not played in Dunedin, Fla. The A’s have been victimized as a baseball operation by its management’s aggressive campaign of well-poisoning, thus making the season a winning disaster on artistic, aesthetic, and civic grounds. None of that is Irvin’s doing, of course, but when a man needs to apologize, you have to let him apologize.
Still, it would have been better for all of us if the Mariners had given any indication that they remembered Irvin’s remarks from May at all. Maybe they slap his image on next year’s media guide cover, under the legend, “The Face That Launched A Thousand Ships.” Sure it’s a low bar, but it seems unlikely that Irvin will be contributing any charcoal to this particular grill going forward.