I can't pretend to know what it feels like to be Felix Hernandez. I mean, in general, I assume it feels pretty good. He's Felix Hernandez. He's awesomely talented, he's extraordinarily rich, and he has a big happy family. And he's young. When I get fucked up, it's usually because I'm trying to feel as good as Felix Hernandez probably feels most of the time. Or I'm trying to forget about how I don't feel close to that good more often than not. While granting that you can never know what's truly going on inside someone's head - witness today's news regarding Aubrey Huff - based on the information I do have, Felix is a happy guy. Happy, and pretty carefree. He's got his priorities in line.
But I can't pretend to know what it feels like to be Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariner. Some of the time, it has to be great. Some of the time, it has to be agonizing. So many times, Felix has gone out there and left his heart on the mound, and come away with a loss or a no-decision. So many times, Felix has had to carry the team on his back, and so many times, that hasn't been enough. Even if baseball is something Felix only really worries about when he's at the ballpark, he spends a lot of time at the ballpark, and you wonder how he's been able to cope with thefor this long. You wonder how he's been able to not only cope, but remain outwardly enthusiastic about his commitment to the team.
Last week must've been devastating. Last week, Felix was unhittable for eight innings, but Brandon League was hittable for one inning and everything flew away. We'd seen games similar to that one before, but this one was worse. This one was going to be special, until it wasn't. I don't know how Felix dealt with the events of last week, but if they lingered with him, if they stuck in his craw, I'd understand. If ever Felix was going to feel negative about things, it would be after a game like his game last Thursday.
Once last Thursday was over, there was nothing the Mariners could do about it. They couldn't go back and score more runs for Felix. They couldn't go back and have Brandon League pitch better. Once last Thursday was over, all the Mariners could do was swear to be better the next time, and to actually be better the next time. And the time after that, and the time after that. The Mariners couldn't do anything to erase it, but the Mariners could take steps to make up for it.
Tonight, the Mariners took steps to make up for it. Felix hasn't forgotten about all his poor run support year after year after year, but tonight, the Mariners scored him nine runs, on a cold, wet night in a big park. Tonight, the Mariners scored in the first inning, they scored in the second inning, and they staked Felix to a 6-0 lead after two and a half. Later they pushed it to 7-1, and then to 9-1. Tonight, with Felix on the mound, the Mariners hit like a Major League Baseball team. They hit like a good Major League Baseball team, against a good Major League Baseball team.
Tonight, the Mariners made Felix's job easy. Or about as easy as it could've been. Tonight, the Mariners shouldered the load, and gave Felix a break. Felix isn't someone who's used to getting a lot of breaks. Felix is someone who's used to having to be perfect, or something close to perfect. Tonight, the Mariners allowed him to coast, and while I don't know if Felix was coasting, maybe he just didn't know what to do with himself and with all of those runs. For a few brief moments, it looked like Felix would try to give the runs back, so he could pitch with a tight score like he usually does.
I can't pretend to know what it feels like to be Felix Hernandez, but if I could offer a guess, I'd say Felix feels a lot better about baseball right now than he did a few days ago. The Mariners couldn't do anything about last Thursday, but they did what they had to do tonight, and now this is what's fresh in Felix's mind. The memory of the loss to theis still in there. The memories of other lost games are still in there. But sitting in front of all of those games is a 9-1 win in Detroit. Felix threw just 92 pitches, and he threw most of them with a big lead. For Felix, this was practically a vacation. Who isn't in a better mood when they're back from vacation?
There's just something about thethat makes the Mariners look acceptable, or better than that. The success the Mariners have had against the Tigers has no reason for being aside from statistical variation, but it's been there. Tonight matched Felix Hernandez up against Adam Wilk. On paper, that's an incredible mismatch. The Mariners have narrowly won or lost incredible mismatches before. Tonight, this played out like an incredible mismatch should play out. Felix went seven innings. Wilk couldn't go three. Wilk was immediately optioned to triple-A after the game. I'm sure there's a good reason for that, that doesn't have to do with Wilk's performance against the Mariners, but I don't want to check, because I like this reason better.
Want to be optimistic? The Mariners have recently given reasons to be optimistic. Want to be cautious, or even cynical? A year ago, the Mariners averaged 3.4 runs through their first 23 games, then eight runs in a three-game set in Detroit, then 3.3 runs the rest of the way. Maybe what we're seeing is something. Maybe what we're seeing isn't something, just as it wasn't something in April 2011. The Mariners are providing something for everybody!
On to the bullet holes. Let me take this opportunity to note that in the bottom of the seventh or the top of the eighth, with the Mariners leading 9-1, the ROOT Sports broadcast cut to a shot of a light fixture to show that it was raining pretty hard at the ballpark. I got a sinking feeling that they were going to delay what was an absolute blowout. There's nothing more annoying than a rain delay during a blowout. Well that isn't true. A key on a keyboard that doesn't work is more annoying than a rain delay during a blowout. People sending you text messages non-stop when you're trying to get writing done is more annoying than a rain delay during a blowout. Ice Cube's heated arguments with a bottle of Coors Light are more annoying than a rain delay during a blowout. Cake is more annoying than a rain delay during a blowout. I don't mean cake, because cake is delicious, and seldom annoying. I mean the band Cake. Everybody seems to like or at least tolerate the band Cake. I can't stand them! What is wrong with every single one of you!
- If I were to evaluate Felix's performance today based strictly on the numbers, I'd say that he wasn't very good. I wouldn't say that he was bad; I'd say that he wasn't very good, which simply means that he performed at a level below the very-good level. It's weird how "(X) wasn't very good" has turned into an insult. That's not an insult! (X) might have been good! It just was not very good, and "very good" is difficult to achieve. It's like the word "interesting". If somebody tells you something, and you reply "interesting", the other person will think you're being dismissive. No, you're saying that you are interested! Please share more information!
