Ideally, baseball games would be decided on merit alone. The most talented team doesn't always win, but the team with the best performance would. There wouldn't be weird factors outside of a team's control, and the end result would be some variation of whoever played the best on that very night.
That's a silly, unrealistic dream.
Tonight, Sean Barber, an umpire new to major league baseball, put on one of the biggest shit shows I can remember witnessing. His strike zone was wildly inconsistent, giving pitches in certain locations and taking them away later. He'd disallow a strike practically down the middle, only to allow it two batters later. His utter defiance to allow a strike at the top of the zone eventually infuriated Danny Farquhar, along with anybody else forced to watch such a horrific display.
I don't want to rip on Sean Barber too hard. He was clearly having a garbage night, and people are allowed to have those nights. We all have days when we're terrible at our jobs, but Sean Barber happened to have the most epic of shit-tastic days in judgement I've ever seen. I've watched a lot of baseball. Tonight, Sean Barber was as bad as it gets. Legendary, unfathomable incompetence. I have a feeling what he's about to go through after tonight's game will be punishment enough.
To the game, at least as much of it that can be evaluated without talking about Barber. I'll try, but I won't succeed. His influence was too heavy.
Let's start with the debut of the Cuban riser, Roenis Elias. He wasn't particularly sharp tonight, but was still able to limit damage. Elias threw a lot of fastballs sitting around 92, but nibbled around the corners. He didn't get some calls he should have, but again, that zone. One thing Elias needs to work on is body language - he thought he had a strikeout looking in the 2nd and walked away from the mound, only to see it was one of many 3-2 counts he ran batters to. Not like it would have mattered to Sean Barber tonight, who was far too terrible to be shown up. He did it all himself.
I'm cool with an ump with a big/small/wide/narrow strike zone. But is Barber using a dodecahedron or something? Is it spinning? @Mariners— Michael Grey (@TheMichaelGrey) April 4, 2014
Other than the one rookie mistake, Elias danced his way through five innings, and was generally quite impressive for an MLB debut. Elias didn't allow a single hit through 4 2/3 innings, and he should have escaped the 5th inning scoreless if it weren't for one of many blown calls on an obvious strike three.
Here's the blown call in question courtesy of @Jose8BS, and I think everybody in the park but Sean Barber throught the inning was over. Nope.
I mean, for fuck's sake. That's ridiculous. Zunino thinks he's done. Elias thinks he's done. Even Nick Punto thinks he's done! If the batter starts walking away, he should concede the at-bat. But that was only the start of Barber's nightmare night.
Elias got pulled after five with just 80 pitches, but you can't ask for much better from a guy making the leap directly from AA. A wild first inning followed by 10 straight retired? Given the patchwork nature of this rotation, the Mariners should be thrilled with the results tonight.
Brad Miller keeps crushing the ball, even when it doesn't show up in the box score. A long fly died at the track in the 1st, and a line drive went straight into a defender's glove in the 3rd.
Mike Zunino crushed a double down the line in the 2nd, and has yet to acquire a hit that hasn't been for extra bases. He still isn't making a ton of contact, but today's double came with two strikes. He's going to hack a lot, but the power is a serious plus tool that's starting to show up.
Abraham Almonte surely earned himself more leadoff appearances with a pair of singles (and a walk), the first of which he took second after goading a bad throw by dancing around first base, and his second time on base he advanced to second while a throw came into third. But that savvy decision lead to over-aggressiveness, and the result was the Mariners' first TOOTBLAN of the season, as Almonte took off for third while it was still occupied on a routine grounder. The M's should have had runners on 2nd and 3rd with two outs, but Almonte blew it. He's going to give a lot and take away even more if he doesn't reel it in.
Almonte blew it in the bottom of the 5th as well, making just a horrible read on a line drive right at him, resulting in a last second dive that he missed badly. The ball squirted past him, and if it weren't for a perfect throw to the plate on the relay by Cano, the game would have been tied. Even though Almonte saved a line drive hit in the 4th on a tricky liner, his athleticism can only save him so many times. It's evident that he has a lot of learning and maturing to do.
While the botched hit and run between Justin Smoak and Kyle Seager blew up on Tuesday, it was excuted to perfection by Logan Morrison and Dustin Ackley today. Clearly, McClendon doesn't have any reservations about sending slow baserunners with a contact hitter at the plate, and when the play works, it's a real beautiful thing. I still don't think it works enough to be worth the risk.
