Usually, I'm something of an obsessive fact-checker. I'll usually obsessively fact-check things that I'm writing, and I'll usually obsessively fact-check things that come up during the broadcast. I haven't fact-checked the headline of this recap, but I've never been more sure of anything in my entire life. Congratulations to thefor snapping a losing streak against the that was edging closer and closer to lasting a decade.
Even though the Mariners are just 25-32, and even though that's tied for the fifth-worst record in baseball, a win like this against the Angels is satisfying for a number of reasons. The Angels fell back to .500, which is a lot better than they used to be, but still not close to where they want to be. As long as the Angels stay hovering around .500, people can't feel like they've turned the corner. It's satisfying because the Mariners won, and they won while scoring plenty of runs. It's satisfying because Mariner wins against the Angels have been hard to come by over the years - this wasn't the Mariners' first win against the Angels since 2003, but that wouldn't be much of an exaggeration.
And this is satisfying because the Angels tried to come back, and they very nearly came back, but then Tom Wilhelmsen and the Mariners stepped on their rich and talented throats.
When the Mariners were ahead 8-4 going into the bottom of the seventh, I heard the Rally Monkey's music playing during the broadcast. The Mariners had a four-run lead, and the Angels had no one on base since they were just starting an inning, so nothing felt too tenuous at that point. But as a fan, as stupid as I know this sounds, I find it impossible not to be at least a little unnerved when the Rally Monkey comes into play.
For years upon years upon years, the Angels have been one of the most clutch teams in baseball. It's what's allowed them to exceed their Pythagorean records. It's confounded analysts, and if anybody's found the answer, I haven't seen it. There's just something about the Angels that's allowed them to be incredibly, obnoxiously clutch, and God knows we've seen them pull their tricks against the Mariners before. I don't know if there's a causative relationship between the Angels' clutchness and the Rally Monkey, and I think I have to give back my college degree for even writing that, but there's at least some kind of correlation there. The Angels have had the Rally Monkey. The Angels have rallied a lot.
Sure enough, the Angels rallied today. Not in the seventh, but in the eighth, against Shawn Kelley. It didn't begin as a show of offensive might, but then the strokes of good fortune make it seem all the more supernatural. Howard Kendrick led off by striking out, but he reached first base when the ball escaped Miguel Olivo. Erick Aybar followed with a walk in which Kelley barely missed with all four of his balls. Then John Hester rolled a ball to short that Munenori Kawasaki dropped on the transfer. Instead of having no rally, the Angels had the bases loaded and nobody out.
And Mike Trout batting. Trout swung at the first pitch, which was an inside fastball, and made good enough contact that off the bat I thought he'd tied the game. So did a woman near to the ROOT Sports stadium microphone. Trout flew out, but it was good for a run. Then Maicer Izturis batted, and in a 2-and-2 count, he swung at a hanging slider and made good enough contact that off the bat I thought he'd tied the game. He settled for a double off the right-center wall, and the Angels had the tying run on second base for Albert Pujols.
Even when Albert Pujols was slumping real bad, I don't think people ever stopped fearing him. Were Albert Pujols still slumping real bad, maybe minds would be changing, but Albert Pujols isn't slumping anymore. He seems a lot like Albert Pujols, and Albert Pujols is one of the best hitters in the universe. The Angels were losing, but it didn't feel like they'd be losing much longer. It was all happening, it was all happening in front of that monkey, and there was nothing any Mariners player or Mariners fan could do about it. It was like the sensation you get when you're about to fall down. When you're about to fall down, you know you're going to fall down what seems like ages before you actually fall down. It's as if the world slips into slow motion just so people around you can watch you humiliate yourself. You know you're going to fall, but no matter how hysterically you flap your arms, there's no preventing what's in motion. You're going down. That's how the game felt when Izturis hit his double. The Mariners were going down - it was just a matter of seeing how hysterically they'd flap their arms.
Up came Albert Pujols. In came Tom Wilhelmsen. And somehow the Mariners didn't fall down. I shouldn't say "somehow"; the Mariners didn't fall down because Tom Wilhelmsen was amazing. Tom Wilhelmsen didn't only conquer the Angels - he conquered the Angels, and the Angels' curious magic.
Dave Cameron and Mike Salk talked briefly on Twitter about how, by removing Brandon League from the closer role, Eric Wedge became free to use his bullpen however he liked. Without a designated closer, Wedge could bring in his best guy at the most critical spot. Maybe Wilhelmsen would've pitched in that spot anyway, I don't know, but he couldn't have been better than he was. He threw three straight good, low pitches to Pujols and induced a tapper back to the mound. Then with two outs, he got ahead of Mark Trumbo with a perfect outside curve and then let Trumbo do the rest of the work. Trumbo whiffed at a low fastball, then he whiffed at a low curve, and the Mariners were out of the inning with a two-run lead.
Which was enough. Wilhelmsen stayed in to protect the 8-6 lead the rest of the way, escaping a smaller jam in the ninth. He got ahead of Kendrys Morales and got a grounder on a curve. Wilhelmsen hit Torii Hunter on the hand, an odd hit-by-pitch in which a curveball fell onto Hunter's hand rather than bending into it, but then Kendrick struck out on low pitches, and Erick Aybar was left to swing at a 1-and-2 fastball in a perfect location down and away. Aybar grounded meekly to second, and the game was over, the Mariners having taken the first step toward avenging the recent sweep.
Right when it seemed like the Angels were going to steal another game out of the Mariners' hands, Tom Wilhelmsen came in and made all of his pitches. Tom Wilhelmsen doesn't always make all of his pitches, and I guess he didn't make his pitch when he hit Torii Hunter in the hand, but Tom Wilhelmsen put out a chemical fire. There are specific instructions for that, but not everybody pays attention. Tom Wilhelmsen was aware and prepared.
