It's hard to say what the big story of the game was; each starting pitcher was sharp, but not spectacular, there wasn't much offense to speak of, and even Ichiro went without a hit for the first time this season (maybe that's the big story). So I'll just go with Mike Hargrove getting his 1,000th career win as a manager and leave it at that.
It was a unique MLB.tv experience today - neither Seattle nor Kansas City had the game on TV, so the web feed consisted of the Royals' radio broadcast slapped on top of images from the stadium's closed circuit camera system. The announcers themselves were fairly dull, but the video was interesting because, with a good enough imagination, it almost felt like you were at the game. It picked up everything that was on the scoreboard monitor, including:
- the Zionist-inspired Hebrew National hot dog race
- the find-the-baseball game where it's hidden under one of three hats and they move around all willy-nilly
- a dance-off in the fifth inning between what looked to be a professional breakdancer and a white guy
- Kiss Cam
...and more. What it didn't have were instant replays, which is unfortunate given certain close plays (Olivo groundout in the second) and pitches (Alfonso Marquez had a screwy strike zone). The video also had the nasty habit of filling dead airtime by displaying a Royals logo rotating in front of a seizure-inducing blue background.
At some point in the early going, the scoreboard launched into finding the Hyvee Fan of the Game, when fans around the stadium flash a "V" with their fingers and hope to win some prize by being selected. The camera eventually settled on some guy in the upper deck holding a placard which read "Hyvee Fan of the Game" right there on the front. What a fraud of a contest. It's not random selection after all; the prize always goes to the guy holding up the official placard. Somebody should alert the rest of the fans that they're flashing V signs for nothing.
Something that's always bugged me about radio broadcasts is that they have a tendency to return to action a little late, and so they miss the first pitch or three of an inning. Today was no exception - I think they only made it back to the game before a pitch was thrown once all afternoon. It's a good thing nothing really happened at any point for the duration of the game, because otherwise I'd be pretty pissed.
The Mariners bunted three times today, and I don't think I agree with any of them. The first time was after Ichiro reached base on an error to lead off the game; Reed followed with a sac bunt that moved Ichiro to second. Nevermind that Reed's been swinging the bat better of late, that Ichiro could steal second base himself if he wanted to, or that Beltre/Sexson could drive him in from first with an extra-base hit. I don't think I need to point out the fact that you have a greater chance of scoring with a man on first and none out than you do with a man on second and one out.
The next bunt came in the fifth; after a leadoff double by Winn, Olivo tried to bunt him over to third, but a bad bunt resulted in Winn being nabbed at third. Nevermind that it didn't even work - what was the point of bunting in the first place? Even if it works and Winn winds up on third with one out, where's the benefit? Valdez is probably more likely to hit a single than he is to lift a ball deep to the outfield for a sac fly, and that could've driven in Winn from second. So, by taking the bat out of the hands of a guy who's starting to find his stroke, Hargrove reduced the potential for a big inning in exchange for no real net gain.
The third and final bunt came in the seventh, when Winn put one on the ground with none out and men on first and second. By that point, Winn already had a two-hit day, and he was facing a southpaw, against whom he's had good success for his career. By bunting the runners over, Hargrove put Miguel Olivo in a tough spot - he's already strikeout-prone to begin with, which won't bring in a guy from third, and he hasn't really hit righties at all over his career. Mike MacDougal was summoned from the bullpen to exploit this platoon split, and promptly made me shut up with my second-guessing by uncorking a run-scoring wild pitch, and then giving up an RBI single to Olivo. All's well that ends well, right?
Today was a bad baserunning day all around. Randy Winn never should have taken off from second base on Olivo's attempted sac bunt, Wilson Valdez was as bad as a runner can be without going backwards, and Calvin Pickering bit off more than he can chew (an expression which tests the limits of mathematical quantifiability) by taking off on a hit & run without realizing that Berroa had hit a fly ball directly to Ichiro, who doubled him up at first. As for Valdez, he kept running on a Jeremy Reed fly ball in the third under the mistaken impression that there were two outs in the inning (there was one), he was almost picked off at first base during the next at bat, and he was finally picked off at second by Joe Buck to end the inning. I don't know how a guy can be so terrific in the field and so clueless on the basepaths.
Watching the game, it was almost like Buck and Olivo had challenged each other to a Catcher Pick-off Attempt Duel prior to the first pitch. Snap throws and pump fakes as far as the eye can see.