Mike Zunino is making an impact behind the dish, and he's looked better defensively in these first few games than he did last year. Full disclosure -- I am hardly an expert in pitch framing and would much rather trust the numbers than my eyes, but my eyes are telling me that he's doing a great job. He also did a real solid job blocking several balls tonight that would have squirted right away from Miguel Olivo's stupid glove, including what would have been the go-ahead run in the 8th. God, remember Miguel Olivo? Wait, don't. DON'T.
Yoervis Medina was filthy early, commanding all of his pitches with tons of movement on his secondary stuff. He struck out the first two batters he faced with ease, knocking them out with curves diving late. His second inning fell apart, and he walked two batters before giving way to Charlie Furbush. I'm mystified as to why Danny Farquhar wasn't warming up. He's the team's best reliever who misses a ton of bats and generates lots of whiffs, and late in the game he should be the guy the team can turn to to put out a fire. It's been argued by myself and others that your best reliever should be used in the highest leverage spots instead of set clean innings, but Farquhar's role appears to be more static than that. Or maybe not.
Instead, McClendon went with lefty/lefty matchups, and Charlie Furbush got the Mariners out of it, leaving the bases loaded after allowing a cheap infield single to Nick Punto. His battle versus Nick Punto was classic LOOGY porn, knocking him out on two pristine breaking pitches -- one swinging in the dirt and one out in front down the pipe.
After Furbush walked Coco Crisp in the 8th, it was Tom Wilhelmsen to set up Fernando Rodney, not Danny Farquhar. I'm not ready to be overly critical of McClendon yet, but I don't understand why Tom Wilhelmsen deserves these opportunities more than Danny Farquhar. It's more than a "what have you done for me lately" type scenario, it's just a matter of putting your best pitcher in your most important situations. Instead, Wilhelmsen walked a batter, got a double play, and then threw a low fastball to Cespedes, who was clearly sitting on heat. Cespedes smashed a triple, and Wilhelmsen still stuck in the game to face none other than John Jaso, who walked. Wilhelmsen got Brandon Moss to ground out, but damage done. Either you like defined roles or you don't, but I don't know what Lloyd McClendon is doing. I don't mind starting Furbush out on Crisp who's historically crap against lefties, but if you walk him, you need your best reliever ready. That's been Danny Farquhar for a long time now. After Wilhelmsen blew the hold, Farquhar came in for the 9th and promptly dominated.
But the dominating only lasted an innning, as Sean Barber resumed his troll job behind the plate. After Coco Crisp reached in the 10th, Danny Farquhar threw three pitches that were all strikes, only to be spurned by Barber, who refused to call anything near the top of the zone. These weren't borderline pitches, these were clear, obvious strikes that Barber flat out blew. It was a humiliating debut for Barber, who isn't a full-time MLB ump -- in fact, Divish points out he's primarily an ump in AAA. Time to head back, Sean.
The game carried on in expected fashion until Lloyd McClendon inexplicably used Hector Noesi in the bottom of the 12th instead of Fernando Rodney, because you've got to save him in case there's a save opportunity, right? Noesi did what he did, shitting the bed immediately, grooving a game-ending walk-off bomb to Coco Crisp.
Hector Noesi is out of options, so I can almost twist my mind into the argument as to why he's still on this roster. He's got good enough stuff, he throws hard, and there's clearly just a command issue that coaches think they can fix. They probably can't, and it's probably time to move on. He's the same guy he's always been, and there no use in carrying a bad pitcher, even in a mop-up role. In games like this, you have to use pitchers you don't want to, and eventually that guy you only intended to pitch in games that were out of hand has to pitch in a game where one mistake costs you it all. Move on, Mariners. For all of us.
There's an immeasurable amount of things to be upset about tonight, the worst of which is Sean Barber, and the second most of which is Hector Noesi being the dog shit pitcher that he is, and always has been. But in reality, it's only one game with a patchwork rotation fill-in, and the Mariners sent it into extra innings. It hurts, but it doesn't feel as ominous as games would have in the past.
The best part about this all? The M's can fall asleep and wipe it out with a win tomorrow. Somehow, I feel they might be able to sleep a little easier than Sean Barber.
God, Sean Barber. I mean, damn.