Back on April 27th, Erik Bedard and the went up against Justin Verlander and the . This was before Bedard had settled into his groove, so it was a pitching matchup that looked pretty dreadful. Even so, 181 minutes later, the M's were high-fiving each other in the infield, having somehow won 10-1.
Yet just because the Mariners beat Verlander once didn't mean they had him solved. Verlander is basically a multiple-choice final exam for which his opponents forgot to study. So they just fill in B for every answer, and while sometimes the answer is B - as it was on April 27th - far more often it is not, and ultimately nobody passes. Verlander is an impossible test, and though the M's have made me feel embarrassed on countless occasions in the past, today is not one of those days.
What's interesting is that, for some time, it looked like things were being drawn up for the M's to pull off another miracle. We knew coming in that Doug Fister would have to be perfect, and that the lineup would have to scrape and claw for whatever it could get. Well, Fister got a big double play in the first. He was perfect in the second. He stranded a leadoff triple in the third. He stranded a leadoff double in the fourth. When Greg Halman scored on a two-out strikeout-wild-pitch in the fifth, it felt like fate. It felt like exactly the way the Mariners - these Mariners - would beat Justin Verlander.
But then the Tigers jumped on Fister in the bottom half, and we were reminded that baseball doesn't follow pre-designed narratives. Narratives are only made to fit retroactively, and while a good retroactive narrative would've been the M's beating the Tigers 1-0 on a strikeout-wild-pitch, the actual narrative is that the M's got shut down by Justin Verlander, because of course they did, because Justin Verlander is awesome, and the Mariners' offense is not. It's not as fun a narrative, but it's a hell of a lot more realistic.
It's hard to be upset when I'd already conceded this game last night.
To the bullet holes:
- Lost in the story of Verlander's dominance is that it took Verlander 126 pitches to allow one run in eight innings, while it took Doug Fister 87 pitches to allow four runs in eight innings. Obviously, Fister is a contact pitcher while Verlander's pitch count was inflated by the fact that the Mariners couldn't hit anything he threw, but Fister turned in the kind of start that'll keep him on a manager's good side. Efficiency, a good tempo, lots of strikes, and only one ugly inning. Managers love when a guy only has one ugly inning, because then managers can say "if you just ignore that one ugly inning, he was great."
Fister's actual results weren't superb - they were merely fine. He only had three strikeouts to two walks, and he allowed a bunch of balls in the air. At this point it's worth noting that we aren't enamored with Fister because he's taken a major step forward. We're enamored with Fister because he's different from how he used to be, and that's interesting. It's interesting when players make changes. We're also enamored with Fister because he's adorable. Just look at him!
- I noted this on Twitter, but once you notice Justin Verlander's arm hair, you can't unnotice it.
Justin Verlander in sleeves
Verlander has long thrown one of the game's hardest fastballs, and one can only imagine how much harder he could throw were it not for all that drag. When Justin Verlander throws a fastball, it sounds like a pterodactyl flapping its wings.
- The Seattle faithful in Safeco have taken to booing Chone Figgins, in case you hadn't noticed over the past few weeks. It's always interesting to hear that kind of thing from the other side. It turns out the Detroit faithful in Comerica have taken to booing Ryan Raburn. Raburn went 0-for-3 today with a strikeout and a double play, and is batting .203 with a .568 OPS over 200 trips to the plate. Those Tigers fans don't know how good they have it.
I'm really looking forward to watching the M's play the in Anaheim.
- Despite the matchup, this wasn't a bad day for Greg Halman. Halman grounded out against Jose Valverde and struck out against Verlander, but in another at bat against Verlander he sat back on a 2-2 curveball and laced a single to center, and in his other at bat against Verlander, he fought off a high-inside curveball and flew out to moderately deep right field. He did that on a curve off the fists. Greg Halman is not completely lost, and Greg Halman is pretty strong.
Halman also stole a base and scampered home on that wild pitch that gave the M's a temporary lead. If Halman were five years older, he'd be really interesting as a fourth or fifth OF.
- It's been written that Bryce Harper will be good for baseball, because Harper will fill the role of villain left by and large vacant when Barry Bonds went away. Harper may end up being a good villain, and the game today may be villain-less, but Jose Valverde is kind of a villain. A lower-level villain, like a scoundrel. So is Francisco Rodriguez. The game today still has players that make you hate them, and that's good. They add flavor. They're basically herbs.
If Jose Valverde were an herb, he would be star anise.
- Mariners hitters took 75 swings, and 28 of them missed.
- Mike Carp went hitless and got picked off, but he drew two walks - the only two walks the Mariners drew. The first, against Verlander, saw him lay off a high 2-2 fastball, and then a high 3-2 fastball, neither of which missed the zone by much. The second, against Valverde, came with two outs and none on in the top of the ninth of a 4-1 game in which the M's looked dead in the water. So that plate appearance took a good amount of concentration, and Carp worked a walk from an 0-2 count.
Erik Bedard and Brad Penny tomorrow as the pitching advantage swings in the other direction. I have absolute 100% confidence the Mariners will seize the opportunity.