And on the one-year anniversary of the Mike Reilly debacle in New York - in a game that Reilly was umping from first base, no less - there would be no recurrence. For the Orioles have no answer for Red, Chad Bradford throwing the requisite number of obvious balls to walk Adrian Beltre, or the greatest closer in baseball. God bless them, they tried to make things interesting, but when you miss by as much as Bradford did on the crucial pitch, you just don't deserve to come out on top, no matter what preceded the at bat in question.
As the Mariners pissed away their lead I found myself asking why it seems like we can't ever win comfortably to no one in particular. Like Jack Riley taught his little Hawks in The Mighty Ducks, it's not worth winning if you don't win big(!), and this team could badly use a blowout or three. But at this point, I suppose it's just silly to complain about anything that gets you a bump in the win column. Do the what and let the front office worry about the how. On the one hand I could be a lot more encouraged by the way this team is playing, but on the other this is as close as they've been to the Angels since May 15th, so they must be doing something right. Just win. As we all know by now, it doesn't have to be pretty. Win ugly if that's all you can manage; you'll be surprised how far you can go.
Biggest Contribution: Adrian Beltre, +36.9%
Biggest Suckfest: Mr. Mariner, -14.3%
Most Important At Bat: Beltre walk, +24.7%
Most Important Pitch: Payton double, -11.8%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +28.3%
Total Contribution by Position Players: +11.8%
Total Contribution by Opposition: +9.9%
People who've been reading this website for at least eight hours or so know how skeptical I was of our chances of hitting Daniel Cabrera tonight. Don't get me wrong, anything's better than having to face the best starting pitcher in baseball, but Cabrera didn't seem like much of a respite. Easily one of the wildest pitchers in the league, he packs the perfect combination of velocity, movement, and godawful control to teach this lineup a lesson in humility. Honestly, off the top of my head I can't think of another starter I'd want this team to see any less.
The good news was that I also didn't expect the Orioles to do much to Jarrod Washburn, so in the end we probably wouldn't need too much of an outburst to pick up a win. If they couldn't muster up any kind of offense against Ho Ramirez, they were thusly unlikely to tee off on a lefty with an inconceivably greater amount of talent. It's not often you'll see me say that Jarrod is demonstrably better than someone, but compared to Ho he's like a mix of Warren Spahn and Powerthirst, so I felt about as comfortable with our chances of winning as possible for a man expecting his team to score once.
The first inning could not have followed the projected script any better. The Orioles surrounded a single with three basic outs and the Mariners let Cabrera off the hook despite an even stronger bout of wildness than usual. Cabrera threw 21 pitches in the first. According to Gameday, 16 of them were balls, but the box score'll show 12 strikes, because the Mariners couldn't help themselves. Ichiro lined out on a fastball low and away. Jose Guillen hit a weak roller that went for an infield single on a fastball inside. Adrian Beltre struck out on a fastball in on his hands. Jose Vidro drew a walk, thank God, and Ben Broussard at least made his out on a full count strike, but this inning was exactly what I was worried about. Cabrera sucked and the Mariners didn't make him pay for it. Forget the walk; this inning was still characterized by lousy discipline, with predictably bad results.
The top of the second saw Jay Payton pull a home run out of nowhere on a 1-2 pitch at the letters. As home runs go, this was about as unimpressive as they get, and two minutes later I don't think anybody even remembered it happening. It was just a line drive that carried farther than anyone thought it would, and instead of thinking "man that ball was crushed" as we ordinarily do after a longball, instead we thought "well that was unusual" and moved right along. It was the home run that defied the left-center power alley. Ask Adrian Beltre; balls that leave that part of the park are supposed to be destroyed. This one wasn't, but it still got out. I think the reason nobody made too big of a deal out of it was that even as it cleared the fence we still considered it a double in the gap (and surely one that "Adam Jones would've caught!").
