This was an easy game to come in feeling cocky. The Pirates, despite a strong start to their season, do not have a reputation as a juggernaut. Even with a winning record, they haven't done much hitting, and it wasn't unrealistic to expect their middling offense to struggle against Felix Hernandez. I always think the Mariners are going to win with Felix on the mound, and well, there's not a whole lot Pittsburgh can muster to change that impression.
Of course, sometimes the games we're most confident about are the ones that implode in our faces. Remember Seattle's four game series at home against Texas earlier this year? I certainly went into that series with an attitude of "well, the M's should win Felix's start but they'll probably lose the other three." I couldn't have been much more wrong, and it's odd how often it seems that the games we feel best about turn out differently than we'd expect. It's just one of those odd feelings or emotions that one (hopefully) only encounters while watching sports. Like superstitions.
Still, while fans are rightly leery of overconfidence, the fact remains that such an attitude usually isn't misguided. Felix is really good, the Pirates aren't a great hitting team, and sometimes the final score looks like you might expect it to. That ended up being the case today.
To win, the M's had to crawl out of an early 1-0 hole. The best part of interleague is getting the rare opportunity to watch stars like Andrew McCutchen, but the worst part of interleague is seeing said stars reach base in their first five times at-bat during the series. McCutchen's fifth hit plated Pittsburgh's lone run in the bottom of the first.
In the fourth, the M's crawled back without the benefit of a base hit. Michael Saunders and Jason Bay led off the inning with back to back walks, and each advanced on a Kendrys Morales groundout. Saunders then raced home on a wild pitch that dribbled just far enough away from catcher Michael McKenry. Remember when Jeff kept track of doilies? This was the doiliest doily.
Offensively, it was a struggle all day long for Seattle. Endy Chavez had two singles and Michael Saunders walked three times, but the Mariners registered just three hits all afternoon. Jesus Montero had a big one, though, a deep line drive into the centerfield bleachers to break the tie in the seventh inning. From there, Felix worked two more scoreless frames and Tom Wilhelmsen slammed the door in the ninth. The save may be an inadequate and misguided statistic, but nobody can accuse Wilhelmsen of racking up a cheap one today: facing McCutchen and Garret Jones with a one run lead on the road is a difficult endeavor, and he did well to get through the inning unscathed.
- Some Felix information: for the year, The King is posting a 1.53/2.16/2.66 pitcher slash. His ground ball rate is over 50% and he's never allowed fewer home runs per nine innings over a full season than he is permitting right now. He's only broken the 110 pitch barrier twice this year -- his season high is 113 -- and he hasn't thrown more than 100 pitches in any of his last four starts. Nonetheless, his 58 innings pitched comfortably lead the major leagues. While some regression will undoubtedly come, neither his BABIP nor his HR/FB are wildly divergent from career norms. Amazingly, Felix is throwing slower than ever, and it just doesn't stinkin' matter. He just threw eight innings today, allowed one run, striking out five while only walking one and you can make a strong case that this was his third worst start of the season. Out of eight. Good lord, Felix.
- Montero threw out a base stealer today. Down a run with two outs in the eighth, Starling Marte bolted for second. It looked like the Pirate centerfielder got a good jump, but he stopped in the middle of the base path after a brief stumble. It was a tough break for Pittsburgh: from all appearances, Marte would have comfortably beat the throw to second if he hadn't slipped, and he might've reached safely had he plowed ahead anyways. As it happened, Montero threw to first and the M's caught Marte in a quick rundown. This is what has to happen for Montero to register a caught stealing.
- Deep down, I know that Clint Barmes is a good field/no hit shortstop, but my impression of him as a player is irreversibly colored by his fluky hot streak at the start of the 2005 season. Before he went down with a broken collarbone -- reportedly suffered while carrying a package of deer meat up to his apartment -- Barmes was one of the feel-good stories of baseball. He was hitting .400 as late as May 13, and when he went down in June, he was still batting .329/.371/.516. At the time, I was young, I didn't have much of a concept for sample sizes, and I had no way of knowing whether Barmes was a top prospect or a journeyman in the form of his life.
Obviously, it turned out to be the latter. He emerged as one of the better fielders in the circuit in time, but the first half of 2005 was the zenith of his offensive production. Still, without looking, I would have pegged him for a career 85-90 wRC+ or so. I didn't think he was awful. As it turns out, his career wRC+ is 72. Somehow, that's worse than Brendan Ryan.
- Mike Blowers got a lot of attention for his crazy Matt Tuiasosopo home run prediction a few years back. Today, he was at it again. He didn't go into the same level of detail as he did the first time, but literally, the pitch before Montero homered, Dave noticed that Felix looked frustrated to be in a tied game. Cue Mike: "His battery mate will help him out and hit one in the seats right here." Fun stuff.
- It's not a real big deal, but with a one run lead in the bottom of the ninth, why is Brendan Ryan not playing shortstop?
- Which is worse, 'Craze-Amaze' or 'We Want More?' I'm firmly leaning towards the latter right now, but I'm open to persuasion.