Times like this put me in a weird position.
I mean, I help run Lookout Landing, right? I'm one of the guys in charge of one of the most popular Mariner fan destinations on the internet. As such, you'd think I'd be some kind of fan to the max. A superfan, if you will. Not one of them phony Superfans from Boston College that doesn't know shit about shit about sports. A real superfan. A fan who still believes. A fan who still cares. A fan who still cares more than he cares about anything else. A fan who lives and dies with his team, a fan who shrieks when his team wins and screams when they don't. A fan who doesn't give up until it really is too late, and a fan who, even then, pulls for his players like he watched them be born.
I'm not that fan, though. By this point, I've become more of an observer. I watched the Jays climb on top. I watched the M's try to rally. I watched Gutierrez strike out. I watched Sweeney pop out. I watched Griffey pinch-hit. I watched Sweeney flail once more. I watched all of these things, and they passed over me without sinking in. None of them registered as significant events. They were just events, events along the road to the conclusion of events. As Sweeney's ball flew, my eyebrows were raised, but as it settled into a glove I entered a zero into my spreadsheet and moved right along with nary a frown nor a whimper. Thelost a close game tonight. I observed it.
That's weird to me. It makes me feel like a bad fan. It makes me feel like an inferior fan to all of those people saying "it's just 5.5 games," or "it's just 6.5 games," or "it's just 7.5 games," or "it's just 8.5 games." The emotional investment I put in a few weeks ago is gone, and when I think about it, it makes me feel like a quitter. "What kind of fan are you?" my brain asks. "Why do you spend so much time thinking about something seemingly bereft of emotional upside?"
Of course, my brain's the one responsible for this in the first place, so I don't know where he gets off asking questions. And the way I make sense of it is by reminding myself that there are a lot of other people like me. A lot of other people who watched the Mariners fall from 14-25 to 14-26 and didn't bat an eye. Sure, there are those who'll keep pointing at the calendar, but the number of those people drops by the day. The fan base is losing its investment. If my role is to keep my thumb on the pulse of the fans, then this emotional distance seems to be right on the mark.
Had you asked me before the year, I would've told you that I wouldn't be ready to not care by the middle of May, but here we are, and it turns out I'm ready, indeed. It's not because I wanted this. I'd never want this. But it is painless, and painlessness is a positive quality. So what if there are people who haven't given up? Who's to say they're better fans? Perhaps it's the distance in times of struggle that's the true mark of devotion. It's certainly the true mark of experience. It's a defense mechanism that's evolved out of having been through this before, and most Mariner fans have been through this before.
It's May 19th. The Mariners lost a close game tonight. I observed it. I do still care. I think that much is plainly evident. But I care more about the team and less about the outcomes. The outcomes, at this point, are meaningless to me, and they'll remain that way unless we somehow climb back into the race. The Mariners lost a close game tonight. I observed it. It was an entertaining game that came down to the last pitch. And for me, right now, that's enough.
- Milton Bradley came back today. He mentioned in a pregame interview that he'd been receiving get well cards from fans while he was out, and when he came up for his first at bat, he got a pretty loud - and positive - ovation. I gotta say, while I was confident that the organization would be a good fit for Bradley, I wasn't so sure how he'd fit in with the fan base. Turns out he fits in just fine. Granted, we don't know how things would've gone had Bradley actually been a part of our team-wide meltdown, but people by and large seem pretty forgiving and warm, which is all you could ask. Seattle's doing a little too much to support one Ken Griffey Jr., but it's doing a terrific job of supporting Milton Bradley.
- Bill Krueger was in the booth replacing Dave Niehaus tonight, which is kind of like replacing the birds outside your window with a talking but irrational jackhammer. A fun project would be listening to a game with Krueger in the booth, transcribing every word he says, and arguing against every single thing he gets wrong. It would also be the last ten hours of both my life and, most likely, Bill Krueger's.
