The upside of getting shut down by clowns like Darrell Rasner is that eventually we get to celebrate when we finally start to hit the sorry motherfucker.
Biggest Contribution: Jarrod Washburn, +43.4%
Biggest Suckfest: Jose Vidro, -9.2%
Most Important At Bat: Johjima funk blast, +14.5%
Most Important Pitch: Matsui foul out, +4.9%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +46.6%
Total Contribution by Position Players: +3.4%
Total Contribution by Opposition: 0.0%
There are a handful of games every year about which I'm unusually overconfident. Games that the Mariners ordinarily lose in characteristically frustrating fashion suddenly look overtly winnable, and while I can't be 100% certain where the feeling comes from, I'm pretty sure it's a leftover from the good ol' days when this team could go into games expecting to win, rather than hoping to. I've never actually gone through and documented the accuracy of my optimistic foresight to see if it's just a load of bullshit, but I don't think I'd want to know if it were. The greatest advice I've ever been given is that ignorance is bliss, and if my brain's going to happily overestimate the quality of my baseball team every so often, I don't want to know if it's wrong. It's nice to think that I root for a contender, even if only for a day.
So, yeah, today was one of those games. Even given the facts that (A) Darrell Rasner hilariously owned us not even a week ago, and (B) hey, the Yankees are better than we are, there was no stopping my brain from getting ahead of itself. Maybe it's that we were back in Safeco, or that Jarrod Washburn usually treats the Yankees like every other team in baseball treats Jarrod Washburn, but there was just something about this setup that I liked from the get-go. This wasn't going to be another embarrassing snoozer.
And it wasn't. At least, not for us. Even in the first few innings, when nothing was happening, there were enough Mariner baserunners and Washburn strikeouts to keep you from dozing off. I should know - I was close. It's generally pretty difficult to stay awake for an entire Friday night game after a long week of drinking, but try as my head did to make the rest of my body shut down, my eyes wouldn't have any of it. And so I sat in my chair slack-jawed and drooling for half an hour or so while the baseball game fought the good fight against my obstinate mental exhaustion. And baseball won.
While the first bit of the game is something of a blur in my memory, I was fully aware of the bottom of the third, when Ichiro lined a one-out double past a diving Josh Phelps and later came around to score on a Raul Ibanez single past a diving Josh Phelps. The latter probably should've been an error, since the ball appeared to bounce of Phelps' glove, but the Safeco scorer is about as generous for the Mariners as Jeff Weaver isn't, and so it came as no surprise when Ibanez got credit for Phelps confirming his status as a born DH. Presumably on a dare, Richie Sexson followed with a single, bringing Jose Guillen to the plate with an opportunity to blow things open. He delivered a grounder to the left side, but unfortunately it was within Derek Jeter's fourteen-inch window of lateral range, and so we went to the fourth with the narrowest of leads.
By the way, Guillen's currently sporting a .345 OBP and career-high walk rate to go along with his .455 SLG. I know it's barely been a month and it's too soon to jump to any conclusions, but if anything you'd expect his early numbers to suck, what with the league switch and cold weather and surgery recovery and all. Instead, he's been the second-most productive batter in the lineup. There's a reason I look forward to his at bats more than anyone else's right now - even though his approach is too aggressive, he has this compact, lightning-fast swing that lets him punish pitches that Betancourt or Lopez pop up. Jose Guillen is going to be one streaky son of a bitch, but based on what I've seen so far, I'll be surprised if he's not putting up a 110-120 OPS+ at the end of the year.
Anyway, we went to the fourth, where Washburn kept inducing those mystery groundballs to get himself through a bottom of the order that's remarkably untalented for a team that costs as much as New York. While we think Lopez looks bad every so often, Robinson Cano looks like absolute hell. His contact rate is way down, so this isn't just bad luck, either. Something's wrong with that guy, and it delights me to no end. The harmless top half gave way to the bottom, where Rasner thought it a good idea to throw four pitches so bad that even Adrian Beltre didn't swing at them. After the fourth, Beltre leaned forward and paused, looking over his shoulder while the game kind of froze for a few seconds and the umpiring crew tried to get a grasp of what'd just happened. After a brief conference and half-hearted argument from Joe Torre, all parties agreed that Beltre had "walked," and he was allowed to proceed to first base. Skeptical, Beltre twice turned around while walking down the line to make sure he'd heard correctly, but soon thereafter Kenji Johjima stepped into the batter's box and Beltre hurried to the bag so as not to be late. Once there, he asked the first base umpire to confirm Sam Holbrook's call, but Hunter Wendelstedt was visibly preoccupied by the at bat taking place, so Beltre dropped it and turned to watch bad pitching from the side for a change.
