As I become more and more invested in writing, Opening Day always approaches as a mystery. Opening Day is supposed to be one of the best days of the year, a borderline national holiday that you observe by taking the day off and either crashing on your couch or heading down to the ballpark to watch the first relevant baseball in months. For me, though, it's really easy to see Opening Day as just a long day of work, and for that reason I'm never sure going in just how much I'm going to enjoy it, if I enjoy it at all.
This year much of the luster was even taken out of my tradition of wearing a Mariner jersey from sunup to sundown to celebrate. Why's that, you ask?
2004: At school; in Hartford
2005: At school; in Hartford
2006: At school; in Hartford
2007: At school; in Hartford
2008: Went to work; in San Diego
2009: Went to work; in San Diego
2010: Work from home; in Portland
In the past, the jersey's been conversation material. It's given me opportunities to boast, to brag, to laugh and exclaim. This time around, there was no one with whom to converse, and even had I, say, gone to the store or shopped at the mall, who cares? It's Oregon. The people here who like baseball like the. It isn't interesting.
This morning, I woke up, threw on my jersey, wiped out a computer virus, turned on Extra Innings, and got to work. For many of my waking hours, Opening Day felt a lot like any other busy day, and I was okay with that. I was okay with the fact that I'd lost some of my passion, some of my childlike excitement. It happens to a lot of people, right? Come 6:30, I flipped to FSN, grabbed a fresh pad of paper, and started preparing to write, just as I had written the day before, and the day before that.
Then the Mariners game started. And the Mariners game ended. And I posted the chart, and I sat there, and out of nowhere, a smile crept across my face and my arms began to shiver as I thrust them into the air. People are unattractive when they celebrate - unattractive and impossibly awkward - but a proper celebration flaunts ones triumph over self-consciousness, and I did this one right. There it was. There was the feeling. There was my Opening Day.
For years, now, I've found myself doubting the magic of the occasion. And for years, now, they've always pulled the rabbit from the hat.
What a wonderful day it has been.
- For much of the offseason, we've talked about how annoying this team was shaping up to be, and how closely it could resemble some of those God forsaken recent Angel teams that drove us insane. How'd the comparison hold up? Allow me to summarize:
-Lineup drew eight walks
-Top of the lineup stole three bases and got tossed out on two more attempts
-Lousy-hitting catcher slugged an important home run
-Chone Figgins' speed led to three errors, and Jack Wilson's speed led to one more
-Game-winning hit was a Texas leaguer over the infield following one of those speed errors
The Mariners are going to win a lot of games this year, and they're going to win them legitimately, but if we pencil the M's in for, I dunno, 85 wins, I'd be willing to bet that the opposition won't understand how at least 65 of them happened. Losses are already unpleasant, but this year's Mariners are going to make people mad and perplexed. Not gonna lie, it feels good to be on this end of things for a change. Dreadfully annoying is the new black.
- Home plate umpire Tim Tschida and the rest of his crew are lucky the M's pulled this one out, because for a while there I had blood dripping from my ears.
Nevermind the ambiguously gerrymandered strike zone. That strike zone was awful, and it may have cost Felix at least two or three of his six walks, but if nothing else, it was "even," in that the A's weren't being treated any better. While Tschida called a stupid strike zone, he was somewhat consistent, having pre-determined that nobody was going to get the low pitch.
Ordinarily I'd raise blue hell about a strike zone that bad, but the reason I'm leaving Tschida to the side is because his crew made three incorrect decisions to which the zone paled in comparison. Now, unfortunately the MLB.tv archives aren't working, so I can't provide screenshot evidence of the statements to follow. I should hope that you'll trust me, though, and given that the M's won regardless, it's not like I need to search desperately for excuses. On we go!
1) With men on the corners and one out in the top of the first, Milton Bradley took off while Ben Sheets still had the ball in his hand, and Sheets stepped off and threw to second base. Bradley was called out, but replays showed that he beat the tag. The run expectancy difference, using this simple table: 1.08 runs.
2) With none out in the top of the third, Ichiro - standing on second base - took off for third on a pitch that walked Chone Figgins. Kurt Suzuki threw down in time to get him, but replays again showed that Ichiro narrowly beat the tag. The run expectancy difference: 1.331 runs.
3) Leading off the top of the eighth, Casey Kotchman hit a sinking liner to center that Rajai Davis trapped. The umpire, however, ruled it a catch. The run expectancy difference: 0.656 runs.
There you go. Three big decisions, all of them blown, with the run expectancy cost adding up to three runs. Even ignoring Tim Tschida's strike zone, you could say that the other umpires tonight cost the Mariners about three runs with incorrect calls. Three runs. Three runs!
Opening Day is supposed to be about celebrating the beauty of baseball. Baseball's a beautiful game, don't get me wrong, but umpires are the charred, barren oaks in baseball's meadow landscape.
- How was Felix Hernandez? Of course you want to know how Felix did. It's hard to separate what he did from what got called, and there's something funny going on with this year's PITCHfx data storage that I haven't quite figured out, but while Felix was wild and wasn't throwing his most unhittable stuff, he allowed one line drive and generated 15 groundballs.
