The Bruce Chen, and the second-best starting pitcher they faced in the series was oh my god, oh my god, please don't make me try to answer this question, it's impossible, they're all bad, they're all so bad. Scoring matters, but it matters less against inferior competition, and so this weekend series looked like it would make for a challenge. The Royals can't pitch at all. The sure can! Let's see about those Road Mariners against an actual pitching staff of competent humans.arrived in Tampa Bay having won three of four against the , and having scored 31 runs in the series. Eric Wedge said after one of the games that that's how he wants to see this team play on a consistent basis. Makes sense, because the Mariners won and scored a lot. At the same time, the best starting pitcher the Mariners faced in the series was
Tonight's game put the Mariners up against James Shields, and it became evident very quickly that the Mariners' hitting success would indeed carry over. After three batters, the Mariners had two extra-base hits and a lead, continuing their run of getting on the board early. Ichiro drilled a legitimate triple. Casper Wells drilled a legitimate double. I don't know what an illegitimate triple or double would look like, but neither Ichiro nor Wells hit them.
Then it became evident very quickly that actually no, just kidding, the Mariners were going to be like the Mariners. They scored in the first, and then nothing, forever. Following Wells' RBI double, John Jaso was hit by a pitch, and two batters later Kyle Seager walked. That was with two outs in the first. The next Mariner to reach base was Dustin Ackley with two outs in the fifth, and he reached on an error. The next batter to reach after that was Seager with a single to lead off the seventh. James Shields walked two and struck out ten.
In between the Mariners' fits of offense, Hisashi Iwakuma pitched and he pitched probably better than he has all season long. Anybody who watched this game all the way through probably completely forgot that Iwakuma pitched or that he's even on the team, but he made it through six innings with a walk and seven whiffs. He gave away a lead in the bottom of the sixth, but the lead was just 1-0 and frankly sometimes a 1-0 lead deserves to be given away. If you're not going to support your pitcher maybe you just don't deserve to win. Iwakuma was mixing up everything and generating swings and misses, and then he left a fastball up to B.J. Upton that generated a swing and long hit. The Rays' go-ahead run scored on a weak grounder placed perfectly on the left side. It deflected off of Seager's glove, and there's an argument to be made that Seager should've let it go so Brendan Ryan could give it a shot, but it's probably not automatic yet for Seager to assume he's playing beside an ADD sorcerer.
It'll come. Seager has years of not playing next to Brendan Ryan to erase. And then he'll be playing next to Nick Franklin and we'll all get pissed off at him for dogging it on reachable grounders. The moral of the story is that Kyle Seager's learned behavior will always be one step behind.
A funny thing happened in the top of the seventh. I mentioned in the game thread post that Carlos Peguero came into this game 2-for-2 against James Shields with two home runs. He grounded out in the second, he grounded out in the fifth, and then he didn't ground out in the seventh. With one on and one out, Peguero got himself into a 1-and-2 count. Shields and Jose Molina had the idea of back-dooring a slider.
It wasn't a bad idea, especially given Molina's ability to frame pitches just off the plate. Molina was working his pitch-framing magic all game long, at least while he was still in there, and Shields had been hitting his spots. But it's tricky to try to throw an outside slider to an opposite-handed hitter because if you miss in, and you don't bury it, it becomes a very hittable pitch. Shields basically couldn't have missed any worse than he did.
The camera angle is dead-on. That slider missed over the very center of the plate, above Peguero's knees. This was a 1-and-2 pitch from a very talented starting pitcher to Carlos Peguero. Hector Noesi makes too many two-strike mistakes, but he doesn't make all of the two-strike mistakes, and even Peguero can make contact with this pitch at least some of the time. With one mistake, the Rays found themselves behind once again.
Maybe you're not understanding just how bad of a pitch this was. Seriously you guys:
It was laugh-out-loud bad. Peguero took Shields deep on a slider. Last year, Peguero blasted a Shields changeup, and a Shields curveball. You'd think that Shields would be a horrible matchup for Peguero, since he throws quality off-speed stuff and has the ability to work around and off the edges. I still think that Shields is a horrible matchup for Peguero. But in five plate appearances, Shields hasn't struck out Peguero once, and he's served up three dingers.
Sometimes I really do love the Carlos Peguero experience. As a major leaguer he's hit a home run in four percent of his plate appearances. That is hardly an extraordinary rate, and if somebody told you that something has a four percent chance of happening, you would assume that it wouldn't happen. But he's so comically strong that the chance of a home run is just always there. It's buried way below the chance of a strikeout or some other kind of harmless out, but Peguero feels like a home-run threat in the way that Justin Smoak just never will. You can never dismiss the chance of a Carlos Peguero home run, against anyone. The overwhelming majority of his plate appearances end with frustration, but every last one of them begins with a glimmer of hope.
