Isn't that the way it always is? You're just settled in, preparing for a baseball game, and then you start thinking about maybe winning the baseball game, and then there are events, and you lose. It's always the same story. It's always those damn events. If it weren't for those events, there wouldn't be losses.
I never really approve when people say a baseball game turned on one or two pitches. It sounds nice, but I have trouble buying into it, because any given pitch could turn into anything from a strike to a home run. Games are always turning on pitches, even when it seems like nothing's happening, so to distill a game down to one or two or three individual moments is to ignore the fact that all the moments mattered. Tonight, for example, there were dozens of moments that mattered - some which were obvious, and some which were not.
But if I were asked to isolate the two moments that felt like they mattered the most, that wouldn't be very challenging. I had them in mind when the game ended, and I kept them in mind while eating dinner. I couldn't think of a better way to approach this recap, so here we are, doing this.
In the bottom of the first inning, the Mariners put instant pressure on Matt Harrison, getting runners to the corners with one out. Some of the pressure was relieved when Jesus Montero struck out, but then Justin Smoak singled, and the Mariners went ahead. Then Kyle Seager drew an eight-pitch walk. That meant the bases were loaded for Casper Wells, who was in the game specifically because the were starting a lefty. Not that Wells is some sort of platoon-mashing specialist - and honestly I'd rather not think about one of those again as long as I live - but he's a talented righty, and the lefty Harrison was dog paddling in hot water.
Harrison threw Wells a first-pitch fastball. Wells swung at it, which is the sort of thing that automatically drives a lot of fans crazy after a walk. But Harrison threw Wells a fastball over the middle of the plate, down in the zone, and that's Wells' hot spot. Wells put a great swing on the pitch and drove it to center field, and off the bat it looked like at least a double and maybe a grand slam. It kept on looking like extra bases until Josh Hamilton turned it into zero bases on the center-field track. Wells did everything right, but Safeco kicked him in the testicles, and instead of having a bigger lead, the Mariners emerged from the first with a narrow lead.
That's one moment. The other came in the top of the third, when the game's remaining runs scored. The Rangers had runners on first and second with two out and nobody in. Elvis Andrus was batting against Hector Noesi, and after Noesi missed with his first pitch, he came back with an absolutely outstanding low slider. Andrus swung through it, presumably thinking fastball, and Noesi was back in command. The next pitch was a fastball that Andrus took for a strike, and Noesi was one strike away from escaping. Jesus Montero called for a curve, which is Noesi's most seldom-used pitch, and Noesi looked to throw it low, below the zone.
What Noesi actually threw was one of the worse curveballs we've seen this season. He got the curveball part right, so he was part of the way there, and he aimed the curveball toward home plate, so he was more of the way there, but Noesi probably knew he screwed up as soon as the ball came out of his hand. I tell this story in screenshots, because I have only so many arrows in my quiver. I've got words, screenshots, and .gifs. Hope you like 'em.
Noesi wants the curveball low. Montero won't give a target yet because there's a runner on second base. Right now, it feels like Noesi is going to get Andrus out, and the Mariners will remain in the lead.
The thing about curveballs is that, unless you're Tim Collins or sometimes Tim Lincecum or sometimes Felix Hernandez, they're not great swing-and-miss pitches. They're good weak-contact pitches when you spot them, and they're good called-strike pitches when you spot them. When you don't spot them, and you let them hang up like this one, you're flirting with disaster. Then you go beyond flirting with disaster. You're like, "hey disaster, come home with me, I will give you sex." Hector Noesi hooked up with disaster, and while it was a one-night stand, what was done was done.
After Noesi allowed some runs in New York, I argued that he had mostly gotten burned on good pitches. There's no way to argue that this was a good pitch. This was a terrible pitch, and while Major League hitters won't punish every mistake, they'll punish a lot of them. As it happens, on the very next pitch, Josh Hamilton doubled home Elvis Andrus. That double came on a good pitch, a first-pitch fastball running away off the plate. Noesi did what he was supposed to do there, but Josh Hamilton has a four-digit OPS and an insanely aggressive swing rate, and this is just one of the things he does. Hamilton wouldn't swing at so many balls all the time if he didn't get rewarded.
