It probably sounds stupid to anyone who didn't watch the game, but this is the happiest I've felt as a Mariner fan in a long long time. Nevermind snapping the streak or winning a blowout; the sheer improbability of the whole thing is enough to make it one of the most thoroughly satisfying experiences of the year. Unless you're one of those people who considers any season that doesn't end with a championship a failure, this is what watching baseball is all about, and this is why sabermetrics will never pose the threat to the game's integrity that so many throwback traditionalists think it will. On any given day, the events that take place on the field are almost entirely unpredictable. It's possible to be a geek and a fan at the same time, and if anything, knowledge of the numbers only made today more incredible. Felix in Boston was cool, but this? This came out of nowhere. And it rocked.
Biggest Contribution: JEFF WEAVER +24.6% HALLELUJAH
Biggest Suckfest: Jose Vidro, -3.6%
Most Important At Bat: Beltre single, +9.0%
Most Important Pitch: Wilson single, -4.1%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +24.6%
Total Contribution by Position Players: +19.3%
Total Contribution by Opposition: +6.1%
Forget about the course of the game. The Mariners scored, the Pirates didn't, and in the end the streak was over. There was nothing extraordinary about any of the individual innings - with a more average pitching performance, this win would just blend in with the other 35, and we wouldn't be able to remember anything special about it two weeks from now.
No, instead I just want to talk a little bit about Jeff Weaver, and the way in which he won us all over, if only for a night. After all, there's a reason I feel so good after what would've otherwise just been a regular win.
Back in 1992, when I started liking sports, I realized that I needed to find a hockey team to root for (I had the other three major sports covered). And so it was that I opened the sports section of the newspaper, glanced at the NHL standings, saw Ottawa at the bottom, and felt bad for them. I didn't realize it was their expansion year; I thought they just sucked, and I wanted to see them through their hard times. The attachment stuck, and to this day I'm one of the two or three biggest Ottawa Senators fans I know.
You can probably see where I'm going with this. This season's Jeff Weaver reminded me of some of those early Ottawa teams, struggling real bad to succeed even though neither could be accused of giving less than 100%. Weaver, like those early Sens, just didn't appear to have the talent to compete on a regular basis, and at times you wondered if they were ever going to improve. Maybe I'm just speaking for myself, here, but even when Weaver hit rock-bottom I was never so much angry with him as I was frustrated and disappointed. I mean, hell, for one thing, it's not like he was costing us games; until today the Mariners had only scored 23 runs in his eight starts. Even a bonafide ace would've had trouble keeping us close. And for another, Weaver just looked shell-shocked and crestfallen the whole time, like he couldn't believe what was happening himself. I know I have a weird thing for pitchers, but I always feel sympathy when a decent guy falls off the edge and stops getting outs, a sympathy I'll never have for deteriorating position players like Jose Vidro. I know how cold and isolating it is when you're standing on the mound and nothing's working, so I always like to see pitchers rally and come back with a bang. Unless they're Matt Thornton. Then they deserve to suffer.
I should probably take this opportunity to say that, yeah, I hated Joel Pineiro, and yeah, Jeff Weaver's been worse. So why don't I hate Jeff Weaver? Two reasons - for one, to my knowledge he never took illegal substances to get an edge, and two, he hasn't had Pineiro's bad attitude. Yeah, he's gotten pissed off in the dugout after lousy starts, but that isn't the same as being a dick. Jeff Weaver earned his sympathy, and Joel Pineiro earned his fiery hatred.
Anyway, as much I joked about Weaver's "injury" after the start in Detroit, and as much as I wanted Feierabend to assume his permanent rotation spot for the good of the team, I was honestly curious to see how Weaver would come back, and I found myself pulling for him. He didn't look too different, but the results were better, and I found myself visibly upset when he had to come out after four against the Padres. He'd finally found something of a groove and still he couldn't last long enough to qualify for a win. His next time out he put up a 'quality start,' but again it wasn't enough to get him that elusive first W, and as much as we downplay the importance of wins for individual pitchers, you better believe they mean something to the players themselves. The year after winning the clinching game in the World Series, Weaver was 0-6 in the middle of June. It must've been absolutely killing him, and not even the most cold-hearted of Mariner fans could root for continued failure without at least a twinge of remorse. As long as Hargrove was going to keep running Weaver out to the mound, he deserved our support.
