Tonight was supposed to be about Felix.
I've never been a big fan of repeating promotions - if the 1995 "Turn Forward the Clock" games taught us anything, it's that they're never as good the second time. So while I'm normally a huge fan of the Mariners' PR department, I wasn't initially thrilled by their announcement of a second Supreme Court. It just didn't feel right. The first one was held in honor of an incredibly rare and impressive achievement by one of the game's greatest pitchers. Rapidly thrown together and brilliantly executed, it felt like a well-deserved and heartfelt tribute to a Seattle icon. This one felt like an attempt to cash in on nostalgia for that previous emotional high. I understand that it was meant to celebrate Felix's new contract, and his 1500th strikeout, and (if all had gone well) his 100th win, but for me it came too soon on the heels of its predecessor and with insufficient raison d'être. And those weren't even the big concerns. No, the big concern was the risk. What happens when you come in after a rough series, get a bunch of fans excited for a game in honor of the team's ace, and then... lose? I know Felix is amazing, but so are the Texas Rangers. This promotion had an over 50% chance of blowing up in the Mariners' faces, and they knew it.
So why put on such a show? Thursday night in mid-April is hardly the best time for a promotion that you want to be well-attended. But part of me thinks this wasn't ever for the fans. It was for Felix: a gesture from the organization to show him how much he matters, even beyond his on-field performance. To show him how much the team, and the staff, and the fans, care about him. Now there's a good reason to repeat a promotion. How good must the first Supreme Court have made Felix feel? Why not, after all he's done for us this offseason, let him feel good some more?
So I really wanted the Mariners to win this one. I mean, I want the Mariners to win every game, but I really wanted them to win this one. For Felix. Tonight was supposed to be about Felix.
He did all right for himself, going 6 and 2/3 innings pitched with five strikeouts against two walks and a bucket of ground balls, but the rest of the team wasn't able to get him his 100th win. Instead of being the celebration of Felix it should've been, the game was taken over by other storylines. Wedge's managing. Ibanez's fielding. Morse's injury. Felix became something of a sideshow, a secondary story in his own promotion. It's a shame. The first Supreme Court was such a magical moment. Now every time we think about it, we'll remember this one too.
So the mood on Lookout Landing is grim, and not unjustifiably so. The Mariners have just come off a three-game losing streak - two against the Astros, one with Felix on the mound. Two of the team's most productive hitters are sidelined with injuries. The starting outfield contains Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay. The back of the rotation has been disastrously bad, as have many key young hitters.
But I'm not ready to call it quits yet. What with so much going wrong, it's easy to forget what's going right. Gutierrez is on fire, and not the injurious kind. Pryor, Capps, and Furbush have looked lethal. Justin Smoak's process has been fantastic, results be damned. Iwakuma looks like a legitimate #2 starting pitcher. Michael Saunders may have taken another plate discipline plateau leap. Felix is still Felix. Honestly, I thought the reaction to this game was completely overblown: the Mariners lost by one run, not ten, and that one run was decided by fractions of an inch. If Ibanez doesn't whiff on that fly ball, and Pierzynski plants his back foot just a hair too far back on the squeeze, the Mariners emerge victorious. This wasn't a 10-2 throttling; it was an eminently winnable game. It just... wasn't won.
So yeah, tonight sucked. And last night. And the night before. But I'm hardly ready to throw in the towel on this team, and if I were you I'd back away from the cliff. After all: we're Lookout Landing. We're not here because we're prone to rending our garments and gnashing our teeth over individual games and small sample size slumps. We're here because we're Mariners fans. And we know what that means.
- Everyone knows the most common variant of Murphy's Law: "whatever can go wrong, will go wrong." Less famous but allegedly earlier coined is another version of the quote: "if there is more than one way to do something, and one of those ways will always result in disaster, some idiot will do it that way." Tonight, Raul Ibanez came up to the plate with the bases loaded and two out in a late-game high leverage situation. Ron Washington brought in a left-handed reliever to deal with him. Eric Wedge had Jason Bay ready to go, waiting on the bench... and he put him in as a pinch runner for the injured Michael Morse. Ibanez struck out.
- Speaking of Raul Ibanez:
- That missed catch cost the Mariners a run, and ultimately the game. Look, I like Raul, and I even think he might be useful as a late-innings bench bat and occasional DH, but the man just shouldn't start games in the outfield. Ever. Between the failed catch and the strikeout in the seventh, it's not too difficult to argue that Ibanez single-handedly lost the game today. How are the younger players supposed to be inspired by someone who loses games all by himself?
