I used to be an avid reader of the Baseball Prospectus annual volumes. I think I was introduced to my first about ten years ago by Adam Morris (now the author of Lone Star Ball), and BP was the outlet that set me on the path to approaching baseball the way I do today. Lots of people at the time were trying to be analytical, but BP blended its analysis with readability and humor that no one else could match.
For me, at the time, those were the perfect books, and while they contained lots of original research and informative essays, my favorite part was the player profiles - one- or two-paragraph write-ups on most any relevant player in every organization in the league. There was data, there was insight, there was humor, and there was snark, long before everybody decided to try for snark and run it into the ground. Those profiles made it near impossible for me to put a book down, and I'm not usually one to have much trouble setting down a book.
Not all of the profiles were gold, of course. But many of them were, and some of the individual lines have stuck with me all these years later. One of those lines is one written about Jamie Moyer back in the 2003 annual. I think the profile was written by Derek Zumsteg - I'm not sure - and it wrapped up with "As long as Jamie can hold it together, he’ll be outstanding, but the drop should be a hell of a toboggan ride." The line created such a vivid image in my head that I haven't been able to shake it since, even though it's been nearly a decade, and Moyer hasn't been a Mariner since 2006. Toboggan ride. That's exactly what his career was going to be once he lost his edge. (Ed. note: still waiting)
The reason I bring this up is because, as soon as J.J. Hardy's groundball squeezed through up the middle, my first thought was "this is a hell of a toboggan ride." After pulling out such an exciting win last Friday, the Mariners have lost five in a row, with three in heartbreaking fashion, and it's beginning to feel like we're sliding downhill, out of control and gaining speed. The only real difference is that toboggan rides are meant to be enjoyable, while this current slide is very much not. This feels like a toboggan ride, only a toboggan ride in the middle of May. You're not supposed to ride a toboggan on dirt and rocks. Ride a toboggan on dirt and rocks and you're gonna get messed up.
The other night, when Brandon League blew the save and took the loss, I came to his defense. He really didn't pitch that poorly. I'm not sure he pitched poorly at all. He put most of his pitches where he wanted to, he got most of the results that he wanted to, and the fact that the pushed across the tying and game-winning runs didn't automatically mean that League deserved the blown save. He just got unlucky at the wrong time.
There will be no such coming to League's defense tonight. This blown save, he earned. On the one hand, I feel bad - no closer is perfect, and it doesn't seem right that one lousy appearance can spoil all the good done in so many others - but on the other hand, this was not the time. There's never a good time to blow a save and lose a game, but there are bad times and worse times, and the Mariners really didn't need this. Not tonight. Not when they were losers of four in a row, trying to avoid a sweep. Had League nailed it down, the M's could've at least closed on a high note and tried to put the skid behind them. Instead, now they all get to take a miserable flight to Cleveland, which was already going to be miserable enough since it's a flight to Cleveland. Now they get to dwell. To dwell is unhealthy.
League wasn't absolutely, 100% atrocious. The line drive single by Derrek Lee came on a sinker in a good spot. But he got ahead of Vladimir Guerrero 0-2 and hit him. His next pitch was to Adam Jones, and he hit him. Matt Wieters followed that with a first-pitch line drive, and J.J. Hardy followed that with his single up the middle. You could argue that the contact came against good pitches, but the damage had been done with the HBPs. You can't hit two batters when you're protecting a one-run lead. Since 1951, there have only been 68 instances in which a reliever in a save situation hit at least two guys. 68 sounds like a lot, but that's basically once a year. Roughly once a year, a reliever in a save situation hits at least two guys. Brandon League is the reliever for 2011, and his appearance isn't one we'll be able to forget for quite some time.
The great shame is that the blown save spoiled a perfect narrative. For 11 innings, the Mariners and Orioles were either equally good, or equally bad, or both. The game was speeding along, and nobody had scored, and the feeling was that the first team to make a mistake would have to stomach the loss. Then, in the top of the 12th, the Orioles made a mistake. They made a couple, actually. While trying to throw Ichiro out at second on a grounder, Brian Roberts bobbled the ball and had to settle for the out at first. Then, with Ichiro running to third on a grounder to short by Adam Kennedy, J.J. Hardy glanced at third, paused, and threw to first even though it looked like he had a play on the lead runner. Twice, the Orioles could've had Ichiro eliminated, but instead he stayed alive and scored on a grounder through the hole by Miguel Olivo. The Orioles' mistakes had opened the door, and the Mariners got their run. Their run that should've held up.
And it didn't hold up. I guess whenever you have a game featuring mutual nine-inning shutouts, somebody has to be the hard-luck loser. The Mariners were that hard-luck loser, just as they were on Tuesday, and just as they were on Sunday. The upside is that they could easily be 3-2 over this five-game stretch. The downside is that they are not, and we all get to reflect on a sweep in Baltimore that felt a lot like the one in 2008. People have said that they knew after that sweep that a good season wasn't in the cards. I don't know if this'll turn out the same way, but I get what they mean.