Oh, right, Felix. Based on the numbers, Felix had two strikeouts. Three swinging strikes. A modest number of groundballs. Unremarkable velocity. Three walks. Those aren't Felix-level numbers. Those are more Blake Beavan-level numbers, or sometimes Jason Vargas-level numbers.
But I'm going to give Felix the benefit of the doubt, for two reasons. One, he threw 126 pitches last time out. And two, and more importantly, Felix needed a lot of pitches to get through the first inning, and then after the first inning he was pitching with a big lead. I wouldn't be surprised if Felix was deliberately pitching to contact in an effort to get quicker outs and work deeper in the game. I can't guarantee that this is what he was doing, and maybe I'm being presumptuous, but Felix isn't going to worry about strikeouts too much with a lopsided score. He's going to worry about outs however he can get them.
So I'm not going to read too much into this. Felix was dominant a week ago. Conditions weren't so great tonight, and the Mariners scored a lot of runs. Felix wasn't Felix, but how many times does Felix need to be Felix? Too many times. Felix deserved a night like this, and hopefully he's feeling strong the next time out, when the Mariners probably won't score him many runs again.
Jesus Montero was behind the plate, catching Felix. It was a fairly uneventful evening, as far as I could tell, but in the bottom of the first, Montero failed to glove a perfectly catchable fastball, allowing Austin Jackson to move from second to third. It wasn't a passed ball where you understand how the catcher screwed up. It was one of those passed balls where the catcher failed at something you normally take for granted. Jesus Montero has been shadowing Miguel Olivo, and Miguel Olivo has been teaching Jesus Montero everything he knows.
- The Tigers hit a few deep drives that died in front of the wall, one by Miguel Cabrera in particular. Early indications were that the ball wasn't going to carry at all, leading to a probable low-scoring game. It wasn't a low-scoring game, and in the top of the third, Alex Liddi took Adam Wilk yard. Liddi demolished a pitch deep and out to left, where previous hitters had trouble pushing the ball through the air. It was Liddi's second homer in two games, which is awesome, and the only thing that made this homer a little less awesome was the quality of the pitch that he hit:
Liddi worked the count to 3-and-1. Then the lefty Wilk came with an 85mph fastball, belt-high, over the inner half. It wasn't the worst pitch that I've ever seen, because I remember a pitch by...Matt Chico? that flew over one of the dugouts, but it was exactly the 3-and-1 pitch you never want to throw as a 3-and-1 pitch. And exactly the 3-and-1 pitch a hitter is looking for. Alex Avila set his frame low and away. Adam Wilk's pitch wasn't low or away. So it wound up high and away. Get it??
- In the third inning, Jesus Montero rolled a grounder to Miguel Cabrera at third base. Miguel Cabrera attempted to make a play and throw, and then Prince Fielder fumbled the throw, and Jesus Montero came away with an infield single. Jesus Montero came away with an infield single on a grounder that involved Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. I think this is exactly the situation people have been worried about, as far as the Tigers' team defense is concerned. The Tigers' team defense allowed Jesus Montero to record an infield single. Have you watched Jesus Montero run? It's like he's running on thick hot tar.
- It'd been a little while since we saw Dustin Ackley's power swing. He drove a potential double to right in Philip Humber's perfect game, but Philip Humber threw a perfect game, so Ackley didn't hit a double. Tonight, he did hit a double, and an unusual double, for him:
In the fifth inning, whoever Thad Weber is threw Ackley a high 2-and-2 curveball. We've seen Ackley have trouble with high pitches, but he maimed this one and nearly hit it out of the yard. It hit near the top of the wall, and it hit near the top of the wall in left field. That was Dustin Ackley hitting a ball like Mike Carp hits balls, or like Bryan LaHair hits balls. Yeah, in case you haven't been paying attention, Bryan LaHair is a thing again. He's kind of good at hitting. I have no idea. The important thing is, Ackley! I'd like to see another dinger from him in the next little while. But I'm content with 3-for-5's.
- In the bottom of the ninth, Erasmo Ramirez came out of the bullpen, and his first pitch was a 95mph fastball that buzzed Prince Fielder's head. I don't think there was any intent because I don't know why there would be any intent, but that's what makes me hope there was some intent, because I like the idea of a Mariners pitcher who's mean and terrifying for no reason. Anyway, four pitches later, Fielder singled on a line drive up the middle. He wasn't rattled by the high-and-tight fastball at all. I'd be interested in seeing a study on this. A study on whether or not a high-and-tight fastball has any effect on the rest of the at-bat. Sometimes pitchers do it by mistake and sometimes pitchers do it to send a message, but does it matter? Is it like fighting in hockey, where it supposedly sends a message, but nothing really changes afterward? I don't know how you could just shrug that off immediately as a hitter, but I'm also a coward. You should see me on slopes.
- The fastest pitch Felix threw in the first inning was 92.5 miles per hour. The fastest pitch Erasmo Ramirez threw in the ninth inning was 95.8 miles per hour. Go back in time to exactly right now and tell yourself that. We should probably just stop analyzing pitchers entirely.
- In the bottom of the ninth, Jhonny Peralta batted with one on, two out, and the score 9-1 Mariners. Peralta was behind in the count 1-and-2, and it was raining. Erasmo Ramirez threw Peralta a fastball.
When an umpire has a huge zone, you hear remarks that he just wants to go home, or that he has other plans. Tonight, Jim Joyce did not want to go home. He did not have other plans.