That brought us to tonight. The Pirates may not seem like much of an adversary, but given some of the teams against which Weaver has struggled so far, you couldn't concern yourself with that kind of detail. By this point in the season, a win against Pittsburgh feels the same as a win against Cleveland to a guy who's 0-6. We all just wanted Weaver to go out there, throw strikes, avoid the barrel of the bat, get lucky on a few balls in play, and last long enough for the offense to give him a lead. Nothing spectacular. An ugly win counts the same as any other, and we all knew that Weaver would give anything to get that monkey off his back.
And that's when Jeff Weaver took control.
I don't care how much of it was repeatable. Weaver's breaking balls looked a little sharper, but that's just a subjective observation that's meaningless without any data. His fastball certainly didn't seem to have any extra giddy-up. In other words, his stuff appeared pretty similar to the stuff he's been flaunting all year, only this time Weaver was using it to pound the strike zone and get people out. More than that, he was actually cruising, getting quick out after quick out without so much as allowing a line drive. For the first time all season long, Jeff Weaver looked like a Major League pitcher.
I think with every passing inning we kept waiting for him to blow up like he had so many times before, but the implosion just never came, and meanwhile the Mariner lineup was smacking Maholm around and giving Weaver a sizable lead. Around the sixth inning or so was when we started to realize what was happening, and by then even the people who'd been rooting for Weaver to fail conceded that it wouldn't happen and switched back over.
Weaver seemed to be getting better as the game went on, striking out five batters between the fifth and the eighth after failing to whiff a single one through the first four frames. I don't know what it was, but I like to think that Weaver was gaining confidence, and that as he realized he was closing in on win #1, he became absolutely determined to seal the deal with a flourish. I like to think that the comfortable lead and newfound success gave him an emotional lift that helped him feed off adrenaline and elevate his game long after his stamina needle reached empty. I don't know if any of this is even the slightest bit true, but when all you get are the external results, it's fun to think about what might be going on inside a guy's head, and this story line I found particularly appealing.
After stranding a runner on second base in the top of the eighth, Weaver walked off the mound to a standing ovation and rousing applause - a distinct change from his usual reception. He stepped down into the dugout, sat on the bench, and for seemingly the first time all year long, he kept his chin up and his face out of his hands.
There's no frustration. No anger. No gloom. Weaver just looked focused and confident, with the slightest hint of a smile. I feel dumb talking about this since interpretation of that screenshot is entirely in the eye of the beholder, but it's just such a change from how Weaver's looked in the dugout when we've seen him before. This is a man on the verge of incomparable relief.
Weaver walked to the mound for the ninth, and although he got into a bit of a jam, Hargrove wanted him to finish the game badly enough to leave him in. And as it had to happen, tonight anyway, Weaver came through, getting Adam LaRoche to pop out and Jason Bay to hit a flare to Betancourt for the final out. As Yuni charged in with the ball in his glove, I kind of sat here dumbfounded for a few seconds, but as I watched Jeff Weaver approach Kenji Johjima and smile his broadest smile in months, I couldn't help but beam as well, smiling and laughing along with Weaver as he enjoyed himself for the first time all season. You know how great it feels to watch somebody's face when they're opening a present? This was that times a thousand.
When Felix dominated the Red Sox in Matsuzaka's home debut, I felt good for the Mariners, and I felt good for me. Tonight, I felt good for Jeff Weaver. And you know what? It was every bit as rewarding. Way to go, Jeff. You deserved it.
Felix tomorrow. I don't know how he's going to top this, but no self-respecting pitcher lets himself get shown up by Jeff freaking Weaver, right?