Today's bullet holes:
- Jason Vargas, as you probably could've guessed, was phenomenal, and though it's incredibly difficult to isolated awesome pitching from bad hitting, I feel comfortable in saying that Vargas was as good tonight as he's ever been as a Mariner. He threw a ton of strikes, his changeup got better as the game went along, and by keeping plenty of balls in play on the ground, he worked efficiently, needing just 101 pitches to work through nine innings.
So when the game advanced to extras, my immediate thought was, send him back out. I don't think I actually rationally wanted that to happen. Vargas was already over 100 pitches. By that point, he would've been running on his last fumes, and a fresh reliever was a better bet. But then, since 1990, only 50 games have had a starter throw more than nine innings, and Vargas could've been the first Mariner to do it since Randy Johnson in 1993. He could've been the first anyone to do it since 2007. For a number of reasons, starters just don't go more than nine innings very often anymore, and Vargas had a chance. Vargas had a chance to do one of those weird things that Dave Henderson says are the reason to keep watching every day, and I wanted it bad.
It didn't happen. Eric Wedge made the smarter decision and went with a warm Jamey Wright. It panned out. But it made for an awkward conflict between the part of my brain that wants the M's to win and the part of my brain that understands that sports are just there for entertainment.
- After reaching on a fielder's choice in the fifth, Luis Rodriguez attempted to steal second base and was thrown out by as large a margin as I've seen in all my days watching baseball. He was thrown out by such a margin that I wonder if it might've been in his best interests to turn around and try to beat the throw back to first. I won't say he was thrown out by a mile, but only because declaring the margin as wide as a mile would be needlessly hyperbolic. I'd instead say he was thrown out by three Buicks.
Britton: /comes off mound after scoreless ninth
Crowd: /raucous standing ovation
Britton: /sits on dugout bench
Britton: /leans back, sighs
Showalter: Oh gosh way to shut down the
Showalter: What a gem
Showalter: /wiggles fingers sarcastically
- What I've come to understand from watching several Orioles home games over the years is that on average their crowd is composed of 5% angry drunk guys passed out or nearly passed out in their seats and 95% 15-year-old girls who communicate by shrieking. But in a break from the norm, tonight's crowd grew sufficiently organized to engineer a "U-S-A" chant while Ichiro was batting in the ninth, and again while Luis Rodriguez was batting in the 11th. I'm not unhinged enough to think that there was offensive intent, and I'm sure the crowd was just trying to have some fun in what was still a 0-0 ballgame, but I'm not sure what Koji Uehara was supposed to think. Nobody ever considers Koji Uehara's feelings before they act out.
- Every time a catcher rushes out to field a ball in front of the plate and throw down to first, I think, this is the time he drills that guy right in the back of the head. And when that finally happens, I'm going to be torn between expressing sympathy for the fallen baserunner and rewinding to fashion a .gif.
- In the bottom of the fourth, Nick Markakis led off by skying a flare into shallow left field. Mike Wilson didn't get the best jump on the ball - he might've been thrown off by Markakis' swing - but he sprinted in to make a full-extension diving catch. I'm not looking for any evidence that Wilson is a good defensive outfielder. That evidence just isn't going to be there. I'm never going to find it. But I have seen a little evidence that he might not be a bad one. I'm not sure how much this matters since we presumably won't be talking about Mike Wilson as a member of the next Mariners playoff team, but still, that team doesn't exist at the moment, so we might as well talk about the things that we've got.
- With one out and a runner on second in the bottom of the eighth, Brian Roberts hit a chopper to Chone Figgins at third. Figgins charged and the ball took a nasty short-hop, but Figgins was able to field it cleanly and throw to first in plenty of time. If that ball gets through, the Orioles take the lead and probably win in regulation. It didn't, even though I assumed that it would. We give Figgins a lot of crap for his bad plays, so it's only fair to acknowledge his good ones.
This guy caught three foul balls during the game. It tied his lifetime high. I couldn't help but notice that he wasn't with a lady.
- After Justin Smoak worked a walk in the top of the tenth, Eric Wedge replaced him with Adam Kennedy as a pinch-runner. I have never thought of Adam Kennedy as being particularly fast, and in fact have assumed just the opposite all this time, but it turns out Kennedy actually stole 14 bases a year ago, and 20 bases the year before that, and has 171 for his career, ranking him 28th among active players. Adam Kennedy has two fewer career steals than Torii Hunter. Either Adam Kennedy is a fairly fast baserunner, or his opponents have been making the same assumption that I have since the day he broke into the bigs.