Mariners Defeat Rays With Hit

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Save for special occasions, I usually don't like to write that much about games on Saturdays. One reason is that I like to have more time of my own on Saturdays, and another reason is that there's usually a quick turnaround between the Saturday game and the Sunday game. Not many people are paying attention to the Mariners on Saturdays, and then come Sunday there's another game to think about. There is so much baseball! The Mariners could have thrown a perfect game today and still tomorrow morning we would have a new game with Blake Beavan instead of a postponed game such that we could reflect on perfection.

The Mariners didn't throw a perfect game today, and this wasn't a special occasion. In fact, I don't know if I could write that much about this game even if I wanted to, because the Mariners scored two runs, and then the Rays scored a run, and then the game was over. That makes it sound like it went quicker than it did, because somehow this 2-1 contest took 185 minutes, but this was the Mariners and the A's on the other side of America. The Mariners have played the A's in Japan, the Mariners have played the A's in Seattle, the Mariners have played the A's in Oakland, and now the Mariners have kind of played the A's in Florida. The other guys wore different uniforms, but the sensation was the same.

In a way, this was like so many Mariners losses from recent seasons. With two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the first, Michael Saunders drilled a two-run single the other way on an outside fastball. Saunders did exactly what you're supposed to do with that pitch, and every time Saunders takes an outside pitch the other way I'm obligated to write "he probably wouldn't have been able to do that before this season." Then Justin Smoak struck out and the offense was finished. The Mariners scored two runs within their first two outs, and they scored zero runs over their final 25.

There were occasional threats, and the Mariners weren't completely shut down like they were by James Shields for a while on Friday, but today the Mariners struck out 15 times, and that was after knocking the starter out after two innings. Ichiro bounced a grounder off Alex Cobb's shin, and that was it for Alex Cobb. Ichiro supporters would point to the fact that Ichiro hit a grounder hard enough to knock out a pitcher. Ichiro critics would point to the fact that x-rays turned up negative and Cobb just has a bruise. Ichiro bruised a pitcher with a groundball and we probably shouldn't use this in any way for purposes of Ichiro talent evaluation.

The Mariners scored two runs and could've lost, but didn't. That's basically it. One big hit for the Rays and this is just another of the same god damned game. Another game where the Mariners don't score enough and lose by a slim margin. That big hit never arrived and the Rays actually only scored their one run on an Ichiro throwing error. Yesterday, Ichiro made a lousy throw from right field on the walk-off triple. Today, Ichiro made a lousy and unnecessary throw from right field to third base that got by Kyle Seager in the seventh. You'd say Ichiro might be testing Eric Wedge's nerves, but Ichiro's probably been testing Wedge's nerves now for a couple of months. On account of Ichiro should be hitting and is not.

So the Mariners won because the Rays couldn't hit to an even greater degree than the Mariners. I'm not claiming any inside knowledge or anything, but the trade deadline is rapidly approaching, and there's the distinct possibility that Jason Vargas is going to be traded before he gets another turn. Plenty of teams are looking for starting pitching, and not many teams are far enough out of the race to be selling starting pitching. On the off chance this was Vargas' final start as a Mariner, it went by appropriately enough. He very quietly missed some bats, he ate innings, and he left having thrown a better game than it felt like he was throwing throughout. Sometimes Vargas feels like he's in complete command, but sometimes he's not facing Oakland, and he turns in a lot of starts like this one. We'll say more about Vargas if he leaves. There's not a lot more to say about his game today.

Probably the best part of this game was the bottom of the ninth. The offense was frustrating, as it was getting torn to shreds by the Rays' bullpen a day after playing 14 innings. The Mariners' middle relief was terrific, but the ninth belonged to Tom Wilhelmsen, and a day after suffering a loss Wilhelmsen came out and didn't give the Rays a chance. Leading off, he struck out Hideki Matsui on a 1-and-2 outside changeup that was just perfectly thrown and perfectly located. It looked close enough that Matsui had to swing, but it ran far enough that Matsui couldn't make contact. Wilhelmsen doesn't throw a lot of changeups and when you see him throw one like this, you think "wait, why can't he start?" He can't start because his changeup isn't that good, but this one time it was fantastic.

The next batter was Desmond Jennings, and Wilhelmsen spotted him three balls. Then he came back with an easy fastball for a strike, and then he came back with a perfectly-located inside fastball for another strike. At 3-and-2, Jennings was probably expecting another fastball since Wilhelmsen wouldn't want to walk him with his speed, but Wilhelmsen came instead with a knee-buckling curveball in the middle of the zone. Jennings was left frozen, and do you remember the swing Kevin Youkilis took against Felix Hernandez to end the 2007 one-hitter? Jennings took that swing. It was the swing equivalent of running all the way down to first even after you've already been thrown out. It was a swing that was defeated before it began. As Jennings walked away, the camera cut to Carl Willis in the Mariners' dugout, and he was visibly chuckling.

The last batter was whoever Jose Lobaton is and he flew out harmlessly, on an outside 0-and-1 changeup. Wilhelmsen got his save, and Dave observed on Twitter that Wilhelmsen has roughly the same per-inning stats as Stephen Strasburg. Wilhelmsen's a reliever and Strasburg's a starter, but while the Mariners couldn't get their hands on Strasburg, they might've gotten their hands on a relief-pitching equivalent, for basically nothing. I'm jealous of those who are only now hearing about the Tom Wilhelmsen story for the first time. I can't appreciate it as much as I want to and there's not really anything I can do about that. If we could better appreciate things on command the world would have far fewer divorces and the Rays would have way more fans.

What Rays fans there are really really don't like Hideki Matsui. For decent reason, since Matsui has no prior ties to the Rays and his numbers are terrible, but - and I mean this genuinely, with no snark - I'm kind of surprised that people are invested and aware enough to boo. The Rays have fans, just like every other baseball team has fans. They just have far fewer of them than most. It's pretty easy to make booing sound loud when you play in a dome.

I'm out of words. Blake Beavan and the Mariners play Matt Moore and the Rays tomorrow morning at 10:40am PT. Here's a picture of Matt Moore:

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He is 23 years old. Here's a picture of Jamey Wright:

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He is 37 years old. What have we learned? Don't judge a book by its cover, where by "book" I mean "a baseball player's age" and by "cover" I mean "face". It's weird to think of the face as a cover but that's basically what it is. It's a cover over all of the nasty shit behind it. You are so disgusting behind your face! Eww!

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