When you spend a lot of your evenings on a computer watching a baseball game and writing about it, rainouts can be a welcome treat. They give you free time you didn't think you'd have; time to, say, go jogging, or make a good dinner, or watch House and check out the NHL playoffs during commercial breaks. It's one thing to have a day off, but when you get a day off you didn't expect, it feels that much more freeing.
The problem is that, unlike regular days off, rainouts have to be made up, which means that the immediate free time comes with a future sacrifice. In my case, what I wound up having to sacrifice was my ability to watch the day game today. Turns out it wasn't really worth it, because this team is about a thousand times worse to follow on Gameday than it is on TV when it loses.
TV lets you make what you want of what's going on. It doesn't let you alter reality, but it lets you color it. It allows for a certain subjectivity, especially on bad days. You can take solace in well-hit outs. You can excuse bad swings as being on borderline pitches. You can forgive the defense for getting fooled by a bad hop, and you can read into the facial expressions and body language of your team's players and conclude that they were trying hard and simply got beat by a team that played better. As weird as it sounds, TV lets you interpret a lot of situations however you want to, and given a positive attitude, that can help alleviate the pain of a tough loss.
There's no such subjective side of Gameday. Gameday just tells you exactly what happened. Swinging strike. Pop up. Ball out of the zone. Gameday gives you the facts, and when you're a fan of a team that can't score, the facts have a way of making your brain sizzle as you watch them take place. You can't rationalize mistakes. You can't explain away bad judgment. You just see that your players screwed up, and you stew in your misery. Science is cold.
The scientific facts of game one are as follows: Chris Jakubauskas pitched an excellent game, the White Sox made little effort to take control, and the Mariner hitters completely and utterly screwed the pooch. Not only were they made to look foolish by a guy who, coming in, had struggled to throw strikes and miss bats, but when they got a few opportunities, they reverted to a state of helpless incompetence that allowed Chicago to sneak away with the win.
Three at bats really stand out in my mind, two of them coming in the seventh after Rob Johnson's double cut the score to 2-1. With two men in scoring position and one out, Franklin Gutierrez swung through a 3-1 pitch at the letters before popping out on something right down the middle. In the next at bat, Yuniesky Betancourt killed the rally by hitting another pop out on another pitch right down the middle. And then in the ninth, with two on and one down, Mike Sweeney whiffed on a full count slider down out of the zone. You can only imagine how unpleasant it was to witness such poor discipline and execution on a little virtual screen where I am the final arbiter of what should've been done with a pitch. To see our hitters swinging through ball fours and doing nothing with meatballs gnaws at my stomach when we're in a critical situation and in dire need of every run we can get. The lineup made no use of its talent, Colon's mistakes, or the heroic defensive efforts of Brent Lillibridge of Josh Fields, and it flat-out gave game one away.
An incredibly difficult loss for Jakubauskas, who pitched his double chin off in picking up an abbreviated complete game. While the White Sox were shorthanded without Jim Thome in the middle, even so, you know you're doing something right when you only need 88 pitches to get through eight innings in that ballpark. Jakubauskas went back to living in the strike zone, working primarily off of his heater, and his 10/10/2 GB/FB/LD ball in play profile speaks to a lot of success avoiding solid contact. He was even able to pick up five swinging strikes and three foul tips, as his four-seamer was giving Chicago fits. I keep wanting him to throw more curves and use his change as more than a show-me pitch, but his fastball - as pedestrian as it seems - just gets in these runs where he's locating it perfectly and it's really hard to hit. I don't know how to explain it, but results are results, and I'm happy to ride it out for as long as it lasts. Another solid start is going to make it mighty difficult for the coaching staff to bump Jakubauskas back to the bullpen when RRS gets healthy.
Anyway, when your team loses 2-1 to Bartolo Colon, it can be tough to get excited about a game against John Danks an hour later. Danks is one of those young talents to come out of the Rangers' pitcher pipeline that the Rangers have yet to enjoy, and being a lefty, he was set to be a tough matchup for Russ Branyan, one of the only Mariners currently capable of hitting the ball past the mound. Felix Day or not, the thrill of the second game was tempered by the disappointment of the first. So I went in nervous, fearing that the M's had already gone a long way towards securing their fate of being one of the only teams in Major League history to lose three games in 24 hours.
Then Ichiro smacked a line drive single and kicked off one of the easiest and most reassuring Mariner wins that I can remember. In the span of three batters, the M's notched as many runs as they'd scored in their previous 20 innings, with Ichiro moving to second on another Endy Chavez bunt, stealing third on his own, and coming home on a Mike Sweeney drive to the gap. The stolen base I took as an example of Ichiro deciding to do things on his own, a subtle insinuation that he knew he was going to have to start scoring runs by himself. So I imagine everybody was surprised when Sweeney came through. The broadcast said that Sweeney looked like he was fooled by the pitch, that he wound up ahead of something offspeed, but considering the pitch was a 96mph fastball, I think that's just how Sweeney swings. It's awkward and clumsy and he ends up putting so much weight on his front foot that he looks like one of those cherubs standing on one leg blowing a horn, but if it's worked his whole career, then I'm in no position to complain. It's just evidence that sometimes a retarded swing can carry you further than a sweet one. I wonder if anyone's investigated this as a possible cause of Sweeney's chronic injuries.