Down 1-0, weird things started to happen in the bottom of the second - the Mariners let Cabrera get himself in trouble. He admittedly got a little unlucky against Sexson to lead off, as he had two strikes in the zone called balls, but the Johjima walk was justified, with six of his eight pitches missing the plate. A slumping Jose Lopez then came to the plate and, surely encouraged by Ichiro's positive remarks concerning his bunt attempt the other day, laid down a sacrifice to advance two runners into scoring position. It looked like a bad idea at the time with one of the most prolific pop-up hitters in team history on deck, and sure enough Betancourt popped the first pitch up into shallow left-center, but this one found some room between Payton and Gomez to drop for a tying base hit. I was half-expecting Brian Roberts to come flying out of nowhere to make a diving catch just to fuck with us some more, but he decided to stand around second as a harmless observer like the little bitch he is. Ichiro then followed that with a groundball RBI single into right, and suddenly the Mariners had the lead. The next two hitters made outs to bring a premature end to the rally, but at least they didn't make outs on awful pitches. This was an inning of much better discipline, and surprise! the two walks came around to score. Funny what happens when you let bad pitchers go to work without choosing to intervene.
As Washburn settled into a Safeco-aided comfortable groove, the Mariners continued to get people on base against Cabrera, and while they weren't taking full advantage of their opportunities, at least they weren't letting them go to waste. A Richie Sexson double play threatened to kill a would-be productive third inning, but a slider got away from Cabrera and Hernandez, allowing Broussard to dash the 90 feet home. An inning later, Jose Vidro drove in Ichiro from second with a two-out roller up the middle. An inning after that, Ben Broussard took a first-pitch low fastball into the right-center seats, giving the Mariners a convincing 5-1 lead. Broussard's OPS: .794. Sexson's OPS: .702. We have three underachieving hitters at the three positions that Broussard can handle, and still we can't find him regular playing time. He's not going to light the world on fire, but the whole point is that he doesn't have to, because even simple adequacy would represent an improvement. Incidentally, he's only one of three players on the current roster who I think would represent improvements over Ibanez in left. There are three more in Tacoma. This is becoming impossibly ludicrous.
The Orioles got a run back in the sixth thanks to the heroics of an annoyingly little second baseman who's never going to the playoffs, but at 5-2 after six frames of work on the mound, the game still felt comfortable. Even better, the lineup had managed to oust Cabrera after just five innings, doing a much better job of scoring than I ever could have anticipated. Was I pleased with their approach? Not entirely - of Cabrera's 86 pitches, Gameday says that 52 missed the zone, but the box score says he only threw 32 balls. So the lineup still did Cabrera a bunch of favors. It could've been way, way worse, though, and when you're expecting to get dominated I don't think there's any situation where it's appropriate to be disappointed with five runs in five innings.
As the offense has been wont to do lately, it disappeared once it established a decent lead, stranding two runners in the sixth despite getting the first two on. Betancourt's "single" was actually remarkably similar to the "single" that JJ allowed in the All Star Game, a grounder that bounced out of the middle of Roberts' glove. At least this one was hit hard, though. Anyway, nothing happened, and we went to the seventh with a 5-2 ballgame on our hands. Roberts returned to the dugout with a sinister cackle.
That's when things started to suck a lot. While Washburn had pretty much cruised through the first six, he was still up at 92 pitches, and the fact that he didn't break 88 in a seven-pitch at bat against Huff to lead off suggested that he may have been running out of gas. Following the single to start, Payton roped a double to left that a more athletic, younger, and darker-skinned outfielder might've been able to track down, and a sac fly and single later we were staring at the slimmest of leads and a starting pitcher with absolutely nothing left in the tank. In came The Governor, who promptly walked on five pitches a guy who's rapidly becoming one of my least favorite players in baseball (Roberts, meet Curtis Granderson. Granderson, Roberts).
Sherrill settled down and got Corey Patterson to left a pop-up to shallow left, but as Broussard charged in after the ball Betancourt continued his pursuit and reached his glove in the air in an attempt to make a backwards catch well beyond the infield. Broussard had to go down at the last second to avoid a collision, and the ball dropped for what was officially recorded as a single. I don't know the name of the Safeco scorekeeper, but apparently he has the best job on the planet, since he clearly has free reign to get lit off his ass whenever he wants. I would've given an error to Betancourt, since that was the left fielder's ball to catch and it nicked off his glove, but I suppose it's possible that Broussard neglected to call Betancourt off loudly or early enough (if at all), in which case I'd retroactively change my ruling.
