Nationals Gift Game To Mariners, Then Suddenly Go All Indian Giver

Better times

(What an awful, offensive expression that is.)

That Nationals/Padres game. That game from years ago, where the Nationals took a 5-0 lead into the ninth, allowed a game-tying grand slam to Khalil Greene, and later lost in extra innings. That game where the Nationals announcer groaned ohhh nooooo as soon as the ball left Greene's bat. I've talked about it here and linked it a bunch of times. I've delighted in it. I delighted in it then, and I delight in it now, because it was an awesome, completely unexpected turn of events.

I guess this is how the Nationals get me back. The sequence of events today was different from the sequence of events in the Padres game, but then, the sequence of events was basically the same, right down to Dave Sims repeating No way as Wilson Ramos raised his arms. This game was that game, and I suppose it's only fair that I should have to experience both sides. I don't actually believe this, but I'd like to.

As Brandon League worked the bottom of the ninth, I had everything all set up. I'd assumed a win for several innings. I had the chart mostly done. I had the image I was going to embed in it. I had the chart post mostly formatted, with all the right words written and check boxes checked. And I had the angle I was going to take to kick off the recap. It was just a matter of League recording a handful of outs.

But he couldn't do it. And then David Pauley couldn't do it. I still assumed a win pretty much the whole time, even as Franklin Gutierrez and Greg Halman closed in on the wall after Ramos' fly, but then it became clear the ball was going to keep sailing. And that meant the Mariners lost.

It all happened so suddenly, so unexpectedly I wasn't sure how to respond. I know I'm glad I'm not a beat writer, since all of them lost everything they'd worked on with the final swing of the game. But I didn't process what had happened at the time, and I'm not sure I've processed it yet. Part of me expects to wake up at 2:30am in a cold sweat, realizing Wait! WHAT? I don't know when this game's going to hit me. It's like a stick of dynamite with a lit wick I can't see.

There were a lot of events in this game that now look bigger in retrospect. Justin Smoak getting doubled off third base in the first (albeit on a bad call). Ichiro's double play in the fourth. The team stranding runners in scoring position in the seventh, eighth, and ninth. Smoak's error to lead off the ninth. Had any of these events gone a different way, maybe the Mariners would've come away with the win.

But the leverage was low, and the impact relatively small. None of those events are the reason the Mariners lost. There's no one reason why the Mariners lost, of course, but of all the reasons, by far the biggest is that Pauley left a changeup at Wilson Ramos' belt. It doesn't mean Pauley's a bad reliever. It doesn't mean Ramos is a great hitter. Most of all, it doesn't mean the Mariners are suddenly toast, emotionally crippled after a heartbreaking loss. It just means the M's lost a big game they could've won. And it's the latest sign that those home runs the bullpen was somehow keeping under control earlier in the season are starting to escape from their cage.

I would really like for it to be tomorrow, now.

An assortment of bullet holes:

  • We've talked a lot about how Doug Fister isn't necessarily much better this year than last year, but is taking a different course to a similar destination. Tonight, the same thing played out with his luck. Fister's bad luck all season has been a dearth of run support. Tonight, he got run support, so he got unlucky in a different way when his bullpen let him down. It sucks, but Fister can't complain too much, since variety is the spice of life.

    He did spin eight sparking, economical innings. There weren't a lot of missed bats. This was more old Fister than new Fister. But the memory I have of his start - which now seems like so long ago - is that Nationals hitters kept rolling over on everything. The numbers bear this out. Fister allowed 22 balls in play. 14 of them were grounders, and zero of them were line drives. He kept the ball down, he stayed out of the center, and he did what he does.

    Obviously, given what happened, some people will second-guess Eric Wedge's decision to pull him after eight innings and 99 pitches. I don't know how much Fister had left in the tank, but it was an absurdly hot, humid evening in DC, so I've got no qualms. Nobody ever expects their bullpen to blow a 5-1 lead in the ninth.

  • Fister contributed to his own run support in the top of the fourth, when he faced Livan Hernandez with a man on second. After falling behind 1-2, Fister fought off a tough pitch down and away, took a curve outside, took a changeup low to run the count full, fought off another tough pitch down and away, and then pulled a curve over the plate between first and second base for an RBI single. It was one of the best at bats of the game, and the perfect example of why I look forward to watching the M's in NL ballparks. I would never want to watch pitchers hit every day, but I love that I can watch them a few times a year. Pitchers hitting is silly. Silly is interesting. Baseball benefits from more interesting.

  • Despite the drama at the end, there was a very casual feel to this game for the first several innings. It's hard to explain what I mean but judging by the game thread, I know I wasn't the only one feeling it. There wasn't any intensity. There wasn't any particular emotion. It seemed like the players were moving at 75%. Maybe Livan Hernandez was setting the tone, but when Dustin Ackley drove in Adam Kennedy in the first, Kennedy just kind of strolled into home even though it looked like a close play, and Wilson Ramos casually received the throw from right even though Kennedy was stepping just behind him. It was all very bizarre. It was like watching Spring Training. You'd never think this was a game between two surprise teams in the race.

  • Ackley's big at bat was his RBI single in the first, a sharp grounder he pulled to the same spot that Fister did a few innings later. He didn't do anything else notable at the plate, pulling three grounders and popping out, but he didn't get a lot to hit, he didn't swing at a bad pitch, and he can't hit a line drive every time. It feels like a disappointment any time Ackley doesn't hit the ball 100 miles per hour, but we can only reasonably expect him to do that like 60% of the time, max.

    But while Ackley was moderately quiet with the bat, he started a gem of a double play in a big spot in the sixth. Ryan Zimmerman pounded a sharp grounder to Ackley's left. He sprinted back and left, snared the ball with an outstretched glove, and wheeled around to make a quick, accurate throw to Brendan Ryan to start the 4-6-3. Again, it wasn't a play for the ages, but I'm still waiting to see any sign of Ackley being anything less than just fine in the field. He's done everything he could've done, and a little more.

    Ackley was involved in two other double plays as well, and had no problems.

  • With one on and no out in the first, Roger Bernadina drove a Fister pitch deep to left field that sent Carlos Peguero sprinting back towards the track. I never expect Peguero to make the tough play, but to his credit, he stayed on the ball and made a good, athletic catch near the fence. It's nice for Peguero to have something positive to think about with his OBP fast approaching .250.

  • Mike Blowers after Adam Kennedy's RBI single in the first:

    This is what you want to see out of your veteran hitters.

    Mike Blowers after Adam Kennedy grounded out to move Brendan Ryan to third in the third:

    That's what you like to see from your veterans.

    When there's one out and a man on second, you want a veteran to bring the runner home. When there's none out and a man on second, you want a veteran to move the runner along, presumably so another veteran can bring him home.

  • The Nationals have Jim Riggleman and John McLaren in the same dugout. I know that isn't new news, but I'd completely forgotten about it until today, since, why would I think about the Nationals? McLaren and Riggleman found a way to get their hands on Stephen Strasburg after all. What a weird thing to have come true.

  • The press booth at Nationals Park was measured as being an unusually distant 233 feet away from home plate, or four Jack Wilson at bats.

Erik Bedard and John Lannan tomorrow. Brandon League threw a bunch of pitches and has a sore leg after getting hit by a comebacker, so he might not be available. Ichiro was seen limping after the game tonight so he might not be available. The Rangers just won, literally just won over the terrible Astros, on an extra-innings walk-off home run to knock the M's to two out of first. I would very much like a win. If the Mariners lose again, I know I'm going to start getting ahead of myself, and I'm a born worrier.

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