- In the seventh inning, Michael Morse took a 95 MPH fastball off his hand, sustaining a fracture in his right pinkie. He says he wants to be back by Sunday, but Wedge is estimating 3-7 days and I'd bet on the higher end of that range. An interesting note: Morse didn't even notice that his pinkie was in bad shape until he was hit by another pitch, took his base, removed his batting gloves and realized that he wasn't able to move it. In his own words, it looked "mangled" and "swollen". So Michael Morse has an incredible tolerance for pain. So incredible, in fact, that he's going to try to play through it so that he can get back to the field sooner.
- Sharing Morse's remarkable pain tolerance is fellow outfielder Michael Saunders, who sprained his AC joint on Wednesday. I've gotta say, it was pretty impressive to watch him just lying on the field, calmly soaking up the pain, barely wincing or reacting to touches at all. I show more pain when I stub my toe than Saunders did when he rammed into that wall at full speed. Still, there's a downside: Saunders, like Morse, is evidently going to try to rush back to the field. He claims that he's "day to day" and hopes to be playing again in a week. Eric Wedge, however, seems to think he'll need the full two weeks to recover. We'll see who wins.
- At this point you may be rolling your eyes. Baseball players always try to hurry back from injuries, and it's always a terrible idea. Last year, it cost Mike Carp his job with the Mariners. Hopefully the trainers have learned from what happened with Carp and will hold back Saunders and Morse until they're ready to go, because the team really needs them. But I wouldn't be shocked if Saunders and Morse struggle upon returning and later reveal that they've been playing through injury. As much as we may want it to change, this is the sort of thing that's just part of baseball culture, and it's never going to go away. Ballplayers love the game, they love to compete, and they often overestimate their bodies' abilities. They're also often hotheaded and shortsighted. Exhibit A: tonight, Zack Greinke hit Carlos Quentin with a pitch, and Quentin retaliated by charging the mound and tackling Greinke so ferociously that he broke the poor guy's collarbone. Greinke's going to miss two months, and Quentin is in for a hefty suspension. At least the Mariners don't have anyone that hotheaded.
- Endy Chavez's Mariners re-debut didn't exactly go according to plan. He pinch ran for Jesus Montero and got thrown out at home on a squeeze bunt. The call was questioned on Twitter and in the Game Thread, but the video makes it look (barely) right to me:
- Wedge took some heat for calling the squeeze, but I personally loved his use of it there. Honestly, it probably should've worked, and everything had to go exactly right for the Rangers in order for it to fail. Brendan Ryan bunted the ball right back to Robbie Ross, Endy Chavez got a bad jump at third base, Ross made a terrific backhanded flip, and Pierzynski deflected Chavez's front foot with a frankly amazing block using his left leg. And it was still a close call. Don't blame the manager for that one.
- Franklin Gutierrez made a mistake in the outfield, misplaying a ball hit by Lance Berkman. Luckily for the Mariners, Ibanez also misplayed the ball. In fact, Raul ran a route so bad that, when Guti failed to catch the deep fly, Berkman went for third and the ball bounced to Ibanez in time to gun him down. Just visually, Guti's range so far this year doesn't seem to be quite what it used to. Small sample defensive metrics mean very little, but they haven't liked him since his bout of plantar fasciitis last year. This is something to keep an eye on.
- Dustin Ackley didn't play today, which is kind of unusual considering that Grimm is a mediocre righty with control problems. Wedge claimed it was just to give Ackley a day to work on his swing, but Ackley was noticeably limping in the later innings of last night's game. This is also something to keep an eye on. Hopefully Ackley starts playing regularly again soon, because Robert Andino has not been impressive at all.
- Stephen Pryor made an appearance in relief and showed off his new and improved breaking ball. The thing looked absolutely nasty, and Pryor struck out both batters who came to the plate against him. Pryor had problems with walks last year, and his offspeed stuff was less than stellar, but this pitch could be a big difference-maker for him. I'm excited with the progression that he and Capps appear to have made.
- The Mariners' offensive performance, as has been the norm this season, was better than the box score indicates. They made Grimm really work, getting him to throw 92 pitches in only four innings, and almost staged two different comebacks later in the game against the Rangers' bullpen. Smoak in particular displayed pretty excellent plate discipline. I'd talk about Smoak now, but I've got a whole post planned soon, so suffice it to say that I'm actually higher on him now than I was when the season began. Yay optimism!
Morse: "I’m going to rehab this as best as I can really quick. And I might have to play through some pain."— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) April 12, 2013
Michael Saunders says he's "day to day" recovering from shoulder sprain. Says could have been a lot worse.
— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) April 11, 2013
Tomorrow the Mariners will take on the Rangers again, with Hisashi Iwakuma facing off against his countryman Yu Darvish. The game'll likely be pretty heavily covered by Japanese media, which should be exciting and unusual. Are you ready for a big chunk of a powerful nation's population to pay attention to a Mariners game? Even if it's not the United States? I sure am!