Anyway the Mariners had the lead and then a few minutes later they didn't because of a double and an infield single that not even Brendan Ryan could turn into an out. B.J. Upton drove home Desmond Jennings with two out in the bottom of the seventh. And that was right about when things stopped happening.
I'd love to tell you that the game turned into a showdown between unhittable bullpens. That the pitching from that point on was as fantastic and clutch as any you'll see. The Rays' bullpen was pretty fantastic, as they didn't allow a hit or a walk until the top of the 14th. The Mariners' bullpen wasn't quite that good. The Mariners' bullpen was sitting by a campfire, with their feet up, then they put their feet closer to the fire, then they put their feet closer to the fire, then they put their feet closer to the fire, and finally their shoes caught fire and now they won't be able to walk for a month and a half.
The Rays' leadoff guy reached in the seventh. He reached in the eighth. He reached in the 10th. He reached in the 11th. He didn't reach in the 12th, but the Rays did get a guy into scoring position with one out. It wasn't until Tom Wilhelmsen entered in the 13th that a Mariners reliever truly looked like he knew what he was doing, but then Wilhelmsen was the last reliever available, and of course Wilhelmsen wound up with the loss.
This was an aggravating game. It went on for nearly five hours, and this was the sort of game that made me feel like a lousy baseball fan. All I wanted was for it to end. I didn't care about the Mariners getting a win. I just wanted to be able to stop watching baseball, and I knew I wouldn't be able to stop until the final play was over. I'm sure there were Mariners fans out there, maybe very young Mariners fans, who were following along on the edge of their seats. I'm sure there were Mariners fans out there for whom this felt like NHL playoff overtime. But right now I'm in this for entertainment and young player development. Very little about the extra innings was entertaining, and Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Jesus Montero finished a combined 0-for-17 with seven strikeouts. I wanted off of the ride.
Only toward the end did my mental state start to shift. With most extra-inning games, what you want during the first few extra innings is for the game to reach a conclusion. Hopefully a positive conclusion, but some sort of conclusion. If no conclusion has been reached by the time the game gets deep, then you reverse and hope the game never ends. You want baseball to get weird. You want unusual defensive alignments. You want emptied benches. You want position players pitching. Or, alternatively, unscheduled starters pitching. You root for absurdity, because by the time you get that deep into any one baseball game your brain has checked out and gone for a walk. Silliness takes hold and you start to understand the appeal of the Three Stooges. You start to wonder why you never understood the appeal before.
The Mariners had a chance to score in the top of the 14th. Whatever, they didn't. In the bottom half, in his second inning of work, Tom Wilhelmsen struck out B.J. Upton. Wilhelmsen looked good, but he was the last guy, with Shawn Kelley under the weather, and the broadcast informed us that Miguel Olivo was getting loose in the bullpen. Prior to that, those of us who were watching were watching without knowing why. We just wanted to not be watching anymore. Miguel Olivo gave us a reason. I think I speak for all of us when I say that, as soon as we heard that Olivo was warming up, that was the one thing we wanted. Even if Olivo came in and allowed a first-pitch walk-off home run, at least we would've seen Miguel Olivo on the other end of the battery. That would've made it all worthwhile.
Olivo warmed up until the Rays walked off. Carlos Pena dropped a single in front of Ichiro. Ben Zobrist pulled a grounder down the line that Justin Smoak might've been able to knock down. Ichiro made a poor throw home with Pena rounding third, and nobody bothered to cut it off for a relay. Just when we finally had a reason to give a shit about the game continuing, the game ended, in a most frustrating way. We didn't get to forget about everything and focus on Miguel Olivo's fastball. We were instead reminded that Justin Smoak is a mess, and that the Mariners are kind of a mess.
These opportunities don't come around very often. I don't know if we'll ever see Miguel Olivo warming up in a bullpen again and my assumption is that, no, we probably will not. We don't get to see how hard he can throw. We don't get to see if he can throw a breaking ball. We don't get to make jokes about Miguel Olivo throwing offspeed stuff. We don't get to wonder if Miguel Olivo is calling his own pitches. We don't get the joy of Miguel Olivo getting hitters out, and we don't get the carefree laughter of Miguel Olivo not getting hitters out. We don't get to see the Mariners' dugout respond to Miguel Olivo pitching. We don't get to see Munenori Kawasaki scowl with jealousy. We don't get to see Munenori Kawasaki volunteer to catch.
Over recent years, the Mariners perfected the frustrating nine-inning game. Tonight they might've perfected the frustrating 14-inning game. It's nice to see the Mariners trying new things, but as long as they're being open-minded, I have some other new things I'd like for them to try instead.