This weekend, with their season spiraling, the Seattle Mariners received a vital energy boost from their recently returned rookie of the year, Kyle Lewis. Restricted to simple DH work, Lewis nonetheless injected an extra degree of threat into the roster Seattle hoped to carry them this season. Lewis isn’t Reggie Jackson, but his knack for damaging some of the most impressive arms he’s faced not only adds to the joy and value of his comeback, but makes him a player who simply needs to be watched at every turn. opportunity.
Almost three years ago, Kyle Lewis arrived in MLB. The move was slightly unexpected, a September call directly from Double-A Arkansas despite lackluster numbers and plenty of question marks. The twilight of the dreary 2019 season offered few sparks of joy, however, and who were we to refuse the arrival that, sometimes, would never come. Kyle Lewis, in a game I stayed until midnight on the East Coast to catch, against the Cincinnati Reds and their future Cy-Young Trevor Bauer, went deep for his first major league hit.
September 10, 2019. First game of 116 now that Lewis has played for Seattle, an auspicious number here in its own right. On night number two, against veteran All-Star Sonny Gray, he did it again. The third night, again. His 2020 Rookie of the Year campaign featured more of the same, including his incredible opening day moonshot to salute future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander.
Not all of Lewis’ home runs have come up against stellar opponents, and not all of his plate appearances have been as exemplary as these. Lewis, now 26, has just 480 plate appearances to his name and 138 of those (28.7%) have ended in strikeouts. Of course, health issues continue to plague him, preventing him from playing back-to-back games in Tacoma and again this weekend in Seattle. Yet every time Lewis steps onto the pitch, there is hope for something special, at least in my own heart.
Call it the Edgar effect, or the Ichiro experience, or the Felix feeling. As Bren wrote recently, there’s something particularly inspiring about Lewis every time he’s on the court. Part of that is down to his status as this diet’s first-round pick, the new standard-bearer of hope that shone so brightly before his journey through health struggles began. Another piece is those injuries, Lewis’s status becoming borderline ethereal as he struggled through setbacks and surgeries to reclaim the field again and again, once again dominating despite whatever bad luck conspired to steal it. Perhaps it’s seeing how the rest of the team and organization reacts to his success that they too support him, not only as a teammate in their collective effort to win baseball games, but as an extension of themselves and the joy and power of this sport to inspire and unite.
In an ideal world, I’d have something statistically striking to weave throughout this piece, something quantitative to balance out the appalling number of cryptic descriptors I’ve tossed around throughout this piece. But I wanted to write about how watching Kyle Lewis play baseball makes me feel, and because it’s hard to analyze 16 plate appearances from a guy with fewer games played as a Mariner than Adam Lind. Kyle Lewis makes me feel like I want to watch every time he’s ready to bat, not just because he might do something amazing like hit another homer against Verlander to help Seattle take a series from Houston, but also because I don’t know how many more chances I’m going to see him play.
I wonder if that’s how Mariners fans felt watching Edgar in 1993-94, after his first batting title and Silver Slugger, when Vancouver’s shoddy turf shredded his hamstrings and that an errant throw from Dennis Martinez robbed his wrist of power, casting doubt on their budding star’s future. Edgar was then nearly six years older than Lewis now, a notoriously late bloomer, or at least a late recipient of a full-time opportunity. Even casual fans are likely to know of Lewis’s journey, the good nature he retained throughout, and the difference in the Mariners’ roster when he’s there. May this weekend be the harbinger of a long tail to K-Lew’s history.