The Mariners almost got no hit today. Wow, I've written that sentence a lot lately. The good part is, though, that the first sentence in this article has the word "almost" in it. This means the Mariners didn't get no-hit today! Small victories.
And the victories were certainly small, because speaking of victories, the Mariners didn't get the one they wanted today, as in a win against the Rays. Forget being no-hit, the Mariners were on the embarrassing end of a two-hit shutout where their starting pitcher lasted 3.2 innings.
It started easy enough. Brandon Maurer got through the first with only a walk to yesterday's Mariner-killer David DeJesus, and then James Jones started the Mariners offensive day with a leadoff walk. At this moment, the game was going well--Maurer was looking like the Maurer he was sort of always supposed to be, and Jones was doing what leadoff men are supposed to do. But it was the last time things went well for the M's on the day.
Maurer made it through three innings with only a hit and a walk, but ran into his usual scheduled trouble in the fourth. It's always the same thing with Maurer: whether it's mental, mechanical, or a perfect blend of skill and luck, he can only either make it to the sixth inning or seventy pitches, whichever one comes first. It's been a fun exercise posting At-Bat screengrabs of the guy painting the corners in the second inning before one with four balls each seven feet apart. We've all been there. Regardless, it seems clearer day to day that Maurer really has no business starting on a major-league team at this point in his career, unless he can Bedard his way into always only lasting four innings. Of course, nobody really planned for him to be here in February, so that's just what we have to deal with.
It's just so weird, because Maurer keeps putting up these bizarre lines, melting down but only giving up two hits on the day. Granted, his two hits were countered by four walks, but it gives you a sense of why he is still in this organization. He's 24 years old, wild but effective at times. His trouble seems to be consistently blamed on his mental fortitude, which suggests he could really get it together if he just grew a backbone. I'm not willing to really hedge bets on one specific side of that whole debate, but one thing I can say for sure is that it certainly gives the Mariners an excuse to keep trotting him out there to "build confidence."
The two runs Maurer gave up in the fourth were the only runs that would cross the plate all day. So with the bullpen in for the day--two innings of Leone and single innings from Wilhelmsen, Furbush, and Farquhar--the Mariners would end up holding the Rays scoreless throughout the rest of the game.
The only really fun part of the day came in the bottom of the eighth, which saw Dustin Ackley rip a double into centerfield, getting into scoring position toward the end of the game with only a single out. John Buck walked up to the plate, and slowly but subtly managed to draw a full count: Joel Peralta was just as erratic as Maurer was earlier, and it seemed like justice, sweet justice was finally on its way. Peralta reached back and launched a pitch right into the dirt, clearly off the plate. Buck realized this in a second, and checked his swing, albeit quite awkwardly. Threw his bat, took off for first. Even Rays catcher Ryan Hanigan waited a hot second to check to first on the swing, because he knew that Buck had just walked.
Then, of course, first base umpire Lance Barksdale decided to heroically pump his fist in the air. Out.
Buck took off for Barksdale barking his head off, and stopped in his tracks when Barksdale started walking toward Buck. Buck turned two violent eyes directly into the soul of the first-base umpire, his mouth dripping with rage as he said Bullshit. I didn't go. Nope. Bullshit. Barksdale just stood there, looking proud of himself like some jerk kid that just kicked over your sandcastle.
Then, LLoyd. McClendon ran screaming out of the dugout directly into the face of Barksdale, removing his hat and throwing it in a motion that looked more like he was about to punch the guy right in the side of the head. The hat landed somewhere in the infield dirt, but before it landed, McClendon had gotten about seven thousand words out. You could literally see him shaking, he was so mad--and I'm not using this metaphorically. He was actually shaking.
Barksdale tossed Lloyd, and on his way back to the dugout, face to face with a standing crowd cheering louder than they had cheered all week, tossed his hat into the front row. I've never seen anything like it before. And if you haven't, then please stop everything you are doing it and watch it here. ll in all, it was silly. The Mariners lost 2-0 today and the Rays made them look silly doing it. The most exciting moment of the game was the performance by a manager between plays. But all in all, the Mariners fell down to .500 today and it felt like the season was starting another downward spiral. Think what you will, but if you could go back to yourself last year after that season-ending collapse in Cleveland and tell yourself that you'd be devastated when the Mariners fall back to .500 in mid-May, then I bet good money your younger self would turn around and punch you right in the mouth.