I am a firm believer that, at the end of the season, you shouldn't look back on individual games as missed opportunities. If your team misses out on the playoffs by a game or three, for example, I don't think you should look back on particular games as being the reason they came up short. I don't feel this way because I think it's invalid - obviously, in hindsight, a different result here and there could make all the difference. I just think you'll drive yourself crazy reflecting and mulling. Every team has a bunch of games they probably should've won, and doing this is a great way to send yourself into the offseason mad and dissatisfied.
However, if I did believe in that kind of critical reflection, tonight's game is probably one of those games that I'd look to in the event that thejust missed. I guess the thing about having great run prevention and awful run production is that practically every loss is a game that could've been won with a few different breaks, but tonight's game was especially infuriating. It was especially winnable. I won't go so far as to say the Mariners beat themselves, because the were playing, too, but this one probably shouldn't have wound up 5-4.
Everybody always talks about missed opportunities. This one was littered with missed opportunities. The M's had the bases loaded and one out in the second and couldn't take advantage of a then-vulnerable Tommy Hanson. Adam Kennedy whiffed with a pair in scoring position in the fourth. Justin Smoak committed a run-scoring error on what should've been the final out in the sixth. Kennedy was thrown out during an inexplicable double steal in the seventh. And the final two batters got out with the tying run on second in the ninth.
So many chances. And that doesn't even mention the fact that the Mariners handed Michael Pineda a 3-0 lead that he couldn't hold, in large part because he walked the world in the seventh. I don't want to sit here and criticize one of the biggest reasons the M's are even moderately relevant, but Pineda chose the wrong time to come kind of unglued. And then for the Braves to score the tying and go-ahead runs on a flare and a grounder - I can't decide if that's how teams that blow opportunities ought to lose, or if teams that blow opportunities ought to lose by sudden dingers. There are arguments to be made for both.
I guess you can micro-analyze any game if you want to. At the end of the day, the Mariners lost by one run to the Braves, who are a much better team than the Mariners are. There's no shame in that, and there's no shame in losing a game of ground in the standings when the M's play the Braves and theplay the . A lot of times, you'd expect the M's to lose a game of ground in the standings. But when you watch the game, instead of simply checking the box score when it's over, you see the whole process. And tonight, the process sucked. The M's could've won this game, and it would've been a big game for them to win, but they didn't, and instead of taking solace in the fact that the M's are only three out of first, I'm noticing that the M's are only three out of last.
Bullet holes! I use the exclamation point to show that I'm not taking this too hard!
- For most of the season, Michael Pineda has been the rare kind of young pitching prospect. Not only was he throwing electric stuff; he was throwing electric stuff with good command, which you usually don't see from a guy who's fresh up from the minors. Even though he was young, he was throwing with the polish of a guy with several years of experience.
Tonight, Pineda looked much more like a normal phenom. On the one hand, he was difficult for the Braves to hit. There are a lot of good hitters in that lineup, but 15 of the 40 swings they took against Pineda missed. On the other hand, fewer than 60% of his pitches were strikes. He walked five batters, and while home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman had an inconsistent zone, he wasn't the problem. Pineda was wilder than he usually is, and he really ran into trouble in the seventh when he walked three of the four batters he faced.
Once again, one of the neat things about Pineda is that he can still look all right even when his signature command isn't there, and he looked all right for much of this game. But this was much more like his start against the , and much less like his start against the . This was a start that reminds you, oh yeah, he still has a lot of room to grow, which is either encouraging or discouraging depending on your perspective.
- Had the Mariners won, one of the heroes would've been Jack Cust. Because they didn't, his performance kind of gets pushed to the side. Still though, making his first start in two weeks, Cust had himself a hell of a game. In the second, he blasted a first-pitch fastball from Tommy Hanson to center over Jordan Schafer's head for an RBI double. In the fourth, he drilled a 2-1 change into right-center for his third home run. And after striking out in the sixth - in a full count - he came up against impossible lefty Jonny Venters in the eighth and and pulled a 1-2 sinker to the track.
If you're unfamiliar with Venters, you may not understand how remarkable that is. Cust didn't only make contact with a 96mph sinker from maybe the best lefty reliever in the game. He pulled the pitch, and he pulled the pitch in the air, nearly tying the score. It was as if Cust condensed his entire rebuttal to the lost-bat-speed argument into one single swing. I don't know how a guy with declining bat speed does that.
