Felix Hernandez cruised through his first seven innings. Needing only 80 pitches, The King limited a strong Los Angeles lineup to two runs (one earned), five hits, and one walk while striking out six. With a 3-2 lead heading in to the top of the 8th, I, and probably everyone else, was rooting for Felix to turn in a quick inning so that he would have a chance for a complete game win.
He didn't quite get it. Though he sent the Angels down in order, he needed fifteen pitches to do retire the side. Eric Wedge, perhaps remembering Felix's minor back strain last outing in Houston, decided not to press his horse, and called on Tom Wilhelmsen to lock down the ninth inning.
Objectively, this was the right call. Felix would have been facing the heart of the Angels order for a fourth time. Wilhelmsen is an excellent reliever. Ninety-five pitches may not be an enormous total, but it's plenty high for April, particularly considering that the M's aren't fighting tooth and nail for a playoff berth. Felix may have been pitching a great game, but rationally, I couldn't argue with Wedge's decision to remove his ace.
Nonetheless, I was disappointed. A glance at Twitter or the comment threads of pretty much any article written here or any other Mariner blog reveals that fan morale isn't real high right now. A combination of a lousy start, poor luck, and questionable roster construction deflated enthusiasm for the season right as it began. With the young players struggling, the top prospects still honing their craft in the minor leagues, and another losing season almost an inevitability, there just aren't a whole lot of things to look forward to in Seattle right now.
An exception is any game Felix Hernandez takes the mound. When he's pitching, all the griping about the team's record, their disappointing players, and anything else takes a backseat for a few hours. When Felix is on the hill, a Mariners game is an event, and when he's dealing, it's easy to forget about all of the team's problems. Felix was dealing tonight. I was absorbed in the performance and I wanted to see him finish what he started.
Ultimately, Wedge's move paid off, as Wilhelmsen shut the Angels out in the ninth. It was a tense game and one of the more exciting and enjoyable contests of the year. Months from now, we can look back at this as a good ballgame.
But if it had been Felix, instead of Wilhelmsen, that had nailed down the ninth, this could have been one of the defining games of the season. In a year where there isn't much more to look forward to than strong individual performances, this could've stood tall: a come-from-behind win against the Angels, with a complete game from Felix to boot. It might have been epic.
As it was, the Mariners won 3-2.
- In the top of the 4th, the Angels tried to safety squeeze. Brendan Harris bunted the ball back to Felix, who made a quick glove flip to Jesus Montero for the out on Mark Trumbo. It was an athletic play by Felix, but it also demonstrated the perils of the safety squeeze. Because the runner doesn't fully break for the plate until he sees the ball on the ground, the defense has time to make a play at the plate unless the bunt is down a line. Essentially, it puts the offensive team in no man's land: the runner is far enough off of third that he's liable to get picked off if the hitter whiffs, and not close enough to home to score on a mediocre bunt. It's a play that I don't like at all and I was happy to see it bite the Angels.
- I'm not sure whether Dustin Ackley's decision to bunt in the fifth -- with two on and nobody out -- was his or Eric Wedge's, but either way, it was a bad call. The last thing you want to do with a lousy pitcher on the ropes is give him an out. It worked out particularly poorly when Blanton fielded the bunt and nipped Brendan Ryan at third. The M's ultimately left the bases loaded in the frame.
- Jesus Montero lined a homer to deep left center to tie the game in the 6th. The ball was roped and my untrained eye has determined that it probably would've left the park even before the fence adjustments from last winter. His lack of plate discipline and inability to identify breaking balls make him a maddening player, but he's one of the few guys in the organization capable of driving a major league pitch like that.
- I hate to make this recap all about bunts, but one underrated factor in determining whether or not to bunt is to factor in the opposition's chance of stopping a steal. Base stealers, in the aggregate, are successful about 73% of the time. Chris Iannetta has thrown out only 25% of runners in his career, and when Blanton's on the mound, stealers are successful 76% of the time they run. It was a good day to run, as Carlos Peguero demonstrated with a sixth inning steal, the first of his career.
- It may have been an obvious move, but credit Eric Wedge for sending Morales up to pinch hit for Raul Ibanez with two on and one out in the seventh. He might have been tempted to save Morales for later in the game -- possibly to hit for Ryan -- but he did well to take advantage of the scoring chance when it presented itself.
Mike Trout moves his head too emphatically in the Subway commercial, contributing to the impression that he's uncomfortable on camera, and implicitly suggesting that he might not be a very good actor. Given his talent at everything else, I'm sure we'll have plenty of opportunities to track his development in this area over the next 20 years.
Brendan Ryan's career wRC+: 73
Brendan Harris's career wRC+: 87
Brendan Donnely's career at-bat: unsuccessful.
People named Brendan can't hit.