In the bottom of the second, before he was doubled off first base, the announcers were talking about Calvin Pickering taking off on a hit and run. That's funny. Almost as funny as it actually happening 30 seconds later.
I'm convinced that Wilson Valdez is the second coming of Rey Sanchez. (Can there be a "second coming" when the original is still alive?) Remember when Gillick picked up Sanchez for the stretch run in 2003, and he proceeded to hit .294/.330/.335 with good defense? That's what Valdez is doing, two years later. I won't be surprised in the least to see Valdez trace an identical career path. Speedy contact-hitting middle infielders with good gloves can always find work, no matter how empty their batting averages. That play he made in the sixth on a Mike Sweeney grounder, where he backhanded the ball and launched it to first base for the out? Amazing. Valdez has a cannon.
When Willie Bloomquist and Joe McEwing are in the same stadium at the same time, a kitten dies.
The wind was blowing in today. Hard. With Kauffman already tough for home run hitters, today's severe weather conditions made an ideal environment for Aaron Sele, and he took advantage. His curve had good break all day long, and while he ran into some command issues from time to time, he kept the ball away from the center of the plate and generally looked like the good version of Aaron Sele from five or six years ago. Both he and Franklin faced weak lineups, but that shouldn't diminish how well they pitched; Franklin was a strike-throwing machine, and Sele was keeping hitters off balance, with few balls being struck with much authority. I can't begin to explain just how absolutely critical it is that these two guys keep pitching well into the summer. Their numbers will inevitably get worse as more balls in play drop for hits, but as long as they pitch like they have each of the last two days, they'll still be positive contributors.
Bottom of the third:
Announcer: "Terrence Long hasn't done real well against Aaron Sele in the past."
Me: "Terrence Long hasn't done real well against anyone."
I've been critical of Hargrove's quick hook a few times already this season, but he did a good job of yanking Sele when he did. In the bottom of the seventh, Matt Stairs led off with a triple (I'm not joking) to deep center - a fly ball that made Jeremy Reed do funny things with his body whilst in pursuit - and Calvin Pickering followed with a bomb to left-center that was caught near the track for an RBI sac fly. In a less hostile environment, those are back-to-back shots that tie the ballgame. Today, Sele lucked out. He wound up finishing at 79 pitches, not too far shy of his established danger zone, but he got into the seventh inning. As long as he does that, he'll be fine.
According to the radio feed, today's pitching changes were brought to you by Tompkin's Hydraulic Adapters. Seriously, these are the guys who sponsor Royals baseball. I think I heard that they're also the team's official gasket supplier. Maybe I'm missing something, but...what?
In the top of the sixth, Zack Greinke made Richie Sexson look stupid with two big slow curves, pitches which induced such massive swings that I actually blurted out "OH GOD, DON'T BLOW OUT YOUR SHOULDER!! when I saw what was developing. I'd really prefer that pitchers only throw Sexson low fastballs for the rest of the year, so that he can be productive and healthy and my heart can relax.
With one gone in the bottom of the sixth, Ruben Gotay hit a little Texas Leaguer into center field. Reed seemed to be struggling with the wind all game long, and Randy Winn had to come sprinting all the way over from left field to make the catch. I think we can say with relative certainty that Reed is only a good defensive center fielder in a vacuum. Maybe we should keep the roof closed at Safeco to make things easier for him.
You want to know what good pitcher treatment looks like? In his first start since having a line drive ricochet off his throwing arm, Zack Greinke was pulled after 86 pitches. Bear in mind, he was working on a shutout. The Royals didn't want to overextend their prized young pitcher, so they did the right thing and took him out of the game. One can only imagine what would happen to Meche in the same situation, with Bryan Price sitting in the dugout. Pay close attention to Joel Pineiro's pitch count on Friday; if he breaks 100, it's time to worry, and if he breaks 110, it's time to find a new favorite team.
Does anyone have faith in Eddie Guardado anymore, or are we all agreed that he's a mess? Only half of his pitches found the strike zone in the ninth inning. He walked Emil Brown. His velocity was down and his location was all over the place. With Eddie in trouble, there's officially nobody in the bullpen I trust with a one-run lead.
Jamie Moyer goes up against Denny Bautista tomorrow at 2:10pm EST as the Mariners look for their first series sweep since taking three from Pittsburgh last June.