Utterly dismayed by having walked Adrian Beltre on the bare minimum, Rasner promptly threw Kenji Johjima the only pitch he's ever been able to hit with much power - the high-inside fastball that Johjima consistently and reliably deposits in the left field bleachers. You know the pitch and the swing; it's always the same when Kenji goes deep. As I admired the curious juxtaposition of Parliament accompanying a very Japanese Kenji Johjima circling the bases, I wondered why any pitcher would ever throw him something like that on purpose. Then I remembered that this was Darrell Rasner, who's practically built a career out of sucking by mistake, and I understood. Aside: as long as people think you're only sucking by mistake, things are probably okay. It's when you do it so much that people think it's deliberate that it becomes a more glaring concern.
The Mariners had made their move and built their lead. While they could've done more damage - they ended the game 1-10 with RISP - it was hard not to be confident in Washburn, who began the fifth with consecutive swinging strikeouts of Damon and Abreu. You got the feeling that a three-run lead was more than big enough to hold up, and that any additional runs scored would only serve to delay the eventual thrill of celebrating a victory. Rasner tried to slow us down by putting two on with one out in the bottom half, but Adrian Beltre - apparently having decided that Rasner somehow got the best of him in the previous encounter - decided to take matters into his own hands and make things happen on his own terms. Beltre struck out on a fastball that was quite literally at his eyes and walked back to the dugout smirking and satisfied with the knowledge that he'd taught the pitcher a valuable lesson: here in the big leagues, the hitters generate results, not the pitchers. Beltre sat on the dugout bench wearing a smug expression while clubhouse attendees in the far corner rushed to treat Jeff Pentland, who watched the at bat and tried to kill himself with cleats.
By that point, it was really the Jarrod Washburn Show, and nothing else. While a few extra fly balls indicated that he was beginning to get tired and/or lazy, he was still seldom getting hit very hard. His final GB/FB ratio may not tell you very much, but a lot of those fly outs were really pop-ups that went a little too far for the infielders. With one on and one out in the sixth, Josh Phelps stepped up to the plate and, after getting tackled by Kenji Johjima in what Gameday classifies as an "on-field delay," lifted a pop-up to shallow center that Ichiro tracked and wound up catching about 40-50 feet behind second base. The next batter, Cano, then lifted a fly into shallow left that Betancourt ran down in the outfield in front of Ibanez. I'm pretty sure the second one actually came down further into the outfield than the first, which, when you think about it, is kind of incredible. This team's center fielder and shortstop have so much range that their fielding zones actually kind of overlap. I guess that's more silly than anything else. Having guys like Ichiro and Betancourt in the field would allow a more creative manager all kinds of freedom in determining where to place his other five gloves, because they cover so much ground between them that there's ample room for experimentation.
Things went on like that, and Washburn very appropriately struck out Hideki Matsui swinging in the eighth with his last pitch of the game. This was a dominant effort, and just because no one really believes that Washburn is re-learning a new way to pitch at 32 years old doesn't mean that we can't appreciate all the stability he's given us so far, especially with the rest of the rotation sucking wind. Jarrod Washburn's absurdly low line drive rate may not be sustainable, but it's there and it's real, and he deserves some amount of credit for avoiding solid contact. Doing it against Oakland is one thing, but the Yankees are powerful, and he pitched an eight-inning shutout. Consistently pitching somewhere between decent and awesome has value, and Washburn's got it in spades. While I'll always hate the contract, I'm beginning to really like the player.
JJ Putz took us home in the ninth with one of his patented quick innings, even if the path by which he got there was a little atypical. Of his 12 pitches, a handful were offspeed, and that's totally new. It's gotten to the point where I can't tell the difference between his splitter and changeup (or even if he actually throws a changeup to begin with) because the split has so much lateral movement along with its drop, and to me, that's frightening. If you're a batter expecting a 96mph fastball, it's one thing to have to adjust on the y-axis because you got something that drops, but it's a whole other thing to have to adjust on the xy-plane because you got something that drops and slides. I love that even when JJ's (deliberately) pitching economically and smart, he's still showing the kind of stuff that'll come in real handy for those intense midsummer showdowns. If he ever has any. For the most part, his appearances so far have been a little less than nerve-wracking.
For at least another two days, the Mariners have managed to stave off slipping below .500. They also kept pace with the rest of the division, and tomorrow's re-match with Matt DeSalvo may portend even greater feelings ahead. PLU Tim said it best in the game thread: for the first time since 2003, this team officially does NOT suck. It's faint praise, but I'm running with it. In the AL West, not sucking might be all the qualification we need to keep playing into October.