Hector Noesi didn't make one mistake tonight. He probably made a lot of them, some worse than others. Every pitcher makes mistakes in games. This was Noesi's worst mistake, a terrible breaking ball right after a magnificent breaking ball, and Andrus plated the winning run.
An easy way to sell this game is that the Rangers got the big hit when they needed it, and the Mariners didn't. Or, similarly, that the Rangers got the big pitch when they needed it, and the Mariners didn't. I wouldn't find that satisfying. Absolutely, Noesi threw the wrong pitch and got burned. But it's not like Matt Harrison escaped the bottom of the first on account of his skill. He tried to allow a bases-clearing double or a grand slam. He threw the right pitch in the right place for damage to be done, and Casper Wells put the right swing on it. The ball just died. You could say that Wells should've hit the ball harder, but Safeco's gonna Safeco. Harrison was a hair away from having a much uglier start.
There were other moments that mattered, of course. Specifically, all of them. But there were other big moments later on. In the fifth, Jeff Datz threw up a stop sign for Brendan Ryan at third base when he probably could've scored on an error. In the eighth, the Mariners began with consecutive singles, and then the runners never budged. Again, this baseball game didn't turn on two pitches.
But when the rest of this baseball game is forgotten, two pitches will be remembered. Neither pitch was a particularly good one. Both of them worked out for the Rangers. You could call it bad luck, or you could call it anything, or you could call it nothing. Casper Wells finished an uninteresting 0-for-3. He couldn't have come closer to having a much more interesting night.
Let's see, running down the potential bullet holes...Noesi curveball vs. Andrus, check. Noesi fastball vs. Hamilton, check. Harrison fastball to Wells, check. Datz holds up Ryan at third, check. Blown rally in the bottom of the eighth, check. Guess that's it, time to go to bed! Wait, what are you doing, fingers? Why are you still writing? Why are you moving the cursor to the bullet hole button? Do you mean to tell me that you're actually still going to
- All anyone can really remember is what Noesi did to himself in the top of the third, but outside of that half-inning, he was tremendous. It's always weird to me when a Mariners starter turns in a great effort right after Felix turns in a great effort. Do we retroactively think less of Felix's effort? Do we think more of the other Mariners starter's effort, that he could pitch on Felix's level? As good as Felix was Monday, Noesi was almost that good Tuesday. Maybe he was equally good, or even better. How the hell should I know? I know he allowed three times as many runs but come on, you know that isn't how a start should be evaluated. It would be genuinely impossible for us to figure out whether Felix or Noesi threw the better game. All we can say is that they were both very good. And even there, maybe they weren't! I don't know! There is so much we don't know!
Noesi lasted eight innings, throwing 102 pitches. He had some command problems out of the gate, but those went away, and after the Elvis Andrus double, Noesi settled into some kind of groove. His final tally read 65 percent strikes and 75 percent contact, and while the Rangers put the ball in the air, Noesi allows the ball to be put in the air. He is more of a fly ball pitcher than a groundball pitcher. That isn't a bad thing, especially in Safeco, and he wasn't the starter tonight who allowed a pair of deep drives to the fence.
My favorite pitch Noesi threw was the slider that Andrus swung through shortly before his double. My second-favorite was a tie between a two-strike high and tight fastball to Nelson Cruz in the seventh, and a two-strike high and tight fastball to Mike Napoli in the seventh. They were identical 93 mile-per-hour 1-and-2 fastballs, and they both generated swinging strikeouts. Noesi has good enough velocity that when he comes up and in he can be really hard to catch up to, and the Rangers had trouble catching up to him.
Out of the gate, Hector Noesi was far from a sure thing. There were some bumps in the road, and he had an 8.83 ERA in April. He's come on in May, and while we'll keep monitoring the development of his slider and changeup, Noesi's making progress, and as we've talked about, progress is the important thing for the Mariners this season. As long as they're gradually getting a little bit better, the losses will be easier to take, and I'm perfectly satisfied with Hector Noesi's latest loss.
