40-67, Game Thoughts

Once a season gets to this point, and the team falls well out of contention, the fans, I think, are generally easier to please. Not in terms of overall satisfaction. Certainly not in terms of overall satisfaction. The fans of losing teams tend to be embittered, they tend to be frustrated, and they tend to be mad. When a team sucks like this team sucks, no fan of that team would ever describe himself as happy.

But on a game-to-game basis, I think we're willing to be content with much less than we would be otherwise. When a team's good, you want wins. Wins wins wins. All you care about are wins. When a team's bad, you want glimpses of hope, or fleeting excitement, or rarities. Someone makes an incredible play. A prospect hits a home run or throws a snapping curve. A bench guy comes through in the clutch. The question that fans of a bad team ask themselves is no longer, "did the team win?" The question becomes, "were those three hours a complete waste of my time?"

All we ask for anymore - or at least, all I ask for, and I imagine this applies to most everyone else - is that, when we tune in, it isn't a complete waste. It's really quite simple, and you'd think it would be an easy standard to meet. Not that the M's have been meeting it very often of late.

Tonight, though, they met it. While the game didn't begin with much promise and at no point through seven innings felt the least bit significant, the eighth inning brought us some real-life, genuine playoff excitement. When the Rangers put their first two on against Brandon League, it felt so familiar. League was struggling with his command. He'd coughed up several narrow leads before. It was all happening again. A Josh Hamilton grounder looked like a potential double play, which would de-claw the threat, but then Hamilton beat out the relay to first, and with men on the corners for Nelson Cruz, it felt like a certainty. It was so obvious it wasn't even worth pointing out. Cruz would deliver, the Rangers would take the lead, and the Mariners would lose another game. When Hamilton was ruled safe on a close play, I prepared myself to get mad at League for throwing Cruz the wrong pitch in the wrong place.

And Cruz, sure enough, got ahead 1-0 before lining a low fastball. The only surprising thing to me was that Cruz singled, rather than doubled or homered. Still, the single tied the game, and Jorge Cantu would probably follow through with the game-winning hit a pitch or two later. Mariners baseball.

Only Cruz didn't single. It took me a moment to register the fact that his liner to the hole was snared off the ground by Chone Figgins, who threw the ball to Jack Wilson, who flipped the ball to Casey Kotchman for an inning-ending double play. League made his mistake. Cruz hit his line drive. And the Mariners escaped with the lead still intact.

It would've been one thing had Cruz hit a slow roller, or a routine 6-4-3. That would've been fun, but it wouldn't have been the same. Cruz hit the ball hard. He hit the ball hard, and to an area such that Figgins would have to make a tremendous play just to knock the ball down. He hit the ball so hard, and Figgins made such a good play, that fans got to experience much of the full range of fan emotion in half of a second. The response was a sustained, roaring ovation. The 39-67 Mariners were jogging of the field clinging to a one-run lead, and they jogged to a standing ovation.

I cheered the double play from my own couch, and I don't do much cheering from my couch. And when David Aardsma sealed the deal with nary a fright, for just a few moments, I felt good about this team. I felt content, and I felt a little bit proud. For that player to deliver that play, and for the Mariners to win given the circumstances and the ease with which we all would've accepted a loss - we don't ask for much anymore, but this game, for me, went above and beyond. We didn't need as much as they gave. This was a treat.

-----

Just a few quick points:

  • Aside from Figgins' astonishing double play, I think the most interesting thing to happen tonight was the way David Aardsma pitched to Vladimir Guerrero. Honestly, it was the way he pitched all inning, but the at bat with Vlad really brought it home. Aardsma started Jorge Cantu off with a slider, and got a fly out on another one with a 1-1 count. He showed Cristian Guzman an 0-1 splitter that he lost in the dirt. And then when Vlad came up, just as you expected Aardsma to uncork high fastball after high fastball, he did the complete opposite.

    -slider in the middle for a called strike
    -splitter in the dirt for a ball
    -curve(?) on the inside black for a foul
    -splitter down for a ball
    -splitter over the inner half for a groundout

    Aardsma threw five pitches to Vladimir Guerrero and didn't show him a single fastball. This from one of the most fastball-heavy pitchers in the league, throwing to a rookie backstop. I don't know who was in charge of all that, but credit to him or them for pulling off the unexpected. I'd be interested to hear more about where this idea came from. Aardsma hasn't faced Guerrero this year, so it's not like there's a recent history of Guerrero punishing his fastball. I don't think Aardsma has the best offspeed stuff in the world, but that's how you keep a Hall Of Famer off balance.

  • Michael Saunders hit three lazy flies to left field today. I think Colby Lewis and Darren O'Day combined to give him exactly one pitch that he could punish, and he fouled it off. I love Saunders - we all love Saunders - but when he isn't getting stuff over the middle or inner half, he'll have games like this. It's nice to see him at least sending those outside pitches about 300 feet the other way, I guess. He hits the ball harder off the end of the bat than Chone Figgins does off the barrel.

  • Seeing Cristian Guzman in the Rangers' lineup inspired me to check his track record. In my head, he was a really good young player who mysteriously declined when he should've peaked. Turns out, nope. Guzman has had two and a quarter good seasons in his career. I'm afraid to check on Luis Rivas, in fear that all the thoughts of old Minnesota infielders I once held dear may be untrue.

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  • Casey Kotchman closed out the top of the fifth by making a good pick on a low throw from Jack Wilson. I was going to sing his praises a little bit, but then I got to thinking about how weird it is that picks are so difficult. All a pick is is putting your glove where you expect a ball to bounce, which really shouldn't be that hard when you think about it. But humans have this tendency to jerk their heads or snap their gloves forward when there's little reason to do either. We shouldn't applaud the players who make good picks. We should acknowledge that the players who make good picks are normal, functional people, and that the players who don't make good picks are morons.

  • Matt Tuiasosopo hit an unusual double when a ball in play got stuck in the left field fence, which makes this the first time we can phrase an honest sentence around "Matt Tuiasosopo" and "sticks in Seattle."
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