I was listening to Ken Levine call the final inning in the car. Ken Levine, if you haven't heard him, or even if you have heard him, does not have a normal baseball announcer's voice. He is a 60-year-old man who sounds like a 20-year-old man with the wit of a 40-year-old man, and he makes baseball feel so casual. I don't mean that as a criticism; I mean that Ken Levine's voice makes baseball feel like something we do for fun, rather than something we do for something more than that. With Dave, you could be aware of the seething, and sometimes you would seethe with him. With Ken Levine, you never really lose sight of the fact that you're paying attention to sports.
And still, when he called Travis Hafner's home run, I sank. Physically and emotionally, I sank, and I actually sank in the middle of traffic, making the whole episode both unpleasant and really dangerous. I didn't want to believe it, but I had to believe it, and losing feels so different when it's always the same guy right in the middle.
Of course the public criticism and the second-guessing followed. It had to. Brandon League has taken the loss in his last four appearances. He's blown the save and taken the loss in his last three. Brandon League is in some kind of rut right now. But what's funny about all this is that we're talking about a span of four appearances by a reliever. The first one was kind of weak, but the runs came in his second inning of work. The second was just unlucky. The third was bad. The fourth was bad and unlucky. League's made some mistakes and he's certainly paid for them, but there's been some bad luck along the way, and besides, four appearances.
Ultimately, we're just talking about a few lousy innings. We aren't talking about a string of bad starts. We aren't talking about a string of bad games for a position player. We're talking about a string of bad appearances by a one-inning reliever. Pitchers string together bad innings all the time. Good pitchers and worse pitchers alike. It's just more visible when you're a closer. When you're a closer, you're expected to get the save every time, and people won't accept failure. They definitely won't accept repeated failure. Because of the leverage of their roles, people have little patience with closers, and it doesn't take much to make them all turn.
And people have turned against League. I get it. Believe me, do I ever get it. A loss after a blown save isn't just any other loss. All of these games have been heartbreaking. Win two of them and the M's are 18-21. Win three of them and the M's are 19-20. Win four of them, including that tie in extra innings, and the M's are 20-19. It's tempting to blame Brandon League for driving the season into the ground.
But while what's done is done, the fact remains that it's only been a few bad innings, and League is still the best candidate to keep closing. You want to rely on Jamey Wright? You want to rely on David Pauley? League's the right guy, and he can get back on the horse as long as he's given the opportunity. He feels as low right now as he's probably ever felt in his entire professional career, and the fan base is more down on him than it's been since the trade, but the only way to get everything righted is to give him another shot. To give him as many shots as it takes until he successfully slams the door and puts this all behind him. Despite what it's looked like lately, Brandon League is a pretty good reliever. We need to remember that, and he needs to remember that.
The person I actually feel the worst for tonight - out of League, and all the rest of the players, and all the coaches, and all the families, and all the fans - is Carlos Peguero. League's a veteran, and while this is all kind of new to him, he'll get through it. But Peguero? Look at the way he started out. Around the third or fourth inning I was convinced that Fausto Carmona was going to throw a no-hitter. I wasn't even just entertaining the possibility. I was certain. It didn't make me upset; it was just like, okay, today's the day it's finally going to happen. Let's be honest, it's felt inevitable for a year and a half.
And then with two out in the fifth, Peguero launched a first-pitch changeup in the middle of the plate for his first career Major League home run. His first career Major League home run! And it came at an excellent time, as it snapped a no-hitter and put the M's on the board.
Peguero could've been soaring. Or at least, he could've been preparing to soar after the game, when it could all sink in. Then he forgot how many outs there were in the ninth and got doubled off on the basepaths. Then he misjudged and couldn't run down a double by Michael Brantley. Then he misjudged and couldn't run down a double by Asdrubal Cabrera. Larry LaRue tweeted afterwards that Peguero was "inconsolable," and it's easy to understand why - he's a young kid, and he felt like he blew the game.
Carlos Peguero hit his first career Major League home run, and he wound up feeling like he blew the game. I feel bad for Peguero in the short-term because he's so dejected, but I also feel bad for Peguero in the long-term because his first career Major League home run is now forever tainted. He'll never be able to separate it from the other events of the night. Who knows how many more home runs he'll hit in his life? And even if he goes on to hit plenty, this was the first. This was one of those career highlights. Carlos Peguero's memory of his first career Major League home run won't be as special as it could've, or should've.
That sucks, and hopefully Peguero is stronger mentally than I would be in his position. Hopefully he'll still be able to cherish the memory of this ballgame at least a little bit.
God only knows where we go from here. I mean, there's another game at 10am tomorrow morning so at least there's a quick turnaround, but I'm completely in shock, both from the haste with which the M's have collapsed and the manner in which they've been able to do it. This has been wild, right? Wild in a bad way, but wild. I'm not sure I even remember what boring baseball looks like anymore. What an unexpected, peculiar week.