- Noesi threw 11 pitches to Josh Hamilton over three at-bats, and of those 11 pitches, one was inarguably within the PITCHfx strike zone. Hamilton swung at five of them. In the first inning, Noesi actually fell behind Hamilton 3-and-0 after three straight fastballs missed away. He got a called strike with an outside fastball, then Hamilton fouled off an outside fastball, then Hamilton fouled off an outside changeup. Noesi had thrown Hamilton six consecutive pitches around the same spot, and then he challenged Hamilton with a low changeup over the plate. I don't know if he caught Hamilton off-guard with a strike, but Hamilton swung as if he was caught off guard and that's how Noesi generated his first strikeout. I know Hamilton finished with an RBI double, but Noesi did a good job of pitching to him three times, and then Lucas Luetge didn't do a bad job of pitching to him in the ninth.
- I suspected but did not know for sure until tonight that Matt Harrison is basically completely bald. He wisely wears a buzz cut so it's harder to tell, and he doesn't look bad or anything, but Matt Harrison is barely a month older than I am. My own hairline isn't what it used to be and that's made me self-conscious over the years, so now I feel like I have to root for Matt Harrison as a show of solidarity. Way to go, bald Matt Harrison! Way to defeat the enviably coiffed
- Brendan Ryan was on second with two outs in the bottom of the fifth when Alex Liddi bounced a grounder to Adrian Beltre's left. Beltre reached out but the ball hit the end of his glove and rolled away. Ryan rounded third aggressively when Datz held him up, and then it turned out the ball had probably rolled far enough away for Ryan to score and trim the deficit to one. Datz heard boos from the crowd and he owned up to his mistake after the game, but as a third-base coach I don't know how you can be expected to prepare for an Adrian Beltre fielding error. I forgive Datz, just as I'd forgive him had he shrieked out and shielded himself from the heavens. If I'm just hanging, and then I see Adrian Beltre nearby mess up something he never messes up, I'm going to assume that shit's not right anymore. Shit might have been right, but now it's wrong, and I don't know what that means and I'm afraid to find out. Maybe Datz didn't feel like sending Ryan to his death. Maybe Datz thought sending Ryan would be sending Ryan to his death. Adrian Beltre errors are signals, man.
- Kyle Seager has drawn five walks in his last four games. He's also struck out eight times in his last six games, but for those who were worried about his walk rate, you can quit worrying about his walk rate, and start worrying about his footspeed. Kyle Seager is 24 years old and he runs like he's trying to make Justin Smoak feel better about himself. Kyle Seager is such a good friend.
- Tom Hallion was the home-plate umpire tonight, and he's the guy who barks and does this. ROOT Sports worked up a story about him, and it turns out Hallion was among the umpires who lost their jobs in that failed bargaining maneuver. Hallion was later given an opportunity to return, but he had to start in the minors. Hallion adopted his signature demonstrative strikeout call because he wanted to remember what he had to go through to get back to the big leagues. It's a neat story, in that it's a story that isn't just "I wanted a bitchin call because I like attention," but I'm left wondering how Hallion's demonstrative strikeout call reminds him of what he had to go through in the minors. It seems like it would not do that.
- The bottom of the eighth was the final frustration. Alex Liddi and Ichiro chased Matt Harrison with consecutive singles to start off. With some teams it's an accomplishment to get into the bullpen, but the Rangers don't have a bullpen you want to get into. Ron Washington called on Mike Adams, and Mike Adams is unfairly amazing. Jesus Montero did well enough to hit the ball, but he flew out harmlessly to right. That brought up Justin Smoak and Kyle Seager, and maybe you thought they'd have a chance as lefties against a righty, but Adams has run a reverse career platoon split, and it's because he throws this impossible two-seamer that runs away from lefties like they're cougars. Smoak whiffed at a full-count fastball well off the plate, and it looked ugly, but it was kind of understandable. Seager whiffed at a full-count fastball well off the plate, and it looked ugly, but it was kind of understandable. Seager didn't actually see a single pitch in the zone, but he swung at three of them, because they looked like they were going to be in the zone.
I'm not saying Smoak and Seager didn't screw up, because they did screw up. They screwed themselves out of walks and they killed a potential rally. But these screw-ups were more understandable than other screw-ups. The Rangers being able to use Mike Adams is basically cheating, so you can get only too upset when Adams shuts your team down.
The Mariners play the Rangers tomorrow, several hours earlier than they played the Rangers today. I hope everybody knows to show up! Well I hope the Mariners know to show up.