One bad pitch.
Technically, a pitcher's results aren't the best way to evaluate a performance. One game gives you only a limited sample size of batter decisions and swings, and, say, a handful of mis-hits of bad pitches or solid hits of good ones can lead to a misleading judgment. The most accurate way of deducing how well a pitcher pitched would be to strip away the hitters entirely and look simply at the quality and location of the pitches he threw.
However, that's a real nuisance, and though most of the time it would provide valuable information, sometimes - on nights like this one - you don't need to get super granular to understand how well a guy was throwing. This was Felix Hernandez pitching as well as Felix Hernandez has ever pitched. That much was readily apparent just from watching his fastball dance and his curveball snap and the flail away. Felix has pitched this well before, but I don't know that he's ever pitched better, and in the end, I feel like he plowed through those eight innings having made just the one mistake. It was a big mistake, mind you, and one that cost him three runs, but if you're like me, there's nothing better than watching Felix be exceptional, and today, for eight innings, Felix was exceptional. Cheers to Josh Wilson, because Felix deserved that win. Felix deserved two wins.
A start that some have said might knock Felix out of Cy Young consideration may have been his best start of the year.
- Let me just show some things to you:
16% swinging strikes
Felix faced 34 batters tonight. He got ahead 0-1 on 18 of them and got to two-strike counts on 19 of them. And not only did he threw 71% strikes - he threw 71% strikes despite Chris Guccione robbing him of at least eight or nine other pitches in the zone, which he didn't do to Romero nearly as much. So that's 71% going on 80%. It was just...Jesus, Felix threw a ton of fastballs, but he threw them in such a way that he looked like the version of Felix Hernandez that we saw him going for so often in seasons previous. We complained a lot in the past that he relied too heavily on his fastball despite not having real good command. Tonight he had that command, and he showed what he can do when he has it. He was alternating between a straight four-seamer and a two-seamer that kept diving at ankles, and once he had those heaters established, he was pretty much free to do whatever he wanted. People used to point out that sometimes batters swung against Felix like they knew what was coming. The Blue Jays didn't know what was coming, and they looked like it. In the bottom of the fifth Jose Bautista swung at a high slider over the plate while ducking out of the way.
Felix is a big game pitcher. I wasn't aware that today was a big game, but based on his performance, Felix really, really wants that Cy Young. Even if he says he'd vote for Greinke.
- How good was Felix tonight? In the middle innings I sent Dave from USSM a text saying I hoped he was watching. Dave texted back that he loves his wife more than he loves Felix. 40 minutes later he felt compelled to email me an explanation.
- It was good to see Franklin Gutierrez take Romero deep in the third, because since August 11th he'd been batting just .228 with a .592 OPS. He had clearly cooled off, coming in today with something more in line with the consensus offensive expectation before the year. Of course, despite his now-current .753 OPS is the fact that Fangraphs lists him as a 5 WAR player. It's actually kind of a good thing in a way that he's slumped, because it's provided further evidence that Guti can still make a positive contribution even when he's not swinging the bat real well. Franklin has been worth about 35 fewer runs at the plate than Mark Teixeira, and he's still been the more valuable player. As Dave talked about a little while back, we probably can't count on Franklin repeating 2009's defensive numbers in the future, but even allowing for a bit of regression, he is a very, very, very good player, and among the best outfielders in baseball.
Jose Bautista likes his lips so much he gave them an underscore.
- I haven't seen a whole lot of Matt Tuiasosopo in the field so far, but one thing that became apparent today was that he needs a lot of work at second turning double plays. Twice he turned potential DPs into fielder's choices, once by making a bad flip to second and once by making a bad pivot and throw to first with the runner bearing down. On the plus side, he made a really good no-look sweep tag on a wide throw to catch John McDonald stealing, so his instincts seem good. He just, y'know, needs work.
- The top of the ninth saw Adrian Beltre get locked into an 11-pitch showdown against Jeremy Accardo. After getting ahead 1-0, Beltre swung at nine consecutive balls out of the zone before grounding out on a fastball down the middle. A lot of fans and broadcasters would say that Beltre did a good job of battling and staying in. Smarter people would call him retarded.
- Going back to that Tuiasosopo flip - with a man on and none out in the bottom of the fourth, Adam Lind hit a grounder to Tui, who flipped the ball high to Josh Wilson. Wilson came down ahead of the runner and threw to first, but the ump called the runner safe at second. Replays confirmed that Wilson didn't touch the bag. Apparently getting the phantom tag call is conditional upon completing the turn without screwing up. If you do everything smoothly and don't touch the base, the runner's out. If you make a little mistake along the way, tough noogies.
- Josh Wilson's two-run triple in the eighth was the big hit of the game, but it was very nearly a one-run triple, as Bill Hall ambled his way home and narrowly avoided the tag after a strong relay. This isn't the first time we've seen Hall at something less than full speed. It isn't the second or third or fourth time, either. He's nursing a hurt quad, so I'm willing to excuse him for taking things at a more leisurely pace, but is our situation really so dire that this is a guy we have to be playing every day? So Langerhans is kind of banged up. And Saunders is getting special treatment. I understand. But why not just throw someone like Tui or Wilson out there and let Hall get some rest? I know that Wilson and Tui don't have any experience in the outfield, but I'd wager that an inexperienced outfielder is probably going to be better than a crippled one.
- Ken Griffey Jr. led off the eighth with a fly ball to center that Vernon Wells ran down in front of the track. As the ball settled into his glove, Dave Sims announced "...and...IT'S GONE!" I don't have anything witty to add. I've just never quite seen that before. I mean, wow.
Ichiro: 2-5, .3554
Mauer: DNP, .3714