Read that again. The A's put 16 balls in play against Felix tonight. 15 of them rolled. A big part of this is Oakland's lineup, as that order is at least visually missing Jack Cust pretty bad in the middle, but normal pitchers can't do that. Felix is one of precious few who can. If you're a pitcher, and you're having a lot of trouble with command, but you're keeping almost every single ball in play out of the air, then your command trouble won't be much trouble at all.
- As content as I am to blame the umpires for tonight's almost-loss, I won't let Don Wakamatsu off the hook for his curious decision to call on Sean White in relief of the King. Felix left with two on and two out in the bottom of the seventh, and in came White, who is almost certainly the worst of our six relievers. I can understand not using Shawn Kelley or Kanekoa Texeira, kind of, because those are your long relievers. And I can understand not using David Aardsma, on account of he's the closer. But that still leaves you with Brandon League and Mark Lowe, and while I'm just some observer and I have no idea who might be unavailable or who might feel funny down in the bullpen, the fact that League took over in the eighth suggests that he felt fine. That should've been League instead of White. That was an important situation, and League's the guy the team brought in to handle important situations.
Let this be a learning experience. I, for one, would be ecstatic if most of our learning experiences came in games we only almost lost.
- Not the best outing for Ben Sheets, although we might still be in the any-appearance-is-a-victory stage. It was the kind of outing that makes you think there might be some significance in Sheets' 10 K/10 BB spring training performance, the kind of outing that almost makes you forget that Tim Lincecum was similarly bad in March and today spun seven sparkling innings. Sheets was flashing his hard, biting curve for most of the game, but he didn't have good fastball command, and he clearly started to wear down as his pitch count began to climb.
- Dave Niehaus needs to show Jon Miller what to do with his hair. When you've got the gray horseshoe, the best thing you can do is try to make it inconspicuous, and where Niehaus succeeds, Miller fails in grand fashion. You don't want it covering your ears, Jon. Your ears aren't a window to the living room in your brain, and you don't need your hair to be curtains.
- Casey Kotchman today: a well-struck double, a sac fly, that Texas leaguer, a line drive, and a strikeout against a tough lefty. Kotchman came in with a career groundball rate over 50%. The coaches set to work on his swing during spring, and tonight, all four of his balls in play caught some air. Proof that he's fixed? Not hardly. Indicative that there's reason to hope? You bet. I know a lot of people envisioned Kotchman as a guy who'd just roll over on grounder after grounder, and tonight, there was none of that. His double was hit very well.
- Speaking of reason to hope, Rob Johnson blasted the fourth Major League home run of his career after amassing three over his first 325 trips to the plate. Johnson, as we all know, had surgery on his wrist, his eyes, and both his hips during the offseason, and there were quotes floating out of camp that a healthy Johnson looked like a new hitter. We wrote those off as standard spring fare, but what if it's more than that? What if? What better time than now to imagine? Johnson's never going to be known for his stick, but if he can progress to even just a step above "black hole," then that's going to come in real handy.
In case you didn't like the New & Improved Rob Johnson and pined for the old, more comfortable model, you got a glimpse in the sixth, when Johnson couldn't corral a catchable fastball, allowing Rajai Davis to sprint to third base. 2010 is a scary new setting, and it's nice to see a familiar face.
Kevin Kouzmanoff hit a grand slam in his first Major League at bat. Then he got traded to a place where the only semblance of environment is all the fans sounding like they're booing him whenever he does something. Then he got traded to a place where there's no environment at all. It's been all downhill for Kevin Kouzmanoff.
- Watching the game today, I completely forgot that Jose Lopez was new to third base. Lopez had to make a few plays, a couple of them fairly tricky, so I'd say that's pretty encouraging.
- Chone Figgins had two walks, two steals, two errors drawn, and one strikeout before he swung at his first pitch in the seventh inning. They say Jason Heyward made an appropriate debut today. The same goes for Figgins. Doubly so.
- Hands-down one of my favorite moments of the game came in the bottom of the first, when - with one on and one out - Ryan Sweeney hit a grounder to Figgins at second. Figgins ran at Barton, the baserunner, but threw to first before he tagged him. Barton was still between bases, though, so Kotchman threw down to second and drilled Barton in the back. Barton was then called out for straying slightly from the basepaths. That's a doubly whammy. For a split-second, Daric Barton would've been perfectly justified in believing the world was out to get him.
- Your ninth inning Milton Bradley highlights:
-Bradley struck out swinging to end the top half, capping off an 0-3 day. Angry, Bradley slammed the bat on home plate, snapping it at the handle. The crowd oohed, hoping there would be more, but the incident was over as quickly as it began.
-Eric Chavez (who is still playing) led off the bottom half with a lazy fly to left. Bradley camped under it as the crowd screamed in his ears, and after he caught the ball, he stared down the fans to his right for a moment before returning the ball to the infield. These are the fans who'd been on him all game, as you'd expect the fans around Bradley to be.
I love the emotion and I love the taunting. Milton Bradley is exactly the sort of baseball player I've always wanted to be. Maybe that says more about me than it does about Milton.
- The Seattle Mariners are 1-0. We're getting pretty good at this whole season opener thing.