I am a pretty firm believer that sports fanhood is at its best when it allows you to feel. I am a pretty firm believer in this because it's obvious. Ideally, sports provide an opportunity to get swept up in emotions that ultimately don't mean a thing. What this generally requires is for a team to be at least all right. Good enough for the wins to be exciting, and good enough for the losses to be frustrating. Even the experience of losing is valuable, because it makes the experience of winning better, and because it means that the losing makes a difference.
The, now, are 51-61, and they haven't been within ten games of first place since May 27. They've been under .500 since April 29. While we're at it, they haven't made the playoffs since George Harrison died. Right now there isn't a whole lot of feeling. There's been the occasional promise of future feeling, which is the next best thing, when the team has played well, but these games right now - you like to see the younger players perform well, encouragingly well, but the outcomes are the outcomes and the outcomes hardly matter.
I guess I can only really speak for myself, because there's no way to ever get inside other people's brains, as handy as that would be. Nobody is that honest and that thorough in their explanations. Tonight I spent five hours watching the Mariners lose to the8-7 in just shy of 14 innings. And when they lost, okay, it was over. It would've been better had they won, but perhaps most importantly, at last the game had come to an end.
Think about how this would be different, though, if the Mariners were in the race. If the Mariners were even hanging onto the fringes of the race. If the Mariners had the Orioles' place in the standings, and if the Orioles had the Mariners' place in the standings. Imagine if this game went exactly the same way, and imagine if it mattered. Imagine if it had a significant impact on the Mariners' playoff chances.
Each and every one of us would be absolutely furious. I guess perhaps those of you who believe in fate might be less furious, but for us normals, we probably wouldn't be calm. We probably wouldn't be calm upon waking up tomorrow morning, or something. Perhaps it wouldn't carry over or perhaps it wouldn't hit us again immediately upon opening our eyes, but we'd be pissed, is the point. We'd be pissed about the injustice and poor strategy of it all.
There was a handful of reasons to be pissed but there were three big ones that I remember and I hardly take notes anymore. One had to do with the Mariners, and two had to do with the umpires. I guess technically all three had to do with the Mariners, since this was a Mariners baseball game, but one was in the Mariners' hands.
The Mariners lost to the Orioles in 14 innings and Tom Wilhelmsen never pitched. In the game, I mean, since he pitched an awful lot in the bullpen. I'm pretty sure he got stretched out to be a starter in the bullpen tonight. Wilhelmsen hasn't pitched since the first day of August. The Mariners have gone 1-4 since the first day of August, but Shawn Kelley attempted to throw a third inning of relief when Adam Jones drove home the winner. Kelley threw a season-high 38 pitches, and while the bullpen was not the problem tonight, Tom Wilhelmsen is probably the bullpen's best pitcher. You can't just wait to deploy a closer until there's a closing opportunity like this, although just about every manager would've done the same thing so it's a futile complaint. Stop saving closers! Before closers were closers, they were presumably effective non-closing relievers! Use them when you need an effective reliever! The pitching doesn't change!
That was one reason, and now we get to the umpires, which I hate to complain about, but which I know we'd be complaining about if this game made a difference to us. In the top of the sixth, the Mariners were leading 6-2, and Dustin Ackley batted with two runners in scoring position. He singled to center, driving home Mike Carp, and driving home Miguel Olivo. Olivo, however, was called out at the plate after a throw by Adam Jones and an attempted tag by Matt Wieters. In full speed it looked convincing but replays showed that Wieters didn't even come particularly close to touching Olivo with his sweep try. At that point, the Mariners should've been up 8-2, but they were instead up 7-2 minus a baserunner and plus an out. You wouldn't think that an eighth run would matter much under those circumstances but funny thing about the way things played out. The win-expectancy impact of the missed call was only so big, but now it's glaring.
And finally, the 14th. The first two complaints are indisputable. Tom Wilhelmsen indisputably did not pitch. Matt Wieters indisputably did not tag Miguel Olivo as he slid into home. What happened in the 14th is a little less clear. But Omar Quintanilla led off with a grounder up the middle. Dustin Ackley made a diving stop, and he threw to first base in time to get the runner. Mike Carp stretched out to receive the throw, and the first-base umpire determined that Carp had taken his foot off the bag in the process. Quintanilla was ruled safe, Carp immediately complained, and Eric Wedge immediately complained and subsequently got himself ejected. Instead of Quintanilla being out and the Mariners having about a 41-percent chance of winning, Quintanilla was safe and the Mariners had about a 28-percent chance of winning.
There was no perfect-angle replay. We weren't given indisputable evidence in either direction. The evidence we were given, though, suggested pretty strongly that Quintanilla should've been out. That either Carp had kept his toes on the bag, or that he'd gotten his toes back to the bag before Quintanilla's lead foot. After the end of the game neither Carp nor Wedge had really calmed down, because Quintanilla went on to score the winning run. The loss doesn't make a ton of difference to us, but it makes a lot of difference to the actual Mariners. Two important umpire decisions went against them, and things could've and should've been different.
If this game were an important game, we would've been mentally playing under protest. This would've been used as the latest evidence that umpires are too flawed for the game's good, and that replay needs to be expanded. We would've been complaining that the Mariners got royally fucked, and at least one or two people out there would assert with certainty that there's a conspiracy afoot. That umpires, at the very least, don't like the Mariners, and that it might even go above the umpires' pay level.
