The 2013 Seattle Mariners have given us a lot of things.
One of these things is a shiny new All-Star pitcher pitching in his second season of American baseball who has been at the top of the WHIP leaderboards since April. He's quiet, unassuming. I've never heard him speak more than four quietly mumbled words in Japanese. He's solid without being flashy.
Another thing the 2013 Seattle Mariners have given us is a series of inexplicably messy patches from their top pitchers, Iwakuma included. The nasty home run habit he started to develop in Oakland in June has followed him like a penny in his pocket, the stat fitting awkwardly in the scorecard alongside his 7, 9, 8 strikeout games. It's gotten to the point where you don't know what's going to happen when a Mariners pitcher takes the mound. And that's always an annoying thing to have to ask yourself before games. Which Hisashi Iwakuma were we going to get today?
And of course, what ended up happening had nothing to do with that question. The awesome Iwakuma showed up today, striking out 7 Astros and allowing 6 hits over 7 full innings. It took him a lot of pitches to do it--he was at 99 at the end of the seventh--but he's never been a late game pitcher. He's only made it to eight innings five times in his MLB career.
But none of this mattered because the awesome Brett Oberholtzer showed up as well. I don't even know what a Brett Oberholtzer is, but apparently he is the next coming of Cy Young or something stupid like that. He pitched a complete game and only walked Justin Smoak, who apparently watched Moneyball on Thursday and is trying to be Kevin Youkilis now. But Oberholtzer only allowed four hits to the Mariners today, and while the M's don't exactly have the most feared bats in the league, that's pretty impressive for a 24 year old rookie pitching in his ninth MLB game.
I have no idea if Oberholtzer is going to be a great pitcher, but he looked it today. He only became a starter a month ago, and has somehow gotten away with a 4-1 record with Houston Astros hitters supporting him. He doesn't walk a lot of hitters, and while his xFIP is a shaky 4.38, he's only allowed 3 home runs in his six starts because Minute Maid Park. But he has four pitches--and is apparently replacing his four-seam fastball with a sinker that's probably actually a two-seamer. Look at this:
To me, this chart says I'm just trying stuff out and it is working so well it's stupid and obnoxious. Yes, he was facing the Mariners. Yes, he struck out Nick Franklin twice. But he also struck out Kyle Seager twice, and Kyle Seager has a 16.8% K rate. It was a classic pitcher's duel, but it was with the Houston Astros featuring a 24-year old kid and the Mariners were only in scoring position once. ONCE. That takes good pitching.
In fact, that's what made this game so weird. Seven innings of nothing but strikeouts, flyouts, and grounders with the occasional baserunner standing on first base. Back and forth. Three up three down. One inning after the other. Suddenly you looked up and saw that Iwakuma had thrown 99 pitches and it was the end of the seventh inning, and you knew exactly what was going to happen. And then it happened.
After Dustin Ackley, Henry Blanco, and Brad Miller were disposed of with seven pitches in the eighth, the bullpen door opened and out came Charlie Furbush. I like Charlie Furbush, a little bit anyway. Not today. But alas, so is the life of a relief pitcher.
First, Jose Altuve doubled. Then Jason Castro doubled, scoring Altuve. Matt Dominguez managed to fly out to Guti, but it sent Castro to third with only one out. The Astros wouldn't even need the second run, but it happened anyway, just to let us all realize how brain-dead the Mariners can seem sometimes. Thanks, jerks.
Bo Porter is either a genius or kind of an idiot. Brandon Barnes was sent in to pinch hit with one out and a runner on third against an opposite-handed pitcher, and not only was his bat taken away, but they sent the runner on a squeeze play. In the bottom of the eighth in a 1-0 game. Facing a team who had three hits against a dealing pitcher up to that point. The squeeze failed. And then they did it again. A play designed to surprise the other team. Did it twice in a row.
It's kind of like mugging someone with a cucumber disguised as a gun. The guy shouts Hands up! and you're probably scared for a second, totally shocked. Then you realize its just a cucumber, and there is no way you are giving him your money. The whole thing is awkward for a second, and then he points the cucumber in your face again and tells you he's going to use it to shoot you. It would never work.
Except it worked today, against the Seattle Mariners. Bo Porter called for the squeeze again on the next pitch, and Nick Franklin ran for the ball instead of covering first. Not only did the run score, but Barnes reached safely. A cucumber. Sigh.
Furbush wouldn't make it out of the inning, and Tom Wilhelmsen was sent in in his first appearance back from AAA. He threw two pitches. So in short, if you missed the game, you missed some weird baseball and an exciting pitching duel between a team that everyone already knew had some good pitching and the Houston Astros.
The good news is tomorrow is Felix day, and then we get to see Taijuan Walker again before Joe Saunders. There are definitely things to be upset about on this team, but that's not one of them.
See, this team can give us some good things. Sometimes. I'm writing this for myself.