I defy you to think of a moment over the past six years or so when you shouted any louder in Mariner-related celebration. This was as gripping a finish to an incredible game as any we've had in a long long time. That may sound a little pathetic to a few of you, but chances are the only people who would say such a thing are Sox fans, and hey, you lost the series, so go away and never come back. What's that? Tomorrow? No, there's no game tomorrow. We swept your asses. Now leave.
Biggest Contribution: JJ Putz, +26.1%
Biggest Suckfest: Felix Hernandez, -22.5%
Most Important At Bat: Sexson funk blast, +26.2%
Most Important Pitch: Lowell triple, -25.1%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): -10.5%
Total Contribution by Position Players: +58.4%%
Total Contribution by Opposition: +2.1%
After winning the wild card game of the series yesterday (based on the pitching matchups, anyway), it would've been easy to look past tonight's apparent mismatch and start entertaining wishful ideas of a sweep. We've seen the Kason Gabbard show before, and it sucked, and with Felix coming off eight shutout innings over the Pirates, this looked on the surface like one of the rare times when a game featuring the Red Sox gave the initial edge to their opponent. Such opportunities seldom present themselves, and you need to take advantage when you get the chance.
The trouble is, dig a little deeper and Felix isn't nearly as comforting as you'd think. After everything we've been through since his DL visit I probably don't need to tell you guys any of this, but as we talked about after the Pittsburgh game, this Felix isn't the guy we fell in love with - no, he's an average starter who kills any chance he has of being any better than that by taking "pitching stupid" to whole new levels. He's currently a guy with worse stuff than he used to have and still no idea how to use it, so putting him up against a legitimate lineup instead of the cute little Pirates posed a bigger challenge than many of us wanted to admit. We still had the advantage, but it wasn't the sure thing it would've been two months ago. Instead of convincing the Red Sox not to bother, tonight would have to be decided on the playing field after all.
The game got off to a godawful start, but thanks to a network bug on MLB.tv's end I wasn't able to get video footage until the end of the first inning. Which, as it turns out, might've been working in my favor, because Felix was doing his usual thing, and the batters were making him pay for it. According to Gameday he just came in pumping fastball after fastball, and sure enough before too long he'd allowed the first four batters to reach base and put his team behind by a run, with the potential for much much more. Then he suddenly broke out the offspeed stuff and got a strikeout and double play to end the frame without any more damage. Imagine that.
Personally, I think I might as well just stop complaining about his pitch selection, because all it does is drive me up the wall, and if Felix and the coaching staff can't see the mountains of evidence before their eyes that they've adopted a shitty strategy, nothing some idiot writes on the Internet is going to change anyone's mind. Dave knows it's a bad approach. I know it's a bad approach. Mike Blowers and Dave Sims know it's a bad approach. 98% of you guys know it's a bad approach. ...but the Mariners don't know it's a bad approach. This is no longer a matter of people having different philosophies and different ideas of how to get batters out - this is a matter of the Mariners, and Felix, being complete retards. There is absolutely no defending the way he comes out throwing in the first inning, and yet he does it in every single game, because he's trying to accomplish a goal that's entirely unnecessary for him to succeed. Would it help if Felix had good command of his fastball? Yeah, it would, but he doesn't, so it's beyond the time to stop unsuccessfully forcing it. Electrify the area around a pellet of food and within a minute or two a mouse will stop trying to get it. Felix hasn't learned in a year and a half. He keeps going back there every five days because he's convinced that the pellet of food is the answer to all of his problems. The much more easily accessible pellets on the other side of the cage, meanwhile, just aren't as good.
Seeing Gameday report Lowell's double play came as a huge relief, because generally speaking second-inning-and-onward Felix is Decent Felix, and we still hadn't taken our first inning hacks against Kason Gabbard. And, as it turns out, we never really got to, because that sorry soft-throwing son of a bitch walked the world and painted the Gameday window like a Georges Seurat. The only consistency in his stuff was that everything missed and his fastball topped out around 87. Gabbard got himself into a heap of trouble and did Kyle Snyder one better by not only walking in a pair of runs, but driving in another with a beanball. Just when it seemed like we might be able to be the Royals to Gabbard's Jeff Weaver, though, my MLB.tv loaded properly just in time for me to see Betancourt ground into a routine 6-4-3. The Mariners still had a 3-1 lead, but against a team like Boston you really can't afford to leave guys on third base. Were I the manager of the team and given the gift of reliable foresight, I'd be calling for squeeze plays left and right like a crazy idiot.
