Theknew ahead of time that they'd have to prepare for one unfamiliar opponent. The are just another baseball team, but they're a baseball team many of the Mariners hadn't seen before. With new hitters, new starters, and new relievers, they were going to present new challenges that the M's would have to overcome.
But what the Mariners didn't know was that they'd face a second unfamiliar opponent as well. Ordinarily when they go on the road, they end up playing in front of a pretty tame audience. There'll be some hecklers, and there'll be cheering for the other team, but nothing particularly notable. Tonight, though, the Marlins faithful were out in full force, and they created an unusual environment as they tried to get into the Mariners' heads. They tried to distract Felix Hernandez when he got to two strikes. They tried to distract Felix when he hit. Later on, they tried to distract Miguel Olivo when he was hitting by repeating his name over and over. Instead of simply responding, the Marlins fans were vocal and determined to make themselves a factor, presenting just another new challenge.
But the Mariners managed to overcome all obstacles they faced and battle for a 5-1 win to snap what could've developed into a crippling losing streak. Now back to .500, the M's are basically where they were a month ago, but everything's a little brighter now, and memories of thesweep have been softened. They played a good baseball game, and one good baseball game goes a long way towards erasing bad baseball games from before.
I was on with Brock and Salk in the morning, and at one point Salk asked what I was looking for out of this series, given what just happened to the M's in D.C. I responded that what we and the team could really use was one of those dominant Felix outings where he just takes the game over. One of those games where he goes eight innings and strikes out 10 or 11 dudes. One of those games where Felix just refuses to take a loss.
On the one hand, we wound up getting that game. Pretty much exactly, as it turned out. Felix went eight innings. He struck out ten dudes. He shook off some real bad control problems early to allow but one single run that was only partially earned.
But for a while, the Mariner offense was doing what it did yesterday and the day before that. As effectively as Felix was pitching, he was also the owner of the team's only hit through the first six frames, and the Marlins clung to a 1-0 lead. Felix's hit in front of his court had been a season highlight, to be sure, but because it was for so long the only hit, I imagine many of us were convinced the M's were going to lose 1-0 on a run-scoring strikeout wild pitch. It would be one of the only ways to top losing 1-0 on a sacrifice fly.
Finally, though, the offense showed up in the seventh, and I think Franklin Gutierrez's two-out two-run single delivered the death blow to the Marlins. The M's were up 3-1 with Felix in a groove, and at last we got to relax. Instead of panicking over a possible shutout, we got to enjoy Felix's final pitches and all of the crowd support, and now that it's over, I can honestly say that that was one of the more fun baseball games I've watched in a handful of years.
It wasn't just about how awesome Felix was, and how he picked up the first hit by a pitcher in Safeco Field history. The King's Court just added so much life to this broadcast. They were numerous, they were loud from the get-go, they were innovative with their chants, and they created an environment in a game that one would otherwise expect to be completely dead. This was a game against the Marlins that wasn't included in season ticket packages because it wasn't supposed to be played in Seattle. Attendance was around 15,000. This could've, and probably should've been a library. But the three-section Court was the loudest and most rowdy it's been, and it changed everything. Their level of interest and enthusiasm at the game increased my level of interest and enthusiasm at home, to the point where I on three occasions got up from my sofa to cheer.
Interestingly, the best Court moment didn't even involve the player for whom it was created. Miguel Olivo came to bat with a man on in the top of the ninth. The Court started chanting his name, and then it kept chanting his name, and after five pickoffs and eight pitches, this happened:
Everything about it was perfect, made only more perfect by Olivo's response after the game:
"They got me going," said the 32-year-old veteran. "I heard that and when I missed the first fastball I said, 'Man, I cannot strike out right here.' They were excited for me. I'm glad when I hit that ball, they cheered even more.
"That meant a lot to me," he said. "That's the first time people did that to me in my career. I'm very happy and thankful for it."
The King's Court makes the whole experience of Mariners baseball better, and tonight they were a huge reason why this game was so much fun. I can't wait to participate in it myself. I hope it never goes away.
I'm going to write these bullet holes quickly, since it's gotten so late:
- The box score will show that Felix only walked two guys in eight frames. Two walks, on their own, are rarely suggestive of problems with control. But both those walks came in the first two innings, and Felix also hit two batters in the second for good measure. He was very wild early on and was fortunate enough to face Ricky Nolasco when he loaded the bases.
But something flipped between the second and the third. Felix began the third with a four-pitch strikeout, and from then on he was absolutely dominant. Though he allowed a run in the fourth, that run scored on two groundballs, a steal, and a strikeout in the dirt that Miguel Olivo couldn't handle. He finished with those ten strikeouts, and 17 swinging strikes, with Marlins hitters being left especially helpless against his changeup.
This whole outing wasn't Felix at his best, given the rough start, but long stretches of this outing were Felix at his best. There couldn't have been a confident bat in that entire Marlins lineup.
- This guy wanted Felix to hit a baseball at his wang:
- Felix batted three times, seeing seven pitches and swinging at all of them. All three times he put the ball in play, and the first time he shot an 0-1 outside fastball through the hole between first and second for the first hit of the game. Two games in a row now the Mariners' pitcher has broken up a potential no-hitter. I can't think of a better guy to own Safeco's first pitcher hit.
- In the eighth inning, Brendan Ryan fouled out to Mike Stanton down the right field line. Stanton made the catch near the seats, and after he caught the ball, a fan appeared to reach out and push him. Stanton paused, turned, and glared, and for a few seconds, everybody hoped. Then Stanton returned to his position and everybody sat back in their seats, disappointed.
- Gutierrez's two-run single was the big hit of the game, and it came on a tough 1-1 slider down and away that a lot of guys would've missed or chopped to second. Instead, Guti stayed with it and hit one of those line drives up the middle that looks like it's headed straight for the camera. I'm not sure that Guti should've swung at that pitch, but he couldn't have done a better job of hitting it.
Adam Kennedy picked at least two or three difficult short-hops charging in from third base. One of Chone Figgins' supposed advantages over Kennedy is his superiority in the field, but the more I watch, the less convinced I am that the gap is that big, if there's a gap at all. Kennedy's body probably can't withstand the rigors of playing every day, but when he does play, he looks fine.
- The game was delayed going into the top of the eighth when Jack McKeon called the operator to ask for the number to the bullpen.
- With one on and one out in the bottom of the seventh, Jose Lopez pinch-hit for Nolasco, setting up one of those matchups we've been dying to witness for years. Unfortunately absolutely nothing remarkable happened and after eight pitches and a bunch of foul balls, Lopez pulled a routine fly to left. I guess that means Lopez won.
I'm all out of steam, so, Jason Vargas and Chris Volstad tomorrow. I literally know nothing about Chris Volstad. Nothing at all, aside from his name and the team that he plays for. And since I'll be out of town tomorrow and presumably not paying attention, I will continue to know nothing about Chris Volstad, even after he faces the Mariners. That's just the way I likes my Volstad.