(Note: this would have come earlier, but my connection went down for a few hours.)
So far this season, it's been a habit of the Mariners to show up for two innings a game and hope that it's enough for the win. As long as they're scoring seven runs in said two innings, though, I won't have much of a problem with it.
This was the second fast start in two games for the Mariners, who jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning against Barry Zito just like they did against Kevin Gregg in Anaheim. However, the difference between the two games is that last night, the Mariner bats woke up again later on to create a little more offense. Important offense, it turned out, because the bullpen wasn't much for doing silly things like "pitch well" and "get outs".
Barry Zito was downright awful to start the game, and it looks like the Ghost of Bad First Innings that haunted him a year ago is back for another go-around. Zito started off with strikes on his first two pitches, but 14 of his next 16 pitches missed the zone. After being the beneficiary of a rare high strike call on Boone to make it a 3-1 count, Zito threw a changeup that just hung up there about letter-high, which - to the best of my knowledge - is the only pitch that Boone can still hit with any authority. Chalk it up as a mistake on Zito's part. Boone got all of it, launching the ball well beyond the left-center fence and bringing the smallest crowd in Safeco history to its feet. He did his little bat-flip thing, too, which caught me off guard because he usually only does that on warning try fly outs. I'm not ashamed to admit that I did a little dance after the ball cleared the wall.
Afterwards Zito would find a groove, making the grand slam that much more important. He started to pepper the strike zone with everything, including three or four just fantastic hammers against which even Ichiro didn't have a prayer. Last night we saw Bad Zito for one inning and Good Zito for five; fortunately, Bad Zito was really, really bad, allowing us to jump out to the four-run lead.
Joel Pineiro wasn't his usual self last night. For whatever reason, he was relying mostly on a fastball/changeup repertoire, seldom throwing his curveball. When he did try to spin one, it ended up in that portion of the strike zone between the belt and the letters, and it was getting hit pretty hard. Pineiro can't be a successful pitcher without the shin-high breaking ball, so hopefully this was just a one-night occasion. Maybe he wasn't getting a real good feel of the ball in the bullpen before the game, or maybe he was just trying to protect his elbow. Whatever the case, Joel limited himself to a two-pitch arsenal. The good news is that he still managed to get through seven innings on 86 pitches - about 2.7 pitches per batter. Oakland hitters rarely got to deep counts, swinging early against a contact pitcher (someone's going to make a Moneyball joke here, I can feel it). Even so, Pineiro needs to throw more curves and miss more bats to be an effective pitcher. With any luck, yesterday just wasn't his night.
Until last night, I'd never seen Huston Street pitch, so I was...surprised?...to see him throwing from a 3/4 angle around 91. I'd always envisioned him as one of those overhand guys who hammers the low zone with 97-98mph heaters. Not that he didn't show flashes of real talent, because he made both Sexson and Boone look stupid on those Beltre Sliders low and away.
Happily, the seventh inning was just one of those times where the Mariners got all the breaks. Beltre led off with a pop-up single that fell between Kotsay and Ellis. After Sexson and Boone struck out and Ibanez lined a single to left, Reed hit a weak grounder to third that Chavez had to charge hard, and his throw pulled Hatteberg off the bag at first. With the bases loaded and two down, it was all up to Miguel Oliv-NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! But wait, what's this? A pinch-hitter? Perhaps Choo will get a chance to break it ope-NOOOOOOOOOOO!!! Time for another miserable Greg Dobbs pinch-hit attempt, because Hargrove never lear-
...it was about at that point that I shut up, because Dobbs hit a liner to left that cleared the bases. A better defensive outfielder might have made a catch to end the inning; Byrnes, though, got a bad jump and made an ill-advised dive that let the ball get by him and roll to the track. All of a sudden, it was 7-4 Mariners, and Dobbs was the hero standing on second base. As much as I rag on the guy, he did a good job of going the other way against a tough pitcher in an important situation, and he wound up with one of the biggest hits of the year. That earns the guy a criticism-free day*.
(*-unless he strikes out looking in the ninth.)
The top of the eighth could have been much, much worse than it was. For whatever reason, Ron Villone is a specialist but Jeff Nelson is a long reliever, so Hargrove left him out there to face four batters when he pretty clearly didn't have it from the start. With the bases loaded and one out, Villone was summoned from the bullpen, and he promptly hit Kotsay in the wrist to force in a run. The only problem being that IT DIDN'T HIT KOTSAY AT ALL. It hit the knob of his bat, and they guy didn't even do a good acting job. I was incensed, but Jason Kendall popping out to Boone for the second out made me feel a lot better. Then came one of those things that would drive me friggin' crazy if I were an A's fan - after watching ball four get called strike two and sharing some words with the umpire, Eric Chavez watched a pitch go by him right down the middle to end the inning. No matter how angry you may be with the guy calling balls and strikes, there's just no excuse for not protecting the plate on that kind of pitch.
I don't want to talk about Eddie. Our "ace closer" has allowed three home runs in seven innings. Is there anyone reading this who feels good about Guardado closing a one-run game? Not only is the guy performing poorly right now, but he pitches with the intensity of Joe McEwing after a dozen shots of Red Bull, and I'm concerned that he's going to keel over and die on the mound one of these days. If you think it's nerve-wracking to watch the guy pitch, imagine what it must feel like inside Eddie's ribcage.
Willie Bloomquist is normally a utility infielder who handles ground balls. In the top of the sixth, he bobbled a Marco Scutaro hit in center field that allowed Scott Hatteberg to come around and score. That's funny to me.
Speaking of Willie, he got the green light to swing on 3-0 with men on the corners and one out in the third. He wound up fouling off ball four before popping out on the next pitch. Now, let's think about this: if your Mike Hargrove, why would you make that call? Wee Willie's already got himself a 3-0 count. Don't push your luck. It wasn't limited to Bloomquist, though, because there were at least three at bats where hitters were given the same signal on 3-0 counts. I don't know if I like this strategy, because it runs the risk of turning us into the Angels (the bad kind, not the kind that won the World Series), but I can tolerate it as long as it's helping Adrian Beltre get on base.
In the top of the second, Marco Scutaro hit a grounder to third that bounced off Beltre's bare hand and brought in a runner. The fabled Safeco scorekeeper ruled this a single, something I still can't quite wrap my head around. I can understand siding with the home team on judgment calls, but that one was pretty blatant.
Cha Baek looks like Bobby Lee.
Mike Hargrove "Stay Focused" Moment of the Game: Ron Villone after "beaning" Mark Kotsay. And hey, the advice paid off! Those Grover classics have still got some magic in them.
When Bret Boone came up to bat the second time after hitting the grand slam, Dave Niehaus called him "salami boy". I won't discuss this any further.
How To Turn Wilson Valdez Into A Competent Major League Hitter:
- Examine hitting style
- Examine hitting styles that have worked for similar players
- Approach Valdez about his hitting
Greg Dobbs, on himself:
"I know I haven't had many hits in the at-bats that I've had, but I've felt I've had quality at-bats."
Sorry about the delayed recap. Tonight's game matches Rich Harden against Ryan Franklin, who should be counting his blessings with Chavez and Durazo each currently struggling. It would be nice to see that 1.74 K/9 ratio jump up just a little bit. And hey, another HiDef MLB.tv broadcast would be gravy.