Rangers: You take it.
Mariners: You take it.
Rangers: You take it.
Mariners: No, you take it.
Rangers: I'm fine, really, you take it.
Mariners: No, by all means, you take it.
Rangers: That'd be rude. You take it.
Mariner: No no no, you barely have any. You take it.
Rangers: We don't deserve it, you guys should take it.
Mariners: Seriously, it's cool, you guys need it more. You take it.
Rangers: It's your place, I really wouldn't feel comfortable taking it. You take it.
Mariners: Really, it's all yours. You take it.
Rangers: Okay, fine, we'll take it.
Mariners: No wait give it
Mariners: give it
Biggest Contribution: Richie Sexson, +29.5%
Biggest Suckfest: Jose Lopez, -31.5%
Most Important At Bat: Sexson funk blast, +24.2%
Most Important Pitch: Diaz double, -23.2%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -43.7%
Total Contribution by Position Players: -29.9%
Total Contribution by Opposition: +23.6%
Any game, regardless of context, can pull you in from being a casual observer to an overzealous die-hard. Even a game between a roughly .500 Mariner ballclub and the worst team in baseball. All it needs is a little action and a handful of unusual plays, and all of a sudden you've become emotionally invested in something that you thought you'd watch through drooping eyelids. Some games need a little more help than others, but the potential's always there, even in the dullest of circumstances.
Suffice it to say that this one was a furious rollercoaster, and everyone had tickets. The lead-up seemed innocent enough, with two '05/'06 free agent pitchers matching up in a showdown that no one outside the division cared about; there wasn't any real indication that we'd be in for the wildest game of the season. I mean, we figured we'd score some runs off Millwood, but Washburn's been so consistently effective and boring so far that this one had all the makings of a 6-2 drubbing. Something to watch, but nothing to remember.
Certainly, nothing that happened in the first changed anyone's mind. Washburn continued avoiding damage by inducing Mark Teixeira into a double play with two men on, and in the bottom half, after Ichiro wasted no time in shattering the last thing Joey Cora had left to live for, the Mariners smallballed him around the bases to take a quick 1-0 lead. It was nothing phenomenal, but it didn't have to be - if the Rangers were a .352 team overall, then they'd be even worse when trailing after one. With ten minutes gone, the game had already begun to feel comfortable.
Then that's when crazy shit started happening. Jarrod Washburn, for reasons unbeknownst to me, didn't have anything tonight, pitching below typical velocity and badly struggling to spot his secondary pitches for his life. After loading the bases with nobody out, he dug deep to conjure up that convenient magic fairy of his to try and strand some more baserunners, and it almost worked, as Gerald Laird's fat ass popped out and Matt Kata hit a bouncer to third for a force play at home. Only, whoops! The normally sure-handed Adrian Beltre fumbled the ball and stepped on third instead, allowing the tying run to score in kicking off one of the less memorable days of Beltre's Mariner career. The inning would end without any more damage being done, but as it happens, whenever Beltre screws up a routine grounder the Earth's dipole reverses and everybody loses control of everything. In other words, if you're watching a game and Beltre makes an error, you probably shouldn't assume that everything'll be normal and go to bed with the doors unlocked. Beltre miscues make a lot of bad things happen to a lot of different people.
After the Mariners lineup attempted its strategy of putting the other team to sleep by falling asleep, Washburn went right back out there for the third and this time wasn't so lucky. For the third consecutive inning he let the first two batters reach base (and for the second consecutive inning they both stood in scoring position), but after Sammy Sosa tapped out back to the mound, Washburn finally ran out of fairy juice and fell apart, allowing three Rangers to score in maybe his worst inning of the season. Suddenly there was growing concern, as the Mariners trailed 4-1, Washburn looked like crap, and the tattered remains of Sean White's self-confidence were throwing in the bullpen. Sean White sucks at everything, so this was no time to be encouraged. The M's were in trouble.
Here's the good thing about facing bad pitchers - provided they're not named DeSalvo, they can erase your bad vibes in a hurry. With men on second and third and two out, Millwood hit Jose Guillen in the elbow, and while it initially seemed like bad news with Ibanez standing on deck, the platoon advantage was substantial, and Ibanez came through with a two-run single into right. Since it was a slow roller, I don't know how much of that was Ibanez and how much was Ian Kinsler having the lateral mobility of a desk, but as was proven time and time again throughout this game, there's no problem with taking advantage of another guy's lousy defense. Richie Sexson followed with a grounder up the middle, and while Michael Young took a threatening step in its direction, he then faked a glove stab and turned with a smile to face his own dugout, which was laughing at his joke. In the blink of an eye the game was tied, and the Mariners had once again firmly secured all of the momentum.
