One of the neat things about the team being in the position it's in is that, when faced with a game like this, I can just write about it. No hyperbole. No histrionics. No pointed blame, and no real emotion at all. Just writing for the sake of writing, because writing is fun. I don't have to worry about going over the top or saying something I'll regret, because I'm not actually fazed. I just watched a game, and now I get to write about what I saw free of impaired judgment or bias.
What did I see? I saw a winnable game that thethrew away. A very winnable game, for that matter, a game that wouldn't have put the M's in the playoffs, but would've given them a second straight sweep and a hell of a homestand. This was one of those games that didn't really matter, but that most everyone still wanted, just because, hey, winning streaks, and Felix.
For the Mariners' part, this wasn't a game you can sugarcoat. Felix and some of the bullpen were terrific, but the lineup went 3-16 with runners in scoring position. The fourth inning saw them strand men on the corners and nobody out with two whiffs and a grounder. The ninth inning saw them strand two on and one out with a whiff and a grounder. The tenth inning saw them strand two on and none out and then the bases loaded and one out with three whiffs. There were chances - more chances than mentioned - and the M's blew nearly all of them. It was, once again, shades of Cliff Lee's debut against Texas, only this one didn't end with anyone pedaling out of the clubhouse.
And for Wak's part, he wasn't without fault. Jose Lopez probably shouldn't have been swinging away with two on and none out against Carlos Marmol in the ninth. Josh Wilson certainly shouldn't have been hitting at all against Marmol with the bases loaded, not with Ryan Langerhans, Mike Carp, and Casey Kotchman all on the bench. None of those three are great hitters, but they're all left-handed, and they all have good eyes. Marmol's wild, and that was an opportunity. Later on, I have no idea why Garrett Olson and Sean White pitched the 13th instead of a fresh and rested Shawn Kelley (Update: apparently, Kelley was unavailable for some reason. Still don't know why Olson pitched), and once again, Josh Wilson shouldn't have led off the bottom half against Bob Howry with the same lefties on the bench. None of these decisions cost the M's the game, and all these decisions together still didn't cost the M's the game, but they didn't help, as Wak just further demonstrated that he, like most other managers, has too much faith in his certain guys.
Eh. It was frustrating. It would've been nice to get Felix a win he deserved. It would've been nice to sweep thosefans right out of Safeco. It would've been nice to pull it out at some point just so I didn't spend four hours of my Thursday afternoon watching an avoidable loss. But ultimately, whatever. Felix was great, and at least the bulk of those four hours were compelling, if irksome. There are worse ways to spend a day.
Felix Hernandez did not have a good May. I think everybody realizes that. But I also think it's safe to say he's made up for it, as this is his June:
12% swinging strikes
He had the one mediocre start in Texas, but it came between four absolutely dominant outings against Minnesota and the National League. And in those games, he did everything. He pounded the zone. He got the misses when he had to. He avoided coming unglued, he got quick outs, and he paced himself. And he threw pitch after pitch after pitch without ever wearing down. I know Felix's rough starts tend to stick in our memory, but maybe you should consider why that is. They stick in your memory because you don't expect them. You don't expect them because, most of the time, he pitches like one of the best arms in baseball.
It wasn't long ago that there was a great deal of concern about Felix's mental status, and whether he still had his head in the game with the season coming apart. I don't think there's any concern anymore. I don't know what straightened him out. I don't know if it was Wak, or being around Cliff Lee, or just a renewed focus, or what, but Felix isn't coasting the way he was in May. Somehow he got the message, and he's performed near the top of his game. It's a beautiful thing when he's near the top of his game. That's the Felix that you just hope to one day see in the playoffs, because he seems like a big-game pitcher, and a focused Felix in the playoffs could mean great, great things.
Felix deserved the win today. The only part of this game that hurts is that he didn't get it.
- In the 11th inning, Brandon League threw seven pitches. All of them were fastballs. He walked a guy, allowed a fly ball, and got a grounder.
In the 12th inning, Brandon League threw 12 pitches. Six of them were fastballs. He got three swinging strikeouts, all offspeed.
I like Brandon League's fastball. I really do. It goes 97 miles an hour and dives like Didier Drogba. It's a very good pitch that does very good things. It's not like this is old Felix, where I'm mad because his fastball doesn't work. It works. It's just that his offspeed stuff works, too, and happens to work a bit better. I wonder if League will notice how differently his two innings went.
- Lou Piniella came out to argue a close play at third in the tenth inning. It was a good show for the fans, since Seattle hasn't seen that from Lou in quite some time, but it didn't seem to me that his heart was really in it, and though he turned back to say some additional words to third base ump Mike Reilly three or four times before returning to the dugout, he kept his cool the whole time. Kind of disappointing. And the tag was sticking out of his shirt. I hate when the tag is sticking out of someone's shirt. I feel compelled to tuck it back in. But then people get all uppity because a stranger is touching their neck. I'm just doing you a favor. You look like a fool.
- The top of the eighth saw Felix throw five pitches and generate three groundball outs. The first was bobbled by Jose Lopez, who recovered to throw the runner out. The second was thrown high by Jose Lopez, with Josh Wilson pulling it down. The third was grounded into the hole and fielded by Jack Wilson, who slid to his right and made a strong throw to first from his knees in one fluid motion. That inning is why, no matter what his UZR said, I was never buying Jose Lopez as a Gold Glove defender. Jose Lopez is clumsy and slow. Jack Wilson is the world's most unattractive gymnast.
- Michael Saunders against lefties in his big league career: 14-76, one walk, 31 strikeouts. He's not going to get better without getting experience, but the getting-experience stage is going to be awful. I really didn't give him a chance in either big situation today, against Sean Marshall in the ninth or against Tom Gorzelanny in the 13th. He just isn't at the point yet where he can stand in without embarrassing himself.
- Speaking of bad matchups, how about that tenth inning with Carlos Marmol? In case you haven't heard, Marmol came in with a BB/9 over 5 and a K/9 over 16. Over 16. He is as wild and unhittable as any pitcher in baseball. In two absolutely critical, potential game-winning situations, he got to face Jose Lopez and Eliezer Alfonzo. Lopez, who is on pace to fall 50% shy of his stated season goal for walks, and Alfonzo, who entered the year with the lowest projected walk rate of anyone projected.
There are a lot of guys who would be good matchups against Marmol. There are a lot of guys who would be bad matchups against Marmol. Jose Lopez and Eliezer Alfonzo are two of the worst matchups imaginable. The last time two people faced odds that long, Ray Charles and Andrea Bocelli teamed up to play Time Crisis.