8-8

Thank you, Felix. Just - thank you.

4_16_08_medium
Biggest Contribution: King Felix, +45.8%
Biggest Suckfest: Yuniesky Betancourt, -11.9%
Most Important AB: Vidro double, +10.3%
Most Important Pitch: Ellis double play, +16.3%
Total Contribution by Pitcher(s): +45.8%
Total Contribution by Hitters: +0.1%
Total Contribution by Opposition: +4.1%
(What is this chart?)

I cried when Ottawa lost. I'll admit it. I cried when they lost today, and I cried in the stands when the lost the Stanley Cup last June. Not all that much, mind you - nothing like McLaren in the Hargrove press conference - but enough that, if someone were to ask me about the last time I cried and I said "like 15 years ago when I watched Top Gun," I'd be lying. It's just a brief but emotional acknowledgment that the ride has come to an end, and that I won't be able to wear red again until the fall.

That was around 6:30. For the next half hour or so, I said my thank yous and goodbyes to the team in my head and prepared for another long, difficult recovery. These things are serious business in the Sullivan household. Being that I'm every bit as emotionally invested in hockey as I am in baseball, I do not take losing in the playoffs lightly, and when it happens it tends to wear on me for weeks until I'm back to normal. Suffice to say that, at the start of the Mariners game, I was a bit of a wreck and thoroughly drained.

Then Felix happened and the world got brighter.

I don't know how to explain it. Generally speaking, after a playoff loss, I'm inconsolable. There's nothing anyone can say or do to make me feel better - it just takes time for the same old wounds to keep healing. But Felix...there's magic in that arm of his. Potent, concentrated magic. The kind of magic that can make Vladimir Guerrero look like he's playing pinata, and the kind of magic that can swiftly take you from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs. Not three hours after the conclusion of one of the most stunning collapses in recent NHL history, I was smiling. I was smiling. This Felix kid is all right.

When people talk about how special a pitcher Felix really is, there's obviously a lot of focus put on his statistical performance. But it's so much more than that. Felix has the ability to be like Randy Johnson before him, the rare breed of pitcher that, when you see him on the schedule, you know everything's going to be fine. The rare breed of pitcher that, no matter what you're going through in your life, provides a near guarantee that at least every five days you'll be going to bed happy. The rare breed of pitcher that, for three hours, makes the city shut down, its residents overcome with awe and amazement. Felix has that in him.

That's why the prospect of Felix Day always makes us so giddy. And that's why games like today's just feel so darn rewarding. Every time Felix pitches, we look for some flash or some sign that he's improving, and performances like tonight's lead us to believe that he's closer than ever to fulfilling his limitless potential. His final ascent is a moment we all await with eager anticipation, because Felix at his peak is capable of at least temporarily making you forget all the troubles in your life. And that, I believe, is the true definition of an icon. Felix isn't there yet, but this is what it'll feel like when he is.

It's a powerful, powerful feeling.

----------

Joe Blanton hates having to pitch against someone this good. And by "hates" I mean "loves". And by "having to pitch against someone this good" I mean "Twix". The King was dominant today. There's no sense beating around the bush. He was dominant. The groundballs weren't there as much as usual, but Oakland's a flyball-hitting lineup, and of their eight hits, four were bloopers. Granted, they don't have the greatest offense, but seldom did Felix give them much of an opportunity. He was in command of the zone with 70% strikes and a great fastball, and by throwing first-pitch strikes to 26 of 34 batters, he did an effective job of getting ahead in the count.

The following is a chart of his pitch distribution, since PITCHf/x makes me dork out like you wouldn't believe:

Felixpitches_medium

The four pitches:

  • Fastball. Used equally against both righties and lefties. Pretty good job of avoiding the middle of the plate.
  • Slider. Used almost exclusively against righties. Thrown low and away trying to get them to fish.
  • Change. Used almost exclusively against lefties. Kept low.
  • Curve. Used against both. A timing weapon instead of a swinging strike weapon; all 12 curves were strikes, and batters only swung at three of them.

This is what it looks like when Felix has a pretty good feel for all of his pitches. It's glorious. That curveball command is something else, considering how much movement it has, and while during the game I thought he got away with a few hangers, the fact that Oakland hitters watched nine of the 12 go by tells me that he was doing an almost perfect job of mixing them in. Much better than a year ago.

In all, Oakland saw 70 fastballs, swinging at 41 of them and putting 20 in play. They also saw 45 offspeed pitches, swinging at 15 of them and putting five in play. This seems to suggest that by and large the hitters were sitting on the fastball, so kudos to Felix for being able to mix it up and stay in the zone to force deep counts and defensive swings. That's how you beat a lineup that's waiting for you to throw something 94 and over the plate.

Best start ever? Of course not, not after what Felix did on Opening Day 2007. But it was great, and it gives him four consecutive solid games right out of the gate. While the pitch count (115) was a little high, he was still looking fresh and not really being taxed, so I don't think it'll be much of an issue. I can just about guarantee you that Felix asked to stay in, not wanting to lose another win like he did in Baltimore, so just consider this a vote of confidence from the manager. As long as these 115's and 117's don't become the norm, everything should be all right.

Silva tomorrow night.

Long live The King.

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