Then Washburn gave it right back again, with a little help from the gloves. With a man on second and one out, Ramon Vazquez hit a routine grounder to Jose Lopez to advance the runner to third. Only, whoops! Lopez couldn't make the easy play, and instead of a man on third with two down, there were men on the corners with one, and Sosa came up next to deliver a sac fly to put the Rangers back in the lead. Washburn would then go ahead and load the bases again in what would become a running theme before departing earlier than ever before in a Seattle uniform. In came Sean White, who accidentally threw a strike to end the inning without making anything worse.
And right back came the Mariners. In another one of those crazy plays that ramps up your emotional investment (even though it's not all that unusual), Michael Young came up with a Beltre grounder and uncorked an awful throw to let the runner reach. The miscue facilitated a rally, and after Ichiro's single into center knotted things up, Guillen faceraped another error in judgment on Millwood's part and sent a deflowered two-run liner into left. It was 7-5 M's, and even though the game was taking forever to progress, you had to feel pretty good about our chances in a slugfest, given the way this lineup's been hitting over the past few weeks.
Enter Sean White, buzzkill to the stars. The following is a list of White's statistics entering the day, with the league average in parentheses:
Strikes: 54% (62%)
Contact: 85% (80%)
Strikes In Play: 37% (31%)
K/game: 3.7 (6.3)
BB/game: 4.8 (3.4)
FIP: 4.83 (4.41)
xFIP: 6.64 (~4.41)
Awful. White has managed to not be one of the worst pitchers in baseball this year in exactly two categories - grounders and home runs allowed. The former we already knew about, and it was kind of his biggest selling point coming into the season, but his groundball rate is still markedly worse than it was in the minors, which is bad. And the latter, I figure, is a case of both good luck and White taking the valiant approach that "you can't take me deep if I don't throw a strike." Which, while technically true, kind of gets him in a lot more trouble that can take a while to resolve itself when the pitcher steadfastly refuses to put a ball over the plate.
In the top of the fifth, Sean White lost it, in every sense of the word. A walk, a balk, a hit batsman, an errant throw to first on a bunt, a wild pitch, a walk - the Rangers scored two runs in the inning on one "hit" that should've been an error on the pitcher (and a grounder to short that should've been a double play, only, whoops! Betancourt made a bad throw to Lopez, preventing a throw to first). White kept throwing and White kept missing, and while he finally managed to escape on a groundball and keep it a tie game, he couldn't avoid the boos from fans who hadn't already shot themselves dead or the prying eyes of the coaching staff in the dugout, who looked at White with the kind of sheepish regret that's usually only seen in frathouse bedrooms. Not only had the flow of the game been irreversibly interrupted, but the lead was gone as well. Disaster. Imagine Matt Thornton, and turn all the extra-base hits into walks. That's how bad it is to watch this guy go to work.
The Mariners tried to make their own momentum by staging another rally in the bottom of the fifth. Sexson led off with a single, and was advanced to second by a Johjima groundball to third. Only, whoops! Vazquez's attempt to backhand the ball resulted in calamity, and everyone was safe. Two batters later, Jose Lopez came up with the bases loaded and one out and, faster than you can say "two-run single!", grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. If that doesn't seem to mesh with the rest of the paragraph, yeah, you're right, just like the double play didn't seem to mesh with the rest of the inning. I've found that oftentimes you can feel when a big hit's about to be delivered, and this certainly felt like one of those times. Alas, if the Texas infield is able to convert a groundball into a double play, then you know that must've been one hell of an easy grounder. Lopez, like Johjima on Tuesday, did the absolute worst thing possible, and everyone suffered. The nutshots, unfortunately, were only beginning.
While Mrs. White's mother called her attorney and tried to emancipate herself from her son, Sean went back out to the mound in the sixth and picked up where he left off, allowing a single and walking Ian Kinsler before mercifully being removed by John McLaren, who'd taken over after Mike Hargrove lost interest and left for Cleveland an inning before. White's final stat of the day - 21 strikes on 45 pitches, dragging him down to 52.9% on the season. My challenge to you is to find another pitcher with at least 20 innings and a worse strike rate than White's, because my initial feeling is that he's been historically bad. All spring long we heard that he was going to crack the roster because he had a surprisingly good fastball, but either (A) he doesn't trust it against big league bats, so he nibbles too much, or (B) he's trying his hardest but just can't control it for shit, which kind of renders the pitch worthless. The kid isn't exactly Brandon Morrow. He's not Joel Pineiro rage-inducingly bad; he's Jeff Karstens perplexingly bad, where you watch him with both contempt for his awfulness and admiration for having slipped through so many cracks and making it so far despite being overpoweringly underqualified. I don't hate Sean White - I'm amazed by him.