Taking a 1-0 lead into the bottom half, Felix did his usual establishment thing, throwing eleven consecutive fastballs and keeping the White Sox at bay with two grounders and a lineout. That took us to the second, where Yuniesky Betancourt followed two weak groundball singles that several fans' grandmas really could have hit harder with a home run to left that forecasters would have charitably described as unlikely. It was a full count changeup that he reached out and yanked over the wall, and while it didn't get out by that much and could have easily been a product of the ballpark, it was a home run nevertheless, and it came as a complete shock to Dave Niehaus, who referred to it as a "three-run homer by Yuniesky Betancourt." Maybe I can't really explain his tone very well in text. Soon after the camera cut to a shot of Felix in the dugout wearing an expression of skepticism and mild distrust.
It's like Felix decided then and there that, if the ballpark was going to play small, he wasn't going to give the White Sox a chance to use it to their advantage. Ahead 4-0, Felix switched from normal Felix mode to fuck-you-I'm-Felix-Hernandez mode, activating some sort of internal power boost that took him from good to untouchable. For the next three innings, he was lights out. Of his 45 pitches between the second and the fourth, 33 were strikes and 11 were swung on and missed, as he alternated between a biting two-seamer at the knees and a sharp vertical slider with tremendous results. The White Sox couldn't touch him. It wasn't just their lousy hitters, either - Dye, Konerko, and Quentin were all given fits. Maybe Felix's best at bat came against Konerko with two on in the fourth, when he set him up with three breaking balls low and away before blowing through him with a 1-2 heater at the knees on the outer black. This was Felix at his best. The kind of Felix you bring home to your parents.
After that, as the Mariners started adding on a few runs and the White Sox continued to flail, Felix visibly changed his plan of attack to be of the pitch-to-contact variety, as he went for quick, easy outs in an effort to go as deep as possible and maybe grab the second complete game of the day. And by and large, he succeeded, needing just 44 pitches over his final four innings while allowing just a single bloop hit. He didn't get the CG, but having thrown 100 pitches over eight innings in the cold during a blowout, there was no reason to send him back out there for the ninth, and I can't imagine that Felix was too disappointed by Wakamatsu's decision to take him out. Other than having today get a guaranteed mention in Jayson Stark columns for the next two decades, there was very little to be gained. Corcoran sealed the deal with much borderline inadequacy and the game came to a comfortable end.
Without doubt, the stars of game two and the players responsible for salvaging what began as a shitty day were Felix, Yuni, and Russell Branyan. Felix tossed his second superb outing in a row, throwing 73% strikes, missing 14 bats, and registering 11 grounders on 18 balls in play. What blew me away was how well he was locating his fastball down in the zone. Felix was in rare form, following the standard game plan but actually executing it with mastery. Tonight he had the fastball he's always thought he's had, and while I'm not going to jump to any conclusions about sustainability, it's nice to catch an extended glimpse of what he could look like with a little improvement. That two-seamer was unhittable. I bet you didn't think you'd ever see me singing the praises of Felix's fastball, but tonight, it deserved all the praise in the world. It was damn near flawless.
As for Yuni and Branyan, they each conquered their own demons today, as Yuni had a big game at the plate to earn himself some slack while Branyan went 5-5 in a game started by a tough lefty. It's tempting to sit here and curse Yuni for doing this just as it seemed like he was near a plug-pulling, but the only reason for Wakamatsu to pull the plug is if Yuni's not performing, and tonight, Yuni performed. That's good. It's not like he lucked his way into a few base hits. He went deep and knocked a pair of line drives. He earned a reprieve. Branyan, meanwhile, caught a break with his infield single early but then pulled a sharp grounder down the line for a double off Danks in the fourth. Danks broke Branyan's bat on the pitch, but considering it was a 1-2 fastball on the inner black, Branyan did a good job of turning on it and using the flying bat barrel to temporarily distract the defense from the ball. This is a positive sign as we cross our fingers and hope that Branyan isn't just a hopeless platoon player. The lineup looks so different with his name in the middle.
A wonderful nightcap to an up-and-down day brings us to tomorrow morning, when Erik Bedard will have a chance to give us another series win as he faces off against the unmistakably mediocre Gavin Floyd. Hard to believe we could end up in this sort of position after seeing how the team looked this afternoon, but here we are. Maybe there's something to this whole "stopper" thing.