Regardless of how you'd rule the play, the ball still dropped, and the ensuing Markakis fly out to Broussard (who looked like he hadn't thrown a baseball in years) gave a tie score in a game that we never fathomed would have one. We'd already blown leads in our previous three post-break losses; doing the same thing again would be an absolute killer, especially with the Indians and Angels already having lost. This is not a team that can afford to give away too many games in which its win expectancy climbs to higher levels.
Sean Green briefly reminded us what it feels like to smile, but the bottom of the seventh was just another demonstration of Mariner douchebaggery, as even a Beltre/Sexson double steal with one out didn't lead to the go-ahead run. The reason, you ask? Kenji swung through a 2-2 heater on his hands, and Lopez popped an outside fastball into center. Danys Baez is a horrible, horrible pitcher who couldn't cut it in the Tacoma bullpen, but tonight he was exactly what Baltimore needed to bridge the gap between a bad reliever in the sixth and a bad reliever in the eighth.
Sean Green needed eight pitches to retire the Orioles in order. His night: four batters, 12 pitches, nine strikes, four groundouts.
The bottom of the eighth started well as Yuni clobbered a double into left, and an Ichiro power swing that just missed leaving the yard still put the go-ahead run (or, with JJ available, should we just quit being PC and call it the winning run?) on third with one out. Vidro was put on base and Guillen subsequently got beaned, loading them up for what would've been Ben Broussard had McLaren not gone to Ellison as a defensive replacement. Instead, Ellison's assignment lasted all of one pointless inning and Raul Ibanez came on to pinch-hit to a rousing ovation and another will-never-stop-being-hilarious Red rally dance in the background.
Chad Bradford has never been good against lefties in his career. Ibanez took a strike, swung through a ball, and grounded weakly to first, where Millar was able to throw home for the force. Mr. Mariner, folks. The front office is determined to keep Ibanez around until he retires in large part because they believe he's a popular fan favorite. Here's the problem - fan favorites must possess at least one of three things: (1) remarkable talent, (2) relentless energy and hustle, or (3) a funny name. Raul has none of the above. "Pointy-shaped head" doesn't count. Raul has in spades everything you don't want in a player, at least as far as on-the-field issues are concerned. Read some of the comments here during and after his at bat and tell me again how much of a fan favorite he is. Raul's done a lot of good here and I'm glad he's been around, but it's time for him to sit on the bench and watch what a good left fielder looks like.
With two down and a righty at the plate against one of the best right-handed specialists I've ever seen, I could feel my optimism melting away. But then Bradford fell behind 3-1 and it looked like we might escape with arguably the most unlikely of outcomes - an Adrian Beltre walk. After a called strike two and a foul on what was clearly a low-and-in ball four, though, the at bat began to have EMBARRASSING STRIKEOUT written all over it in flashing capital letters. Another foul only prolonged the seeming inevitable.
Then Bradford threw one of the worst full count pitches I've ever seen, the kind of full count pitch that Adrian Beltre didn't even think about chasing. As Red roared his approval in what has to be one of his proudest moments of the season, I sat here gleefully dumbfounded, happily willing to accept the outcome even if I didn't totally understand it. Sexson made a fool of himself in the next at bat to end the inning, but I didn't care; a one-run lead's all you need to give to JJ to guarantee victory, and as has been happening all summer long, he retired the opponent in order to finish off the win. JJ now officially has more saves (28) than baserunners allowed (27). He didn't get the job done in the most impressive of fashions (by which I mean he didn't strike anyone out), but the two-out encounter with Brian Roberts was wildly appropriate and had a satisfying conclusion. A ballsier, more spiteful closer might've drilled Roberts, laughed, and gone to work against Patterson, but this is why I'm glad JJ has his brain instead of mine.
Off day tomorrow as the Mariners fly to Toronto for a weekend series against a team that's in the process of getting swept by the Yankees. At 45-49, the Blue Jays no longer count as a quality opponent with whom we have to be careful; this is a series that we really ought to win. Since the Angels get the Twins, who knows where we'll be on Sunday if the Mariners manage to take care of business?