As is, welp, who knows if the Mariners deserved to lose, but the Mariners lost, and the Mariners didn't score once in the final eight innings. Because the Mariners lost, the Orioles' improved their standing in the Wild Card race, and I assume that most of us are pulling for the Orioles over many of the other contenders. So, good, even. Maybe we should accept a few losses against the Orioles for the greater good, by which I mean a reality in which the Orioles make the playoffs and a more hyped and talented team misses out.
If the Mariners were 61-51, we'd be inconsolably furious. We'd learn the names of those umpires, and we'd remember them. The Mariners are 51-61, and I'm just going to guess that most people were relieved more than anything else when the winning run finally scored. This game lasted 295 minutes. It was time. The thing about the 2012 Mariners down the stretch is that ideally they allow people the opportunity to do other things with their evenings, even if they watch the games. Nobody wants a marathon. This was about twice as long as an Olympic marathon.
What else happened, aside from Tom Wilhelmsen not pitching, Miguel Olivo getting called out, and Omar Quintanilla getting called safe? Lots of stuff, because this game was almost five hours long. Apparently Blake Beavan pitched and I have virtually no recollection of how he did. If I could hazard an educated guess, he pitched like Blake Beavan. Not the newer, more interesting Blake Beavan - this was more like the old, satisfactory but uninteresting Blake Beavan. He walked one of 26 batters. He struck out two of 26 batters. Most of his pitches were strikes, and most of his balls in play weren't grounders. The Orioles fouled off 23 pitches and swung through the ball just six times. Beavan leaned heavily on his curveball, and his curveball was fine, but it's not a weapon in the way that Tom Wilhelmsen's curveball is a weapon so tonight Beavan's curveball simply allowed him to be Blake Beavan. It wasn't a bad start. It was a Blake Beavan start. Makes sense, coming from him.
The Mariners' bullpen, other than Lucas Luetge, was outstanding, and the Mariners' bullpen including Lucas Luetge was all right. Luetge was probably overdue to get blown up although I shouldn't phrase things like that because I might cause one or two of you to believe that baseball players can be overdue for things. Stephen Pryor was absolutely tremendous, generating seven whiffs on just 28 pitches. His slider - averaging 91 miles per hour - looked better than it used to, although he threw just nine sliders so what the hell position are we in to evaluate anything, really? Maybe Pryor's slider has improved and maybe it hasn't, and the answer will reveal itself over the course of several weeks.
Oliver Perez was perhaps tremendous-er, and Shawn Kelley was very good until he lost the game. The bottom of the 14th inning was a big ugly hot mess, but the bottoms of the 12th and 13th innings were good enough to print out and frame and put on the dresser. They weren't magnificent innings you display in the hallway or foyer, but they're worth remembering every time you go to get socks.
It's hard to talk about the offense, because while the offense scored seven runs and should've scored eight runs, three of those runs were unearned and none of those runs scored after the sixth. All of those runs were charged to Zach Britton, and allowing runs is a core component of Zach Britton's identity. When Zach Britton tries to get a free lunch from a deli, he drops into a jar a business card reading "Zach Britton: Run-Allower". It's great that Kyle Seager blasted a three-run homer, but he homered off Zach Britton. It's great that Miguel Olivo blasted his own homer, but he homered off Zach Britton. And Britton finished with two walks and six strikeouts.
18 hits is a lot of hits, even in 14 innings of hitting. But the Mariners' team OBP for the evening was .323, and they drew just two walks, one of which was intentional. In the second, Kyle Seager batted with the bases loaded and lined out right back to the mound to end the inning. Things could've been mighty different had that ball escaped up the middle. That was some bad luck, but it's hard to remember how the Mariners began considering the way the Mariners ended, and considering the way the Mariners performed before they ended.
Everybody finished with at least one hit aside from the 0-for-7 Michael Saunders. I've mentioned it before but every time Michael Saunders has problems I become afraid that he's regressing into his previous self, that he's back to being a pumpkin, and I hate it. I hate that I used to think he could become someone else's Cameron Maybin, and that after a year of being good Cameron Maybin is back to being pretty bad. Saunders' breakout is still on the edge of believability after all this time so I guess at least we won't take his successes for granted, not yet. I won't, anyway. If there are more successes to come. I'm so afraid.
Munenori Kawasaki finished with three hits, all going the other way and one remaining in the infield. How an average person would interpret this game is "well he's been a .300 hitter in the past in a competitive league so this isn't a total surprise." How Munenori Kawasaki might interpret this game is that for an evening he channeled Ichiro, which for Munenori Kawasaki is tantamount to playing checkers with God. When people ask if Munenori Kawasaki has ever had a true spiritual experience, the events of this evening will be summarized with meticulousness and zeal.
Tomorrow the Mariners will play the Orioles again, hopefully for less time. Pitching for the Mariners will be not-Felix, and pitching for the Orioles will be some guy named Steve Johnson, who's up as an emergency starter after scheduled starter Tommy Hunter was forced to warm up in the bullpen tonight. I feel like every team's emergency starter should be named Steve Johnson. Steve Johnson, or John Pitcher.