Good Felix reared his sexy head in the second, and when Willie Ballgame led off the bottom half with a bomb to left field, I was so simultaneously confident and ecstatic that I burst out laughing. Not in the way that you kids say your lol's, either, where you imply laughter without actually doing it - I mean I flat-out lost my shit, and don't even remember watching the next two guys single because I was too busy coming up with new and exciting ways of saying that Kason Gabbard has the pitching ability of a talking head in a jar. Does Willie see Gabbard as the new Barry Zito? They certainly have the same lousy fastball. It's nice to be reminded that Willie can do this every now and again, and it's especially nice that he's hitting for a little power just months after that ST interview where he said he was going to slow down his swing on purpose. Filthy liar.
With those two singles, the Mariners had Gabbard right back on the ropes in the second. Unfortunately Lopez's knock brought up our dreaded DH, who has to be one of the most demoralizing #3 hitters in the history of baseball. Vidro's a guy for whom even just hitting his weight would merit serious Hall of Fame consideration, but instead he's sitting at a paltry .295. I'd say he's collecting singles and double plays like they're going out of style, but as Homer taught us when he deliberately gained weight to become eligible for disability, nothing's ever out of style for fat people, so instead I'll say he's collecting singles and double plays like they're the last seasonal Hostess cupcakes for a passing Christmas. Here, he rolled another 6-4-3 ball to short, and Sexson followed that stirring display by swinging through a high school changeup on the outer half. Again, the Mariners had dealt Gabbard some damage, but again, they let him get off the hook looking better than he should've. As cool as it was to be leading, you couldn't help but worry that later on these missed opportunities would come back to bite us.
And they did, starting in the third. Sloppy defense by the Mariners let the Sox chop a run off the deficit, as Crisp hit a grounder through Sexson and Ortiz hit a dying liner right into the shift that somehow eluded Jose Lopez. The announcers speculated that Lopez was unfamiliar with how the ball bounces off the grass instead of the dirt, and they may be right, but either way that's a ball that has to be stopped. A seeing-eye single by Kevin Youkilis then made it a 4-2 ballgame, even though were the inning to be replayed in the exact same fashion, it probably would've been over by then. Soon thereafter Lopez made up for his gaffe with an absolutely incredible diving catch on a Lowell blast up the middle that threatened to score another, but still, the run shouldn't have scored. Sometimes this defense really pisses me off.
As the Mariners flailed away and let Manny Delcarmen make them his bitch in the fourth, the Sox kept chipping away at Felix and came back to tie it in the fifth on a Mike Lowell triple that came a few feet away from leaving the yard. Felix got Varitek looking to end it, but yet again the rally was his own damn fault, as Lowell had jumped on that mysterious nightmare offspeed pitch up in the zone that Terrmel Sledge made famous a few weeks ago. The good news is that it wasn't a fastball, but the bad news is that it wasn't a good pitch. The whole idea of getting Felix to mix things up is centered around the fact that his other stuff is better. If he throws more junk like this, though, then fuck all, he's boned either way.
Thanks to the Blowers rally fries, the Mariners came right back, mounting another one of their patented one-out rallies with the big hit coming on a Willie Ballgame run-scoring single up the middle. A sac fly later and the two-run lead was restored, which boded well for our likelihood of avoiding Okajima/Papelbon in a tight situation later on. Seriously, Willie's been nothing short of a godsend lately, putting up an .890 OPS in June and launching his WPA skyward. He's still the same strikeout machine he's been this year for whatever reason, but who cares? The old Willie sucked, so I, for one, welcome any change, because it couldn't possibly make him any worse. If Willie wants to swing from his brittle little heels, and the result is that he occasionally puts up these kinds of months, then by all means, go to town.
Unfortunately the two-run lead instantly became a one-run lead as Eric Hinske yanked a Felix fastball off the face of the upper deck to lead off the sixth. Alex Cora followed with a liner into right in pursuit of which Jose Guillen took the most peculiar of routes, backpedaling and swaying back and forth with his glove in the air like a four year old you're teaching to play catch for the first time in his life. Cora would eventually get to third and tie things up on a single by David Ortiz off of Eric O'Flaherty. As much as it sucks to see EOF losing the lead, though, he didn't make a bad pitch - Ortiz just went out and dropped a low-away fastball into shallow left field. Ortiz is one of the best hitters in baseball and has the plate coverage of Brandon Morrow's fastball distribution. Even the best strategies executed to perfection may be prone to failure, so I don't blame O'Flaherty for what happened. If anything, Felix shouldn't have gotten into that situation to begin with.