It's only one game. Cust isn't "back", and Cust isn't necessarily a weapon. But what this game should do is buy him some playing time, and hopefully he keeps swinging the bat so that we can put our days of Adam Kennedy at DH behind us.
- Ichiro finally checked in with his first home run of the season, on a first-pitch fastball from Hanson to lead off the bottom of the first. Even though we've never exactly counted on Ichiro to hit a bunch of home runs, it was still worrisome to see him stuck on zero for so long, especially after we'd seen a few of his power swings result in lazy flies to right. In 2002 he didn't homer until June 6th, but at that point he was hitting .376, so no one cared. This year, we cared. This year we're all hyper-aware of possible signs of Ichiro's decline, so it's good to remove that ugly zero from next to his name. Not that zeroes are ugly. A zero is actually among the more beautiful numbers. But the meaning of the zero was ugly, making the zero not unlike an ex's old painting left in the closet.
- In the bottom of the fourth, with a man on and a man out, Ichiro hit a chopper back to the mound. Hanson wheeled around to gun out Greg Halman at second, but Alex Gonzalez couldn't handle his throw. Just when it looked like Halman would be safe, though, Rob Drake called him out anyway, presumably ruling that Gonzalez lost the ball on the transfer, which he didn't.
Fast forward to the ninth. With runners on the corners and one out, Chipper Jones lifted a lazy fly to right. Ichiro made the catch and threw a strike home in an attempt to gun down a tagging and charging Jason Heyward. Heyward appeared to narrowly beat the tag of Chris Gimenez, but Dreckman called him out, keeping the score 5-4.
Two blown calls, one in each team's favor. The second had a far greater positive impact for the Mariners than the first did for the Braves. I don't know about balls and strikes, but outside of that, it looks like the M's were helped more than hurt by the umpires tonight.
Miguel Olivo had to leave the game in the top of the fourth with cramps. Chris Gimenez came in off the bench. The first pitch he got was a 96mph fastball from Pineda, which blew right past his glove and all the way to the backstop. "Hey Chris, so, forget about the night off. Instead I want you to go squat in front of a guy throwing a hundred miles per hour. And oh by the way his control isn't so good today so be on your toes."
- Gimenez had a big at bat in the seventh, with two on, two out, and the score 5-4. Facing Scott Proctor, he got to 1-1 and then mysteriously tried to lay down a bunt. After taking the next two pitches for balls, he watched a 3-2 fastball clip the upper-outer corner of the zone for strike three. Gimenez went down without swinging, and the inning was over.
It might've been an at bat ripe for criticism had it not been revealed after the game that Gimenez was playing through a strained oblique, and was incapable of actually swinging the bat. Not only does that make Gimenez's sweep tag of Heyward in the ninth all the more incredible; it explains the way he stood there helplessly in the seventh. Instead of being mad at Gimenez, now I'm just in awe of him, to a slightly lesser degree than when Adrian Beltre played through an exploded testicle.
Chris Gimenez came up in a big spot in the seventh. He literally couldn't swing. You can imagine how desperate he felt. He came an inch or two away from drawing a walk. What a weird plate appearance.
Gimenez, by the way, is probably going to need to go on the DL.
- In the second, Ichiro darted out of the way of an inside Hanson curveball in the dirt. Ichiro has been hit by only 47 pitches in his entire career, and none so far in 2011. Which is fine - drawing the HBP isn't part of his game. But at a time when so many players around the league make minimal effort to get out of the way of a ball, Ichiro goes to great length.
- With two on and one out in the bottom of the seventh of a 5-3 game, Ichiro - who was standing on second - opted to attempt a double steal, with Adam Kennedy on first and the count 3-0 to Justin Smoak. Smoak took a strike, and Brian McCann made a perfect throw down to second to gun Kennedy out. It was a play that looked bad at the time, and that looks even worse now, given how the game wound up.
Complicating matters is that it was Ichiro's decision, and that Ichiro called it an "obvious" move. I usually try to defer to Ichiro when it comes to plays on the field, but with this one, I can't. I just can't buy it. I'd be willing to be convinced, but if I actually got to talk to Ichiro myself I'm pretty sure my brain would seize.
Derek Lowe and Felix Hernandez tomorrow afternoon as the M's look to salvage the series. I don't know how many more times I can ask Felix to save us before he starts looking for something in return. The Court? Does the Court count as something in return?