The Mariners beat the Angels. The Mariners scored a lot of runs in beating the Angels. The Mariners held off a late rally in beating the Angels. The Mariners drew eight walks in beating the Angels. Take so many Mariners vs. Angels games from the previous few years. This game was the opposite of those. I don't know if we'll see more of this game, but at least now we know that this game is possible.
A downside of these high-scoring games is that they take longer to finish and I'm not wild about games starting after 7 and then taking longer to finish. So what you're getting below is an abbreviated bullet-hole section, as I compromise between doing them like normal and not doing them at all. What's worse in the short-term is better in the long-term. What's worse in the short-term is better in the long-term. I've never been big on daily affirmations but actually no I'm going to stay that way, so, on to the shorter and more limited bullet holes.
- Sometimes I'll look at Jason Vargas' stats and think "how on earth does he have more than two times as many strikeouts as walks?" It seems like in so many of his starts he posts strikeout and walk totals that are within one of one another. Then sometimes Jason Vargas will turn in a start like this. Tonight he struck out eight Angels, against two free passes. Two starts ago he struck out six Angels, with zero free passes. These are the starts that maintain Vargas' acceptable peripherals.
Not that Vargas was outstanding - he allowed four runs and couldn't escape the sixth. Kendrys Morales took him deep twice, and in his last at-bat he walked whoever the fuck John Hester is on four pitches. This wasn't one of those weird Jason Vargas shutout efforts that bless us every now and again.
But when you find yourself looking at Vargas' strikeout-to-walk ratio and wondering, remember this start. Jason Vargas isn't good enough to generate eight strikeouts all of the time, but he is good enough to generate eight strikeouts some of the time.
My favorite Vargas at-bat came against Erick Aybar in the sixth:
Aybar struck out. Vargas threw one pitch in the strike zone. Aybar saw two fastballs, three curves, and three changeups. Dave Sims remarked that Aybar looked like he was prepared to swing at anything near the plate, and Vargas and Miguel Olivo allowed him to get himself out.
Ervin Santana walked the bases loaded in the top of the third. That brought up John Jaso, who jumped on the first pitch he saw and ripped it into right field for a single. No matter how many times I see it, I will never get used to this kind of outfielder follow-through:
Torii Hunter threw the ball in to try to prevent a second run from scoring. He threw with such force that he wound up mid-air and then on the ground. Outfielders do this a lot and it's always weird. The physics are understandable but it's always weird. It's like until the last second outfielders can't decide if they want to throw the ball or themselves to the cutoff guy.
- The first run scored when Kyle Seager drove a Santana slider out to center field. Given 650 plate appearances, Kyle Seager is on pace for a 22-homer season. The first thing I was going to observe was that it takes a lot of strength to hit a ball out to center in Anaheim, especially at night, and Seager did it anyway. But we've already observed on a number of occasions that Kyle Seager is surprisingly strong, especially considering where he was a year ago. Kyle Seager has an isolated slugging percentage of .205.
- Mike Trout had four hits because Mike Trout is a perfectly evolved human form from the future visiting the past so as to research his ancestors. In the third inning, after Trout reached first base, he tried to steal second base, and Miguel Olivo threw him out which I literally didn't know was possible. Olivo's throw wasn't even that good. But replays revealed that Trout began his slide too early and slowed himself down. Why a perfectly evolved human form would make that kind of mistake is beyond my understanding but perhaps in the future the basepaths are 89 feet. Or perhaps Mike Trout needed to get off the basepaths and oil his time machine because even in the future our time machines need oil.
- Brandon League appeared in relief and threw a lot of fastballs, which is kind of normal League. But in the seventh, after a leadoff walk, League struck out three straight batters swinging on low splitters. It will be great if Brandon League re-discovers the feel for his splitter and goes back to using it wrong in a high-leverage role. I think I might like Brandon League more when he's dealing with adversity than when he's okay because when he's okay I just want him to be so much better.
- Maybe the most surprising moment of the season came in the top of the fifth. With two outs, the Mariners strung together some baserunners to score once and load 'em up. After Michael Saunders walked, Ervin Santana was to face Munenori Kawasaki. As a hitter, I think of Munenori Kawasaki the way I think of a pitcher. Maybe a decent contact-hitting pitcher, but a weak-hitting pitcher. I never expect Kawasaki to hit the ball past the mound, and most of the time I expect him to bunt. Kawasaki swung at a first-pitch fastball inside and I was already resigned to the inning ending without any more damage. Then Santana located a fastball just off the outer edge, and Kawasaki drove it the other way. It was perfect hitting. It was classic Ichiro hitting. It would've been impossible to pull the pitch with authority, or hit it up the middle with authority. So Kawasaki sliced it down the left-field line and past Mark Trumbo for a bases-clearing double. Kawasaki now has his first-career extra-base hit, and it was a big one. When the camera focused on Kawasaki at second base, he wasn't smiling, he wasn't chattering, and he wasn't excitedly moving around. Maybe all this time, Kawasaki just needed a double to be his release.
- In the bottom of the fifth, Albert Pujols popped up a hittable change, jerked his head, and threw his bat. I like when Albert Pujols displays such negative body language because it allows me to believe that Albert Pujols really is capable of less than he used to be. Still year one! Still year one!
Every single flipping time I say I'm going to write less, I write too much. Watch me fail at trying to write less again tomorrow night! I wish every Mariners game started at ten in the morning. Or at a different time if I wanted to like get brunch. I wish every Mariners game started when it's convenient for me.