Knotted back up, we went to the bottom of the sixth, and Terry Francona called on...Javier Lopez?...to keep the M's at bay. Now, I'm not real up on the Boston bullpen situation, but I can't imagine that a sidearming lefty with a typically wild platoon split was the best available option to face the seven consecutive righties due up at the plate. Lopez predictably got himself into trouble and gave Richie Sexson that low fastball that he loves to take deep the other way. Sexson complied, drilling his eighth homer of the month to yet again re-establish the two-run lead. And this one felt safer than the last - so close to the end, we needed only to bridge one inning before handing the ball over to Sherrill and JJ to slam the door. It was an enormously important home run, and I don't care that half of the responsibility falls on Francona for making a stupid decision. It's about time someone made a guy pay for a bad mistake.
As uneasy as we were to see Brandon Morrow make a seventh inning appearance, it went remarkably well, as he struck out the first two guys he faced and worked around a base hit to preserve the lead without testing anyone's health. His velocity isn't all the way back, but it was better, and so was his command. Fluke? Maybe. But a positive sign nonetheless.
The bad news is that Hargrove then thought it a good idea to leave Morrow out there to start the eighth. Recently Familiar Morrow decided to come out and play, losing Crisp to a walk after getting ahead 0-2 and then allowing the obnoxiously annoying Dustin Pedroia to drop a Texas leaguer just inside the RF line to put men on the corners with nobody out. The single was just bad luck - and something tells me Pedroia hits a lot of those, because he seems the type - but the walk was Morrow's own fault, and he departed with a much more sour taste in his mouth than he would've had his day ended after the seventh like it should've.
Fortunately, we've been blessed with both the best lefty setup man and the best closer in all of baseball (I'm not exaggerating). David Ortiz standing at the plate as the go-ahead run? No problem - Sherrill mowed him down without breaking a sweat. Against the guys that I consider the top left-handed batters in the league - Ortiz, Hafner, Giambi, Mauer, and Morneau - Sherrill's got a .111 BAA with 15 strikeouts in 27 at bats. There is no pitcher I'd rather have on the mound with a lefty at the plate, and I imagine George Steinbrenner spends long nights by the fireplace deep in covetous thought before Mike Myers interrupts him with a phone call because he had a bad dream about Ortiz and wet his bed.
Of course, Ortiz was just the first out of the inning, but with a righty on deck Mike Hargrove made the call to go to JJ Putz for a five-out save. To some it may seem excessive, but this was absolutely the right decision - the game would be decided here in the eighth, and Hargrove didn't want to leave it up to anyone but the best reliever in the league. Putz allowed a sac fly for the second out, but that run was meaningless, and a weak roller to first by JD Drew sent us to the bottom half with the M's still ahead 8-7.
Although Jose Guillen got a few hearts racing with a deep fly off Okajima, the ballpark held it, and by and large the lineup did little to help us relax for a second in anticipation of the ninth. JJ then came out and made a few people worried when he fell behind Mike Lowell 3-1, but he was able to regroup and send Lowell trudging back to the dugout with an admittedly generous called third strike at the letters. I guess that's when JJ really turned it on, because the next two at bats showed JJ at his best. He flashed that unhittable split and making Varitek climb the ladder for a second strikeout, bringing Manny Ramirez to the plate as a pinch-hitter with the game on the line.
First pitch: splitter. It was a great call; Manny was looking to jump on a heater and cocked the bat, but couldn't pull the trigger as he was taken by surprise. For some reason this prompted Mike Blowers to remind JJ to "be careful," because "Joey Cora's on deck," whatever the hell that means. Blowers corrected the name but didn't take care to explain his point, presumably because he wanted to forget all about it as quickly as we did. 0-1.
Second pitch: splitter. Great location at the low-away corner, forcing Manny to foul it off because he couldn't do anything with it. I can't imagine there's any worse situation for an opposing batter than falling behind JJ Putz on a pair of splitters. 0-2.
Third pitch: high fastball. Swing and a miss.
The Barry Bonds at bat last year was amazing, but this one had bigger implications and came at the end of a much wilder ride. I can't remember the last time I was watching a baseball game and shouted so loud. JJ wrapped up his 24th save in a row, and the Mariners celebrated their seventh consecutive home win over the Red Sox. It took everything they had, but they got the job done, and even though there's not much left in the bullpen tomorrow, Thursday's an off day, so I'm sure there'll be a few guys out there willing to give it one more go should the game stay close into the later innings.
Feierabend, Matsuzaka, 1:35pm. Yeah, we're at a disadvantage, but you know what? When you're already taken the first two of a series, sometimes you can feed off the excitement and momentum and win a game or two you didn't expect. Seven in a row? Make it eight. The only thing better than a series win is a series sweep.