Eric O'Flaherty entered the game with the crazy idea of throwing strikes, and after he set down his side in order (working around what should've been a Matt Kata double play, only, whoops! Jose Lopez dropped the ball on the transfer), and the Texas bullpen did the same in the bottom half, it looked like we might be settling in for a more normal and standard conclusion to what had to that point been a wild and disgustingly-played baseball game. O'Flaherty retired the first two guys he faced in the seventh as well, and even after letting up and allowing a single to Sosa, you had to feel good about his chances against the .268-OBP'ing Victor Diaz, who promptly went the other way with a tailing liner that bounced off the wall and scored Sosa from first. There are a lot of different ways for a pitcher to suck, and with that double, we'd pretty much seen all of them in one seven-inning window. Marlon Byrd hit a soft comebacker for the third out, but now the onus was on the lineup to score more runs than they thought they'd have to.
Thus began what should've been the most rewarding and satisfying sequence of the season. After Raul Ibanez flew out to lead off, I mean. Joaquin Benoit was called in from the bullpen and immediately served up a funk blast to Richie Sexson, his third in six games and exactly what we needed to get the fans and dugout re-energized. Johjima followed that with a single that he just destroyed into center field, and the place was abuzz. Up came Adrian Beltre, who wasted no time in sending a fastball over the plate into deep, deep straightaway center. We felt it. The fans felt it. Dave Sims felt it. Adrian Beltre had just hit one of the better-timed home runs of his AL career, giving the Mariners a two-run lead where just minutes earlier they'd trailed by one. With a surprising 34,000+ in attendance, the entire stadium was ready to erupt, just waiting for the ball to come down on the other side of the fence.
Which it did.
In Kenny Lofton's glove.
The Civil War survivor and proud great-grandfather of seven landed back on his feet and threw to first in time to double up a stunned and glacial Kenji Johjima, ending the inning and preserving the tie while everyone watching tried to make sense of what they'd just seen. What was supposed to be maybe the most spectacular home run of the season for the Mariners turned into the complete and utter opposite of that, a 410-foot double play that took the care to equip all of us with an additional three nutsacks just so it could kick us in the balls four times. Lofton sprinted back to the dugout with a childish grin that belied his incalculable age, and the Mariners took the field without getting so much as a time out to collect their bearings. The Win Expectancy swing of that play (double play <-----> two-run homer) was 38.8%, and when you feel like you've just hit the eventual winning home run, it's pretty hard to go back out still tied, knowing that, for all the effort and excitement, you'd made no progress. A stolen homer leaves a lineup wondering "what more can we do?" more than anything else that can happen on the field. It's incredibly unpleasant, and I'd be happy never seeing something like that happen again in my life.
The Rangers put a couple guys on base against Sean Green in the eighth (a double by Ian Kinsler put the finishing touches on Beltre's horrible night, as he sprained his right thumb while diving and had to be replaced), and not even George Sherrill could put out the fire - Kenny Lofton was able to drive in the go-ahead run with a sac fly to center in a bit of evidence that there was no shortage of entities, both real and intangible, giving us the finger tonight. While the run had officially put Texas on top, though, I think a lot of us felt the game was doomed when Lofton made that catch. Even in a tie, there's no better indication that things just aren't going to go your way than losing two should-be automatic runs because a 93 year old man wanted to get closer to the beer garden. The ninth run just sealed the deal. The Mariners went 1-2-3 in the bottom half, as Ichiro's gallant effort to tie it again with his power swing fell 20 feet short.
The ninth inning looked like a disaster in the making when Sherrill and Jason Davis worked together to load the bases with one out, and especially after Kenji Johjima took a foul ball to the naughty bits, but then Davis channeled that tucked-away spirit in his brain that makes him throw strikes sometimes and managed to get out without allowing any insurance. A ton of credit goes to Johjima for making a terrific pick on a Jose Lopez short-hop to home on a force play for the second out. Another bad throw there could've killed any chance of a rally, but Kenji summoned the fortitude of a thousand men and made a great defensive play while most of us were still recovering from the horrifying nutshot visual. If that isn't a feat of inhuman strength and determination, I don't know what is.
The escape gave the Mariners a little momentum heading into their final at bat, and a leadoff walk for Jose Vidro breathed life into a crowd that was still apologizing to the people one row in front for hitting them with their jaws as they fell to the ground. This, though, turned out to be the final cockpunch, as the following three at bats were as bad as any we've seen all year. Ben Broussard (in for Jose Guillen, hurt by the beanball to his elbow) watched strike three go by over the middle of the plate, Raul Ibanez rolled into what would've been a game-ending 4-6-3 had he made better contact, and Richie Sexson struck out on six pitches even though I don't think a single one was a strike. After investing the better part of four hours in this game, we were left feeling varying blends of angry, helpless, and lost. A win - a big win - was literally stolen from us by a guy whose career highlights reside entirely in the previous decade.
No amount of reflection or rationalization is going to make this feel any better, so all we can do is move on and hope that Miguel Batista throws the game of his life tomorrow, because the bullpen's in pretty rotten shape right now. Kameron Loe isn't very good, but then neither is Kevin Millwood, and we all know what happened today. Maybe a 6-2 drubbing wouldn't be so bad after all.