- Krueger on a close play at first base: "Everybody gets on the umpires, Dave, but they get most of them correct." It's good to know that umpires get more than 50% of their calls correct. That makes them better than a nickel. I know if I were looking to hire somebody to make a lot of important decisions, my first question in the interview would be, are you better than a nickel?
- In the middle innings, and particularly when Doug Fister was struggling through a 30-pitch fourth, the broadcast remarked that this wasn't really Doug Fister pitching like himself. This was Doug Fister pitching like himself. This was Doug Fister pitching so much like himself that one wonders if Doug Fister is a 6'8 robot programmed with one single setting. You know what Fister did? Fister threw a lot of strikes, allowed a lot of contact, and kept a fair number of balls on the ground. A pitcher like that will have 30-pitch innings like the fourth, and he'll have four-pitch innings like the seventh.
This was the fourth time that Fister has thrown eight innings this season. Four times out of eight starts. Obviously a huge factor in that is luck, as he's running a tiny BABIP and a tinier home run rate, but one would expect a guy who doesn't issue walks to throw a lot of innings, and Fister's no exception. He's the sort that managers love, even when he struggles.
- By leverage score, Mike Sweeney had the two most critical plate appearances of the night. His second, with two on and two out in the ninth, had an LI of 6.4, by far the highest mark of the game. Let's look at that at bat, shall we? Sweeney took a couple fastballs outside to get ahead 2-0. That's good. The average hitter posted a 1.023 OPS after 2-0 a year ago. At this point, Sweeney was in a favorable position, and he should've been looking dead red for a fastball he could drive. At 2-0, you can afford to take a pitch if it isn't a pitch you know you can punish.
Kevin Gregg buried a 2-0 changeup down in the dirt. Mike Sweeney swung.
I don't really care about the rest of the at bat. Sweeney swung at a couple borderline pitches and ended up flying out to end the game. He hit it hard. Whatever. We know he can hit the ball hard. The point of this section is to note that, holy crap, that was a huge mistake, and a product of Sweeney's overaggressiveness and lack of a good eye. You can't swing at that pitch. You can't. Not when your only job is to hit.
Mike Sweeney is a hacker. For some reason, Mike Sweeney is a hacker, and when your only positive attribute - your only positive attribute - is your ability to hit strikes pretty hard, hacking's a negative.
- Griffey pinch-hit for Josh Wilson to lead off the ninth. Pinch-hitting makes sense, as Wilson is both bad and shares the same hand as Kevin Gregg. And, okay, Ryan Langerhans might still have that elbow issue limiting his ability to swing (although you'd think they would've put him on the DL rather than send Sean White down if it were a real problem). But there was still Michael Saunders, and anyone that tries to tell me that Ken Griffey Jr. is a bigger threat than Michael Saunders right now deserves black mold in his lungs. The extended standing ovation was cool, provided you allowed yourself to get whisked a dozen years to the past, but then Junior swung and brought everyone back to the miserable, disheartening present.
- Josh Bard hit three deep fly balls to the outfield today, and one to right field.
- Offensively, it was a good return for Milton Bradley. He saw 24 pitches in four trips to the plate, hit a couple balls hard, and made up for a line drive out with an infield single off the plate. Defensively, though, his mediocre range and route-running skills were made readily apparent on a number of occasions, and something something we're terrible it doesn't matter
Chone Figgins, April: 77% contact
Chone Figgins, May: 86% contact
Chone Figgins, Career: 86% contact
Sure enough, Figgins' early-season strikeout slump appears to be a thing of the past, which leaves us with him just hitting worse balls in play. And, good news: the balls in play, at least visually, seem to be getting better, with his game tonight highlighted by a solid RBI single to center. I'm feeling pretty confident in saying that Chone Figgins is coming around, and though it's probably too late for him to save our season, it is reassuring to not think of him as a possible albatross. I'm not saying we've averted disaster, but I feel a lot better now with regard to Figgins than I did a little while ago.
- In case people think I've put too much blame on Griffey and Sweeney again, Franklin Gutierrez's strikeout in the seventh inning was bad. His catch in the fifth, however, was spectacular.